I had two goals for our first One Day Event at Monart Equestrian:
- Get home
- Have fun!
Doesn’t sound entirely ambitious, but for me just getting to a One Day Event is an exciting achievement, so completing it would have been icing on the cake. As the day approached, my nerves and anxiety continued to build, so I did the only thing that settles me in these situations: organise. I made lists (which I’ll be posting on the blog soon), I packed up the jeep with boxes for every phase, in the order that I’d be needing them – and then I made a few more lists. I did as much prep the day before so that on the day I could just get up, put pony in the big metal box with wheels, and hopefully the day would run smoothly. I love feeling prepared! It makes me much less flappy when the nerves take hold.
Fast forward to Sunday morning, 5.30am. I am not a morning person. After wearing out the snooze button, I hauled myself out of bed, rolled into the car and arrived to the yard with NO COFFEE because no shops are open at stupid o’clock. Paddy was still clean, and his plaits stayed intact thanks to our LeMieux Lycra Hood. With everything organised, I just loaded Paddy up, did one last run-through of my checklist and we were off! At this stage the shop had opened and we stopped for a much needed (LARGE) coffee to get us going. The weather was beautiful – sunny and warm – so this brightened my spirits, but as we got closer to Monart I could feel those familiar butterflies in my stomach. I remembered some of the techniques from the Sports Psychology talks I had attended and focused on breathing, and reminding myself of how much preparation I had put in to get here.
On arriving at Monart we found that the dressage was running on sand, not grass – IDEAL, no studs! The plan was to run the dressage, build the SJ in the same arena, and then you could go straight out onto the XC from there – so lots of time to walk the XC between the dressage and showjumping. We tacked up for the dressage, proudly sporting our LeMieux Sponsor Numnah for the first time, and headed down to the warm up. He warmed up really sweetly – was listening to my leg, soft in the contact, and not too fizzy. I did a few transitions, practiced some of the movements, and then headed off to do our test after 20 minutes as it was very warm and he was being compliant.
Overall the test felt really smooth, I left feeling super pleased with him and that it was one of our better tests. I contained the canter a bit too much on the right rein and he had nowhere to go with the energy so swapped behind, but a quick correction and allowing him to travel forward solved that. He’s still a little crooked so wasn’t fully straight for all of the test, particularly on the left rein down the long side. I was expecting a relatively good score for our test – not a strong one, but a decent one. The results went up and we came out with 36.75 – I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping for a sub 35 score, there were a few marks where I thought he deserved an extra half mark here and there. However, I know that what we feel and what the judges see are very different, and I did agree with all of the judge’s comments when I compared them to the video, so I chose not to dwell on it and reminded myself I still had two phases to go!
Put Paddy back in the box for a rest, had a cup of coffee, and sat down to watch the showjumping for the Novice and Pre-Novice classes.
The course was very friendly – eight fences, no fillers, and not too meaty. I think all my investment in showjumping lessons and SJI leagues over the winter have paid off, as I watched the Novice course go up first and thought to myself “I’d give that a go!” – think I must be gone mad! So switched over to our showjumping kit – added in a martingale, popped on the LeMieux Teknique Tendon & Fetlock Boots, switched over to our Navy & Gold LeMieux CC pad, and off we went to the warmup. Once he saw the fences in the warmup, Paddy knew what was happening. The canter completely changed, he was sitting on his hocks, and full of beans! Again I didn’t do a huge warm up with him as he doesn’t need it, and we were in a very warm indoor – a few gear changes to check he was listening, a few cross poles, verticals and a spread, and off we went.
I knew after fence one it was going to go well – he was listening to me, taking me to the fence, and getting to the right spot. We got deep to one or two fences, but he had the canter to get out over it, and even got me out of trouble at the last double – a vertical to an oxer on a very long two strides. I put him deep to the vertical and he had to take a big stand-off to get out over the oxer on two, but he dug deep and got us out over it and CLEAR! It’s so hard to believe that showjumping is now the phase I feel most confident about, whereas a few years back it was my absolute nemesis – my decision to buy a horse that would compensate for my weakest phase was a good one!
Quick sprint back to the trailer, give Paddy a drink, and time to get into XC mode! With no time to be nervous, I quickly swapped out his tendon boots for XC boots and overreach boots in front, and sports boots behind, and taped them all up. The ground in Monart was really good, but parts after the water were a bit slippy, so I opted to put small (16mm) studs in behind – I didn’t put any in front as Paddy has never had them on before, I just wanted to give him some confidence if the going got a bit slippy on the course. Quickly swapped over to my skull cap, base layer and back protector, and off we went to the warm up.
The course was not timed, so there was no countdown, and it was set up in a way that you could jump the practice fence and canter straight out onto the XC. I liked this as it removed any stickiness I might have been worried about in the start box – so over the little practice log, kick kick, and we were off! Jesus Christ Natalie whatever you do don’t stop kicking – turn them toes out, feet on the dashboard and kick!
Fence one, clear. Fence two, clear. Fence three – a brush fence lined up against a row of bushes. I don’t like it says Paddy. YOU’RE DOING IT says Natalie – kick kick, tap with the stick and a couple of growls and we jump it! Fence four, another brush fence – we have a bit of a tantrum a few strides out but I find some extra courage, really turn my toes out and go for it. Over we go! Jesus Christ I’m exhausted and we’re only four fences in, oh Christ there’s the water. Kick kick, clamber, scramble, and we’re into the water – very slowly but we get through. Canter on and clear over 6a. Another scramble into the water for 6b. Canter on and clear over seven, and onto 8 which is a log over a nice big ditch down a hill. I knew we’d have problems with this one, and Paddy makes it fairly obvious that he does not appreciate being asked to jump this, so leg on, stick behind the leg, a sharp growl and we are over it! Whew!
Over fence 9, a nice inviting wall, a handbrake turn to the right and off down the hill to fence 10, a lovely rustic fence. Oh hell I forgot about this long uphill gallop, I’m already dead and I’ve to go in light seat up this hill?! Legs burning, we reach the top of the hill and over fence 11, fence 12 and fence 13 with no issues – that long gallop up the hill did him the world of good and his confidence has grown throughout the course. Fence 14, a lovely easy log, and our last fence, fence 15, looming in the distance – a sloping box full of nice bright shavings to finish. Alright Paddy – one more fence to go and we are clear, don’t let me down! Feet on the dashboard, kick kick, and we are CLEAR!!! We’ve done it! A clear round for Paddy, on his fourth time XC on grass – a huge difference from the horse who had to stop at every single fence and look at it before he jumped it the second time around.
Off I hop, loosen the girth, and walk him about to get his breathing back to normal. The XC was a short one with only 15 fences, but I was still pretty pleased to see he hadn’t sweated up too much, and breathing returned to normal quite quickly – he’s fit! Back to the trailer, and we untack, de-stud and wash down with some water and Muscle Slosh, check for scrapes/grazes and pop his LeMieux Carbon Cooler on. Another quick walk off and I give him a drink, put him away, and now I feel like I can finally eat. CURRY CHIPS.
I didn’t even bother to check the scoreboard as I assumed we would not be placed – until one of my friends runs over to tell me that I had come THIRD! Our double clear had pushed us up the leaderboard, and so I got to collect myself a lovely yellow frilly to mark our first ODE together. To be honest, I can only thank my lucky stars that the XC was not timed as we were slow – so much so that winner of the class galloped in right behind me as I finished my round! I couldn’t believe that I had placed, especially as I thought I wouldn’t even get round the XC, and still am just bursting with pride for my wonderful pony who, even when he was a unsure about a fence, went and did it because I asked him to. He tried his heart out for me and I could not ask any more of him.
As Paddy gets more confident I know he will get faster across country, he is well able to go, so I am delighted to know that we can do a double clear, and that the speed will come. If we can polish up our flatwork and build his confidence to take me XC, I believe we have a chance of being competitive this season! To help us get there, Paddy will go to a professional event rider for a few weeks’ schooling, and they will take him to a couple of ODE’s to build his confidence out XC with a more experienced rider. This has always been my plan, and I think it will give Paddy the best chance of starting to enjoy his XC, and me more confidence knowing he will take me there.
Overall, such a positive first day out for us both – the atmosphere at Monart was lovely and relaxed, and all my fellow competitors were so friendly and helpful throughout. Some of them even stood on course and shouted words of encouragement to me as I kick-kicked my way around – the eventing community are such a lovely and helpful bunch of people! To be placed was amazing, but even without a placing I still would have felt the same buzz and pride in my horse that I do right now – finishing that XC was such an achievement, and I can’t wait to go back for more! #EventingAddict