Achieving Your (Mad) Goals by Davina Gray

It’s the first week of January, and it’s time for goal setting and New Year’s resolutions! Despite always saying I will give up sweets and chocolate I know it will never happen, as I have zero willpower and I work in a place where there an abundance of free sweets and chocolate!

However, I am much better at having mad dreams and putting in place stepping stones and goals along the way to try and achieve the dream.

Who am I?

I’m Davina, an amateur event rider who works full time for a global tech company in Dublin. In my spare time, I event my 2 mares Heidi (Balief Clover) and Dora (Hacklim Moxie) at 1* / EI100 level with big dreams for the 2 of them in 2018.

A (Mad) Goal is Born

When I was out hacking last Christmas (2016) I had this mad idea that I would love to try and qualify both of my mares for the Dublin Horse Show, get Heidi to Novice/1* and have a crack at the National Eventing Championships. At that point in time, Dora had never been to an event (only jumped a couple rounds of 80cm) and Heidi had just done a season of EI100. So yes – the dreams were mad, but the goals were put in place for the 2017 season…..and what a season it was! When people tell you that dreams don’t come true,  they are wrong – as even mad dreams can come true, with a hell of a lot of hard work and support.

Davina Gray

Getting Eventing fit in December – complete with mud highlights!

A Good Support Network

How did I achieve all these dreams? Well first up – I have an fantastic support team behind me to help guide me along the way! I really have to thank my yard owner, Kay Nolan and my trainer, Sarah Ennis for all their help this season – I would not have achieved it all without their help, support and kick up the backside when I needed it most!

Planning for 1*

The goal with Heidi was probably more realistic, as she had actually been competing at EI100 before the season started. I had hoped to qualify her for Camphire CIC* in July.

The grassroots training weekend at Spruce Lodge was fantastic and I was able to practice all sorts of lines and skinnies with the intention of going 1* in a couple of events time.

With this in mind I looked at the EI calendar, picked out the events I wanted to run at and carefully picked the one to upgrade her. I chose Tyrella for a variety of reasons – I like it there; you know what you are going to get; its big (rider frightener) but not technical; and the ground is generally good there.


Our second 1* at Punchestown

Before Tyrella, we had a couple of runs at EI100 to get our eye in and at the 2nd run (her final one before going 1*) I put the gun to her head and kicked her on to see how she would react – and she flew around the course! So it was all roads to Tyrella where she cruised (slowly) around the 1* with no issues. I then headed to Punchestown, where I naively assumed that being the first event there the 1* would be soft! How wrong I was and by fence 4, I could have sworn I was in the 2*….anyway Heidi showed her class and jumped around  a big and technical 1* track – it was this very point I knew she was ok for Camphire and it was just about getting qualified.

Davina Gray

Cruising around the showjumping at Tyrella!

Having a Backup Plan

But things don’t always go to plan, and you need to be prepared to make tweaks along the way. At the next Punchestown we had a green 20 penalties at a tricky fence out of the water.  I was expecting that things may not go smoothly so had back up qualifying runs in the pipeline, and we went home and schooled over some skinnies in and out of water. We then got our qualifying run and at the final run before Camphire, Heidi jumped a super double clear to win at Ballindennisk. A show jumping lesson with Sarah did the trick.

Davina Gray

A lovely shot in the 1* class at Punchestown 2

Going International

At Camphire, Heidi did a dressage test exactly where I expected, we had 1 down jumping and jumped a lovely clear cross country. For a young mare, she showed her true class and when a senior pro rider texts you to say ‘well done on the job you have done producing her’…. it was equivalent of winning for me!

Davina Gray

Our first International 1* at Camphire. Credit: EquusPix Photography

All roads lead to Dublin

So while Heidi was making all the headlines, I was quietly bringing Dora along in the background, with a few 20’s on the record from over-jumping into things (and steering) – but nothing that I could not solve with a bit of time and some XC lessons from Sarah. With scope to burn, it was about directing it in the right way.

By early June, Dora had completed a few 90’s and I had thought that the Dublin Horse Show Small Event Horse qualifiers would be too much for her, having gone to the first two with Heidi where the ground was less than ideal for the show jumping. I had been told that Forth Mountain was always the smallest Showjumping and that the ground would be good there, so as I was going with Heidi I brought Dora for a nice day out and experience. They were right about the ground being good – but oh boy was the showjumping big! It was the full 1.10 and the biggest I had jumped on Dora was 90cm! I went on Heidi first as she was priority to try and qualify, and after jumping a lovely clear round (there were only 2 clears at that stage) – I was hoping that she might have done enough to get a ticket.

Davina Gray

It was never a question of scope with Dora! Credit: EquusPix Photography

Then it was Dora’s turn. Sarah Ennis kindly warmed me up on her, and as the practice fence went up above any height I had jumped before, I didn’t say anything to Sarah as it was all going so well and I was scared to change it! Dora went in and belied her lack of experience by jumping one of the best rounds ever. It was the most amazing feeling to ride her around the course as she finds it all so easy –  to think a year previous she had never been to a show, being made even more special because she is a homebred.

Sometimes you need someone who you trust and who has complete faith that you can do it. Sarah had complete faith that it would not be too much for Dora that day at Forth Mountain….so the two mares were off the the RDS! Another dream realised.

Davina Gray Tattersalls

Dora jumping in the Ladies 1.10 class at Tattersalls

I then put in place a plan for Dublin! With both mares at different levels, I tailored my training plans to suit them both. I went show jumping (a full day hanging around Tattersalls to jump in the Ladies 1.10m), went schooling on Dora over arena type cross-country fences that she would see in Dublin, and I practiced in trot the exercise I would have to do at the RDS (a weird serpentine of show jumps).

Dublin was the most amazing experience – to ride both mares in the main arena of the RDS is every little girl’s dream.The cherry on top was finishing fifth on Heidi and getting a rosette – it made all the long hours, early mornings and hard work worthwhile.

Davina Gray Small Event Horse

Heidi competing in the main arena at the Dublin Horse Show to finish 5th in the Small Event Horse class. Credit: Eventing in Focus

Our next International

At the start of the season, I had thought I would do Camphire International, the National Championships and then Ballindennisk International in the autumn. However all that changed at Camphire when I was told I should consider doing Millstreet instead of Ballindennisk….the words wet, mud and winter were used to describe Ballindennisk Autumn. So plans were changed and off to Millstreet we went! The Show jumping was massive there, and despite having one fence down, Heidi jumped brilliantly. The cross country was mostly the Junior European course, and a bit of green-ness on both our parts meant we got 20 penalties at the last water near the end of the course. On paper it didn’t look like a great result but I was delighted with her.

Davina Gray Millstreet

Showjumping with Heidi in the 1* at Millstreet International. Credit: Millstreet Photography

Finishing the season as Amateur Champions!

It was then on to the Nationals where I just had Heidi, as between all the gigs and reels and upgrading half way through the season Dora had not qualified but it was not the end of the world as she had achieved more than I had hoped for in 2017.

When walking the cross country course at the Nationals I was a bit worried about the first water, which was a triple bar rail straight into the water. Early on XC morning, I decided to watch some of the senior riders and it was probably not a great idea! It was causing huge problems with lots activating the MiMM clip and a few fallers. A quick pep talk from Sarah in the car park, where I said I just wanted to get around – and she swiftly told me to kick on and go for the time! So out of the start box like a rocket we went, and Heidi was just brilliant. I need not have worried about the water as she flew through it and we were home just 1 second over the time….it was enough for a possible placing, crowning us National 1* Amateur Champions!

Davina Gray National Championships

Some of the best photos from the National Eventing Championships with Heidi.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would win the Nationals in her first year at that level – dreams really do come true!

Here are ten things I learned along the way that helped me achieve my (mad) goals in 2017:

  1. Dream big – but have realistic stepping stone goals along the way
  2. Don’t worry if you have set-backs – regroup and re-align the goal, and get some help / guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask the pro’s for help (or a good instructor / trainer)
  3. Be focused on what you want to achieve or work on in each session when you are schooling. If you are not in the humour for a schooling session, go for a hack or work on fitness.
  4. Be flexible in time-frame for what you want to achieve
  5. Don’t feel pressured by social media – Social media is wonderful, but can add underlying pressure when you see what others are doing / jumping / winning
  6. Find a trainer who you click with and someone who will push you to achieve your goals and dreams
  7. Employ the use of Sports Psychology – I have attended a few talks and one of the big things I learned was visualising how you will ride (say your dressage test / round of jumps) and remember a time when things went well. What did you do, how were you feeling, how did you prepare and try and emulate this the next time.
  8. Plan – have a calendar, work back from each event and plan what you work on with your horse in the weeks before an event – lessons, schooling, fitness etc.
  9. Learn to love early mornings / late nights! Be prepared for some long days, I get up early to ride as I find it easier to ride before work.
  10. Girls – dry shampoo will become your friend! The best way to hide hat hair as you go straight from the yard to work.


Davina Gray Dublin Horse Show

Me and my two brilliant mares at the Dublin Horse Show!

Its now January 2018 and I am planning some big dreams for the season ahead, and I can’t wait for it to start!

Davina Gray, Amateur Eventer


  1. Deborah

    Thanks for sharing Davina and Natalie! Great to read what can happen with hard work and a plan.
    No 3 definitely is so true! I must remember this next time i am tempted to have a night off
    “Be focused on what you want to achieve or work on in each session when you are schooling. If you are not in the humour for a schooling session, go for a hack or work on fitness.”

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