Daphne and I had a great weekend at The Cotswold Cup Championship, we didn’t quite finish where we would like to have done, but we had a lot of fun along the way! Read on to find out how we got on at our first three-day, long format event…
I was up early Friday morning to wash and plait Daphne. She was washed at least once a day for the week before the event and still it was hard to get her gleaming! I never appreciated the work that goes into having a grey before she arrived! I had packed the car and hitched up the trailer the night before so once she was clean and plaited, I loaded her up and off we went to Cirencester Park ready for our trot up at 10:45am. We arrived in plenty of time, so I went to the stands to get some last-minute essentials (studs and a bridle number) and then got Daphne off the trailer and continued with more cleaning.
Weirdly, I was rather nervous for the trot up. I have no idea why; I knew she was sound, and I have got countless horses ready for trot ups back when I was an event groom, but it felt a little different doing it for myself. She trotted up beautifully and I was lucky enough to win the best footwear prize (men’s section) kindly sponsored by Hiho Silver thanks to my lovely kilim shoes from World Secrets so that was a good start. Sadly, it was to be the only thing we won that weekend.
After a quick walk of the cross country course, it was time for dressage. My dressage coach (and partner) Tony Stroud had come along to help so I went and watched a couple of tests whilst he kindly finished getting Daphne ready so that I could make sure I didn’t forget the test. It was then time to hop on and get warmed up. Tony helped me get her nice and relaxed and we practiced our medium trot which was looking very flashy for us (we had to show some lengthened strides in the test) so we were fully prepared as we went in and trotted round the outside. Unfortunately, Daphne is very sensitive and often I find that I have a different horse in the arena to the one I have in the warmup. Unfortunately, this was one of those occasions, which we can probably put down to my nerves channeling through to her. So, the test was accurate but tense and when I tried to show off my lengthened strides (that we’d nailed in the warmup) we frustratingly broke into canter both times. We came away with a 38.3 putting us in 14th place overnight. I was not disappointed; we had done so well to get there, and it was our first test in a long arena, so we put it down to a learning experience and move on.
The next day was cross country. Thankfully, our times were not too early, so I had time to wash her (again… Are you noticing a theme?) without having to be up too early. As our yard is nice and close to Cirencester Park, we headed back and forth each day so again I had packed the trailer the night before, so we were ready. (I’m not sure where this level of organisation has come from, but I should learn from this, no doubt I will not!). I had spent most of the previous evening trying to get my head around the roads and tracks element, which involved a lot of maths and writing down all my split times on a piece of paper to Sellotape to my arm. Thankfully Alec Lochore had given us a great explanation of what to expect at the rider briefing on Thursday night which helped a great deal. I got there in plenty of time and met a friend to walk the course again. I was worried about getting lost and there was a combination I was not 100% sure how to ride so I wanted to just walk it once more. Then it was time to go. We cracked on through the first roads and tracks (phase A) finishing 30 seconds inside the time. Next, it was onto the steeplechase (phase B) and I was surprised how fast we had to go. I really kicked on and we finished 5 seconds inside the time, you can see why event horses needed plenty of blood in the days of roads and tracks. Then it was on to Phase C, the second roads and tracks. It was actually lovely, we passed several other competitors, and everyone asked each other how they had got on and wished each other luck. There was a real sense of community spirit. Daphne and I finished 4 minutes inside the time for Phase C, I was so nervous that I may have calculated my times wrong so I kept moving although we still had plenty of walking time and the vet was happy with her heart rate when we arrived at the ten-minute box. There I met my ace support team (Tony had moved into head groom role for that day) and we loosened the girth, walked Daphne off and I had a mars bar and a drink to ensure I had the energy levels I needed for the cross country. Ten minutes flew by and next thing we knew we were in the start box and flying down to fence one. We had a fabulous round, Daphne jumped brilliantly and the course rode really well, she was super straight at the harder questions, and we felt like a real partnership. There was something pretty special about galloping down the avenue with a view across Cirencester town ahead of us too. We finished 7 seconds inside the time and were back in the ten-minute box to unsaddle and wash down. A quick check by the vet told us Daphne had recovered well and was ready to go back to the box where she had her Equi-N-Ice bandages on to cool her legs, a bit of grass and plenty of pats. A few friends had come to watch which was lovely, so we had a bit of a picnic, and I bored them with blow-by-blow accounts of all four phases. Then it was home to plait up again and repack the car for Sunday (if we qualify next year we are definitely staying on site!) We had crept up to 11th overnight which was very exciting.
Sunday morning, we had another super early start as trot up was at 9:10am. You guessed it, there was more washing to do. I had plaited the night before, thankfully, so we could get on the road pretty quickly and we were heading down the drive at 7:15am. Another nerve-wracking trot up (particularly after the exertions of the day before) was thankfully passed then we had a long wait until we jumped at 5:15pm. I had a couple of naps and gave Daphne a few picks of grass but luckily there was plenty going on to keep me entertained, the organisers had really put on a great show. I had a few other friends there, so it was great to watch and cheer them on too.
As you will have seen from my previous blog, showjumping is not our forte and I was not sure whether the three-day format would be better or worse for Daphne. The organisers had built a decent course which caused plenty of trouble (it is a championship after all). When it came to our round, I remembered everything I had learned in my lessons with Lucy and was pleased that I stayed calm and had a good canter. Daphne jumped brilliantly, unfortunately she had two down which I am putting down to lack of match practice and one down which I am putting down to me riding like a lemon and dropping her in front of it. However, at the ones she kept up she nearly jumped me out of the saddle! Three down dropped us to 13th place so no rosettes this time but still a great weekend.
When I look back to when Daphne first arrived in April 2021, and bear in mind that we missed most of last summer because I had a hip replacement and then the ground went against us, I am so thrilled with having qualified and got to the Championships. She is a different horse, and I am a different rider. Whilst we have plenty to work on, we have come so far in a relatively short period of time. The champs wasn’t about winning for us, it was about celebrating how far we have got, doing our first three day (and long format) and having a lovely weekend at a fantastic event. The atmosphere all weekend was fun, friendly and supportive and that’s what it’s all about (I still want to win next year)!