As I write this blog, I have now had a bit of time to reflect on Hugo and I’s biggest challenge to date – Badminton Horse Trials, and wow what an incredible time we had.
Arriving at this historic Gloucestershire event is pretty special. The emotions are almost indescribable as you pull in, see the beautiful house and then unload into the stables that have housed so many great equine superstars. All the build-up, years of dreaming and working hard, and you are finally there with it all set out before you. However, as we all know with horses, there is never too much time to dwell as you have to focus on the job in hand!
The first trot up was such a fashion show and you can’t help but feel the nerves jangle slightly, always keeping everything crossed that there won’t be any drama’s! Thankfully there weren’t, and I was so grateful to Peter Stunt for my beautiful Musto coat and polo neck, Mackenzie and George for the crucial matching burgundy Fedora hat and the lovely pieces from Victorious Jewellery which added the perfect finishing touch. I really felt the part and very lucky to have such a great outfit.
Then it was straight from the trot up to a quick dressage lesson with Pammy Hutton. By then the set warmup arenas had become quite deep but we found a quiet corner and had a great session.
Thursday was dressage day and as I mentioned in my last blog, this phase hasn’t always been Hugo’s favourite pastime. However, I tried to just keep everything the same and ride as if it were any other test. I rode first thing in the morning and just before my test I was warmed up by Pammy -squeezing me in between her dressage commentary and dressage display – and then in we headed. Unfortunately, it didn’t completely pull off this time. I was pleased with our trot work, but annoyingly our changes just weren’t on point (usually our stronger movement), and we ended up on 42.6 in new scoring money. Definitely not challenging the leaders after this phase! However, this was something I was prepared for, so after a quick re-group all focus was turned to getting ready for the cross-country challenge on Saturday.
Thursday afternoon was taken up with a course walk for Peter Stunt but on Friday I had a focussed course walk with Dickie Waygood – talking through my lines and the different options depending on how we were going. The Lake and the Eclipse pond probably required the most head scratching – and it took a little while to work out all the possible options at the mound.
I didn’t sleep much on Friday night so 6.30 am saw me heading off on my final course walk. I couldn’t wait to get on after that for a quick hack to calm the nerves. In no time my team were taking the wheelbarrow up to the wash off area to make sure we had everything for when Hugo finished. I headed to the riders’ tent to watch the first few and suddenly it was time to go.
One of the biggest moments in the week, is walking into the main arena, heading to the start of the cross country. The adrenalin levels are out of this world and I was so grateful to be sat on a horse I know inside out and have a 110% faith in. Although I didn’t have a huge number of horses before me, it was clear that the track was coursing its fair share of problems, especially as the ground seemed to be riding on the tacky side. But I knew I was sat on a brilliant Irish horse who loves to jump, so I set off meaning business and what a time we had. Hugo was insane, I really couldn’t have asked for anything more – he gave me the most memorable ride. I couldn’t believe how well he jumped the lake and the vicarage vee – and that he just kept jumping and trying all the way to the end. I did take a couple of planned long routes and had to go to plan B at the Shogun Hollow when Hugo gave the ditch feet! So, I ended up coming home a minute over the time. As the day progressed it came apparent that no one was going to get the time, so we managed to rise a massive 37 places from 71st to 34th! What a horse Hugo is, I was on cloud nine and so proud of how well he took on the track.
I had an amazing team at the finish – including my vet and farrier – who helped wash Hugo off whilst I got whisked away for media interviews. They did a great job of cooling him quickly to get his temperature and heart rate down so he could go back to the stables for more washing off and icing. He recovered really well which meant we could leave him for some well earned rest – before being checked again by the vet and having a deserving massage from his physio.
Sunday morning came, and I had to drag myself away from repeatedly re-jumping my cross-country round and turn our attention to the final trot up and then show-jumping. The inspection thankfully passed with no issues and then my focus was on the full up show-jumping track built by Kelvin Bywater which was going to take some jumping. Dickie Waygood warmed me up which went really positively despite Hugo feeling a bit tired. Going into the ring however, I could feel that the usual jumping Hugo was slightly feeling the effect of his mammoth cross-country effort. Despite keeping up a good rhythm the fatigue slightly got the better of us and we rolled a few poles. Although a slightly disappointing end, it has still been such an incredibly special week and we finished up in 42nd position and the best of the British first timers. A massive well done to Jonelle for taking the win – she gave a masterclass in cross country riding and is an amazing lady to be competing against. Also, a huge thank you to all my fantastic team for everything they did – Kim for looking after Hugo all week – Lucie for providing amazing back up and being a trojan over the weekend – Mum for always being there at the right time and managing not to have a nervous breakdown all week- and Dad for keeping the show on the road at home. Not to mention the other countless supporters and helpers – especially my vet team both at home and at Badminton, my farrier and Leigh and Alice for getting him there is such good shape and keeping him like that all week. I also could not have done it without my sponsors especially Equifeast for providing amazing supplements, Voltaire for the most incredible saddles and Spillers feed that kept Hugo on top form. It was great to catch up with them during the competition and they were all so supportive all week.
Badminton 2018 for me, will always be remembered for the cross-country round Hugo gave me. He went around with the best look on his face, we helped each other out, worked as a team and came home with huge grins on both our faces. Being part of this competition has made me hungrier than ever to keep competing at the very top level and I am so grateful to Hugo for giving me the opportunity.