We came. We saw. We conquered (I cried).
Lately, I have been experiencing what felt like a never-ending run of bad luck…I mean, I am literally the poster child for eliminations.
However, after a few confidence-building runs at BE90, I felt like it was time to get back to 100. And not one to hang around (a character trait that First Husband should be very wary of), I downed a bottle of Hendricks, took a sip of Indian tonic water and entered the next unaffiliated ODE at Tweseldown.
This morning, after snoozing my alarm several times, I finally decided to depart from the comfort of my wonderful, wonderful duvet. I regretted it instantly when I was met at the door by gale force winds and heavy rain.
I know what you’re thinking…”Why Hannah, why would you ever choose to do this on your hard-earned weekends when you could be sitting by the fire with a large glass of vino?!”
The answer, my friends, is this: INSANITY (another character trait for FH to keep an eye on).
However, my mood soon lifted when I picked up Groom-in-Training (GIT), along with what looked like three carrier bags’ worth of sweets.
I could see she was in it for the long haul.
We arrived at the yard via McDonalds and were soon on our way to Tweseldown, which is like my eventing mecca. I just love the place.
Mecca or no, this was to be a cold, wet, muddy pilgrimage, on a weekend where most events had been unable to run due to the bad weather.
GIT spent the journey trying to jinx me, by asking if I had ever [fallen off in the water before][had a car crash when towing][been eliminated in the dressage]. I, of course, fell into the trap and answered “no, never” to each of these, leading to an unnecessary amount of potential jinxage flying through the air.
We parked up and unloaded Sid, who finds the atmosphere at events so relaxing that he is able to nod off next to his trailer, despite motorbikes, dressage judges emphatically using their horns and military planes flying low overhead.
He caught the eye of the lady in the trailer next to us due to his exemplary manners, and was very happy to be praised and cuddled for doing literally nothing. Her daughter then arrived at the trailer and recognised Sid, which further enhanced his sense of grandiose and celebrity.
He was brought back to reality when I began tacking him up.
The Tweseldown dressage tests are a mysterious beast in my opinion, but Sid did a nice, supple test with a few moments of sharpness in the walk (can we just go straight back to canter after the free walk, because I think that would save us a lot of awkward jogging, thanks) for a 32.4, which was one of the best marks in our section.
I couldn’t see for half of the test, due to the rain dripping into my eyes, but ironically I got a 7.5 for riding and the comment “accurately ridden test” from the judge, which just goes to show how much better Sid does without me!
After walking the cross country course, and being reminded several times by GIT how big all of the fences were, it was time to face the show jumping arena.
A few weeks earlier, I had spectacularly outdone myself by getting lost between fences 4 and 5, leading to a cricket score of time penalties. The same stewards were on duty, so I spent half of my warm up confessing (in a very Catholic manner) to my earlier sins and trying particularly hard to memorise the darn course.
We entered the arena, and I firmly pushed thoughts of elimination and satnav errors out of my head.
“I am riding Sid. He is a celebrity, goddamnit. I will not let him down!” I thought, and as I trotted in GIT gave me a big thumbs up, which warmed my cold heart.
And so I kicked, and I chanted “be brave” in what I hoped was a good canter rhythm, and I pointed him at the first fence.
Like the superstar that he is, he jumped his socks off on ground that had been continuously rained on for weeks and was, understandably, rather boggy.
He rolled a pole in the second half of the double (it was a short two strides, and Sid is nothing if not a long two strides kind of guy) and we had one more pole where the ground was particularly sticky.
But given the conditions, I was beyond ecstatic with him. And as GIT informed me loudly in wonder as I exited the arena, I was still on board!
We quickly changed and headed to cross country, eager to get to the part where we jump in the car and turn the heating UP. By this point, GIT looked as if a bathtub had been emptied above her head.
Whilst GIT jogged along to keep up with Sid’s purposeful walk, I reminded her not to (a) choke on the sweets she was shovelling into her mouth and (b) slip over in the mud.
We started warming up and I was really grateful for Sid’s enthusiasm, because I was very close to withdrawing. I was worrying about the ground, I was worrying about the rain and I was worrying about the amount of ditch in my course (ditch at 4, trakhener at 5….really?!)
However, Chris Kirby was soon stroking Sid’s nose as we were counted down from 40 seconds and everyone knows he has the magic touch, so I was mildly reassured.
5 seconds to go and Sid was keen to be off, cantering out of the start box on cue (seriously, he does NOT need me, I cannot stress this enough).
He flew the first and we headed to the house. Our first real 100 jump – but of course, Sid meant business today, and underneath him it went.
I gave him a bit of a deep stride to the silver birch, and profusely apologised en route to the ditch combination.
Sid jumped the hanging log well, but lurched over the ditch, and so I decided to take the black flag alternative rather than risk a run out at the meaty corner. He has jumped it before, but today didn’t feel like the day to ask that question of him. We were soon galloping towards the trakhener.
I thought back to all of Alberto’s training, and did the opposite of what comes naturally to me, by sitting back, keeping my leg on and NOT FLAPPING.
And what do you know?! The 5* international eventer knows his stuff, as Sid gathered himself up and flew over it before I had time to worry.
We then charged over the logpile and headed to the water. He soared over the duck, which was as tall as GIT (hmm…an idea for an unusual filler…) and happily splashed through the water, and we turned to the fallen log.
Sid was not daunted by the size and “airiness” of the jump, and popped in, through the water again and out over another hanging log, and we galloped towards the military barracks.
He was momentarily confused as to which fence was “his”, but I urged him on and over he went, and we headed to the next combination.
At this point, I should say that I was having to use all of my bodily strength to bring him back down from gallop, which was important given we had two fairly skinny combinations coming up.
The first (a wide logpile to a skinny triple brush) Sid made feel absolutely effortless, for which I gave him a huge pat.
The second was a skinny, colourful hanging log with a downhill curving line to a skinny house. Now, I am not being sizeist, but I am politically, socially and environmentally against anything that falls into the “skinny” category and so I was a little nervous about this coming right at the end.
I didn’t need to be, though, as Sid was still charging around like a nutter and locked firmly onto both jumps.
Over the dragon and we were crossing the finish line clear and comfortably within the time! Sid’s ears had been pricked the whole time, and he was ready to go again!
Even with our poles, this landed us in 6th place, which was absolutely fantastic. Better yet, we had broken our 100 curse! Smashed through it, in fact.
Obviously, Sid got several polos and GIT got more sweets. Both are happily on the path to diabetes now (can horses get diabetes?! Asking for a friend).
We had entered another unaffiliated 100 next weekend, but given how well today went, we have decided to withdraw and begin our winter training in earnest instead. I know what you’re thinking, and you would be right: that DOES mean more lessons with Alberto.
So my 2019 season is at an end. There have been many ups (there have also been many lows) but it has been challenging, educational, humbling and, most importantly, the best fun I will ever have in my life, with the best horse I will ever have in my life.
Finally, I would like to thank all of the volunteers and organisers that have made the season so spectacular. In particular, the volunteers out there today in what can only be described as wholly miserable weather, with smiles on their faces and good wishes for all of the competitors. Frankly, I think you all deserve medals.
PS. No I shall not be unpacking my car full of wet eventing paraphernalia tonight. Instead, I will unpack a very nice bottle of white and worry about that mess tomorrow. Goodnight all!