The MER that almost was…..
Well, as you might know, THE PLAN had been going rather successfully, so of course it was only to be expected that it could not continue.
The next phase of THE PLAN was to get our 90 MER so that we could move back up to 100.
I entered Howick originally (nice and close), but sadly they cancelled due to a lack of entries and so, undaunted, we immediately entered Chilham Castle instead. Only a 240 mile round trip – practically round the corner, right?!
After courageously (/idiotically) battling the M25 on a Friday evening and losing, we arrived at our old yard at 10:15pm under cover of darkness.
After the agonising crawling traffic on the motorway, I will admit that I made up a little bit of time down the lanes, and poor Sid may have gone rather faster than usual over some speed bumps...oops!
Luckily my trailer has excellent suspension.
Dawn broke and we headed for one of our favourite British Eventing venues of all time.
I was a bit rushed in tacking up and getting across to the dressage warm up, because in some cruel twist of fate they had changed the layout of the event and I therefore spent a good 15 minutes trying to find the secretary’s tent in the middle of what was now the lorry park. The only upside was that I had walked to the top of the hill first and wandered around on its crest, and so I could roll downhill to where I was actually meant to be collecting my number.
Sid felt a bit flat in the warm up, which was not surprising given his journey, and so instead of doing loads of transitions to sharpen him up and really get him going, I tried the unusual tactic of just halting near my dressage steward and having a bit of a chat.
She was lovely, and Sid was pretty happy with being able to snooze pre-dressage, but the end result was of course that we trotted over to our arena in what I would call his “bog-standard way of going”.
The test was mildly accurate, but fairly lacklustre. I think next time I will aim for all the zest of a lemon and sharpen him up a bit more. Every day is a school day (some lessons more obvious than others, though)!
We came out and I gave myself a mental mark of 38 (as in, my head gave me that mark, rather than that it would be mental to get 38 penalties, which I regularly exceed in actual fact).
As I was wandering away, I spotted Debbie, one of the owners of Eventful Life. She rushed over with a camera and proceeded to make Sid feel rather famous and important by interviewing his numpty of a rider, aka me. Sid was very polite and let me do the talking.
However, what I have realised, post-interview, is that:
My voice does not sound at all like I imagine it to in my own head. In reality, I am horribly nasal with just a hint of an American twang; and
My face after riding of any sort resembles an uncooked pancake in a frying pan with two little squinty eye slits. I am not sure that riding hats were made for faces like mine, either, because hairless Hannah = Gollum lookalike.
These are very lowering realisations.
Nevertheless, I did laugh when, whilst walking back towards the lorry park, a lady who did not look particularly horsey started taking photos of myself and Sid. I think she had seen me do the little interview and thought I was someone famous!!!!
That is probably the first and last time that will happen to me, but oh it did tickle me. I hope she doesn’t try to sell those photos to the newspapers: she will be bitterly disappointed!
Still chuckling, we untacked and headed to walk the cross country.
Anyone that has been to Chilham knows that the course is fairly hilly, and halfway round I was reaching for my inhaler.
I soldiered on, though, and finished my course walk without collapsing near any fence judges and thereby distracting them from what is a very important job.
However, on that note, if you ever need someone to pull that stunt whilst you are riding round, just let me know. I charge very reasonable rates.
I quickly shoved Sid’s jump saddle on and made my way down to the showjumping arena, where there were not many waiting to go in. I tried to learn the course by watching a single rider (note to self: not a good idea because I have worse short-term memory than my great-grandma at 92) and then jumped a few practice jumps, before trotting into the arena.
After a friendly debate about why the tannoy was not a weapon of mass destruction, we began our round.
Sid went round with what felt like the handbrake firmly ‘on’, probably due to me giving him an insufficient warm up, and halfway through the course I buried him at the first of a double.
This is the first time he has ever done that show-jumping at a BE event, so I was devastated.
However, I circled and carried on, and we completed the round with 1 pole (but plenty of time penalties due to that stop).
Debbie ran over to interview me again, but this time no one papped me on the walk back to my trailer (probably because I had just demonstrated that I was definitely NOT a professional).
Of course I was massively disappointed, but I really can’t blame Sid for not helping me out when I made a mistake, even though 99% of the time he does.
I need to not be putting him in the position where he has to help me out!
FH will tell you that I am my biggest critic, but I mean really, it’s an efficiency, because I know myself so well that my brain can spiral into self-doubt in seconds!
On the positive side, our dressage score was 31-something, which I think was very generous on the part of the Judge, but I was very happy to take it! I haven’t added up the marks on my test sheet yet to check if the maths is right, because ignorance is bliss.
We were also still on track (just) for our MER. Everything to play for.
We jogged over to the cross country warm up and started charging around a bit over the warm up fences. All too soon, it was time for us to head out onto the course!
A few seconds in and I nearly dropped my whip – the rain was making everything a little slippy – but happily for me Sid spooked a little to the right and I got a grip both literally and metaphorically.
We popped the first and charged towards the second, a nice little house. We then made fairly light work of the train carriage at the top of the hill, the palisade and the hay stack. Sid was starting to take me into the jumps and my heart soared.
He was a bit sticky at the bench – drop – bench combination, mainly I think because he doesn’t (or more accurately, I don’t) love jumping downhill, but we got through it and he jumped really nicely over the brush at 8.
He then breezed through the double of houses, despite taking a bit of a look at a spectator (he is really judgy of course walkers, I’m sorry guys, it’s not you, it’s him!) and then popped over the boat, through the water and out over the next boat.
We then stormed up the hill and out over the flowerbox, over the rolltop, nicely over the barrels (he loves a barrel in the same way I love a keg) and soared over the castle to finish our round CLEAR.
I gave him a huge pat, and we walked over to Debbie for our final interview.
She mentioned that the commentator had said that someone was sadly technically eliminated due to missing out fence 12, an innocuous raised log on a loop just after the water.
“What a shame that will be for that poor person…” I thought.
It was then that I realised something.
That person was us.
We had missed out a fence.
Now, this has NEVER happened before in my whole history of BE. Literally never. Not even once.
And on the day that I just needed this ruddy MER so that I could draw a line under the past month and crack back on at 100, we had managed to get ourselves technically eliminated for avoiding the smallest, easiest fence on course.
A fellow #TE, Indra, wisely quipped that I had earned my next “eventing for numpties” badge. Perhaps I could set a record for completing the set in the shortest timeframe?!
Now, I know what you are thinking: why doesn’t she just give up?! The stars are clearly not aligning. This nutter should take the hint and put an end to these desperate attempts to do something that she is clearly not capable of doing…
And I must admit, I did feel a little bit like that when I realised what I had done.
Sid thinks he went clear. And his little face when we finished our round, ears pricked, charging down the finish line, tells me that he can definitely do it.
And you know what, there must be tonnes of people, like me, that juggle a busy career with their passion for horses. I am a very average rider, I will be the first to admit that. But I love the sport of eventing, and Sid does too, and whilst we are still able to go out and enjoy it safely then we will keep having a go.
My grandad used to say “Keep bashing on, Hannah” and that is exactly what I intend to do.
ALSO, a bird pooped on my car on the journey home, so of course it follows that our luck is about to change. Thanks pigeon!
The next (surprise) phase of THE PLAN, then, is to build back up Sid and mine’s fitness, practice practice practice seeing the right stride, and continue to work on being brave and bold cross country.
We will beat the nerves, and even if it takes all season, I damn well will get that MER and get back out at 100. West Wilts 90 is our next stop!
I suppose my final thought is……if I can do that, ANYONE CAN. If you’re not sure about eventing, because you don’t feel that you’re good enough, GO AHEAD AND SIGN UP. You are plenty capable, in fact you are probably more capable than me, and I’m sure I will see you next season beating me in my section!!! How cool would that be!
PS this event will sadly turn out to be very expensive for First Husband, because I now feel that I need to cheer myself up by purchasing the beautiful tweed jacket I have had my eye on for months……..
Thanks to Debbie Higgs (Eventful Life) for being so lovely and supportive on a not-best-day and for the photos and my Chilham 1 video, where Sid stormed round the BE100 cross country like it was child’s play. Just watching that has cheered me up already! If you feel so inclined, please do watch (and enjoy a laugh at my expense) my interview on their website: https://www.an-eventful-life.com.au/ukeurope/interviews/stalking-hannah-and-sid-chilham-castle-horse-trials
And last but not least, thanks to all of the volunteers and event organisers that make it possible for us to do what we love. You all rock!!!