We are excited to introduce guest blogger Sasha and her horse Smarty, they have just returned from competing at the European Championships and Sasha is letting us know about everything they got up to while they were away!
Dressage day for me and Elicia! As soon as my alarm went off I began my dressage prep- I lay in bed running through the test in my head, using the amount of time it would take me and thinking of everything I would need to be doing. We played music on the speaker as we got ready, had breakfast and then we headed off to the showground for a morning ride. On arriving at the event we learnt that there were no arenas that we could work in unless we were warming up, so instead, myself and Elicia took our horses for a long walk. This helped calm nerves as we could just wander about and chat. Having ridden we got a chance to watch the Young Rider dressage which was so impressive and did fill my stomach with nerves. Their horses are a whole different calibre from where the Junior team horses were, all of them perfectly consistent and connected the whole way through, it was inspiring to watch and did raise team GB spirits as the Young riders put in two scores of around 25! Having got to the event at 7:30, I realised that I had hours until my test at 4:40. I decided I could use this time to walk the XC course again, however, I did not want to tire myself out at all and was keen to stay in the shade so I did not overheat. Instead, I decided to distract myself completely from the building nerves by watching the SJ. I found this an amazing distraction as I watched 12-14 year olds on horses jump around 1.30m tracks! With constant checking of my watch, I had a sure plan of the whole day. After lunch, I had a short nap to catch up on sleep and to ensure that I was sharp and on the ball for later. This short power nap completely refreshed me and helped to calm my nerves as well as stay relaxed. With hours still to go I was able to go and support my teammate Elicia, so with flags in hand we headed off to cheer her on! On reflection, I am not sure when I was more nervous- watching Elicia’s test or riding my own! They have a board facing the audience with marks coming up as the test goes on and it is so nerve-wracking watching the marks and being powerless to influence them! Elicia put in a strong test and I think the whole GB squad felt a small bit of relief as the first score was in the bag. However, this did mean it was my turn. Having timed when I could have my last drink when I could eat without feeling sick, and when I needed to go to the loo I felt very prepared, everything was in place. Despite some jokes about me ensuring I was at the toilet at exactly 3:05, my timetable definitely helped calm my nerves. Next, I had a small chat with Caroline where we discussed a warm up plan and ran through how I would be riding my test, again, this clear plan helped me stay on top of my inevitable nerves. I always like some private time before I get on, so after I had got ready and Mum had done my stock (I know I need to learn!), I took a moment to sit down, breathe, run through my test again, breathe, check I had everything, and breathe… again. I was as ready as I ever would be. Smarty looked beautiful as I arrived at the stables and I knew that we would be ready to perform. Although still excited in the warm-up, he must have known it was important as he did control his nerves. I was very lucky that I had a break just before me so I was not near the arena when the person before me finished and a loud cheer erupted. One more deep breath and we were ready for the test. Smarty was truly amazing, it is so hard to keep it together in that atmosphere and with that pressure, that was shown in 2017 at our European test as we had multiple big mistakes and got a score of 50.2 (old FEI scores), this made me feel even more pressure. We put in our best performance and I know I could not have tried any harder. I came out with a score of 29.7, just breaking the 30 barrier that I was so keen to break. Although I was slightly disappointed as I knew that I was capable of better scores, I knew that for that day, that test, that arena, me and my partner had given it our absolute all. We ended the day in 7th position and our team in 6th position. After finally managing to cool off, I went to walk the course again, hoping it might look easier on second look, unfortunately, it didn’t. Exhausted, proud and slightly emotional from the pressure, we headed back for some feisty card games of Snap and Cheat where we saw just how competitive we all were! With the pressure of dressage day over, I could not wait to get on the XC course.
I got a lie in! The first thing for me to do on Friday was not until 10:15, so Tessa very kindly said I could lie in instead of going to the event site at 6:15 with the others (that was the only time they could ride). I woke up feeling so refreshed and so excited for the next couple of days. A relaxing morning with just a course walk with Caroline left me re-energised and ready to take on the XC course on Saturday. It was really nice to have a one-on-one course walk where we could talk in depth about my horse on that course, it was also really interesting to look at some of the things Pierre Michelet had done on the Young Rider course. Elicia and I then took our horses for a hack and watched the remaining Young Riders from aboard our horses, we then decided to brave the XC warm up and give them a gallop, but would we be able to remain in control in only our dressage bits? Although they were both very keen, we did manage to keep them relaxed on the short gallop strip, I think the horses were just happy to not be doing dressage! After suddenly realising the time, we took the horses back to the dressage to support Leilia, who put in an amazing test and really started off the second day of dressage on a really positive note. After walking Leilia back to the stables and getting off the horses, it was time for the classic French lunch again, the highlight of many people’s day’s I am sure! Feeling very calm as I had the rest of the day free, Elicia and I focused our time on keeping everyone else feeling positive and excited, this included going to support Georgia who put in another lovely test and so took some pressure off of Heidi, who was the last Brit to go. We took this couple of hours break as an opportunity to walk the course with parents so everyone apart from Heidi who was preparing, headed off for a ‘fun’ course walk, this involved jumping through the watering machines on the XC which was a highly needed cool-off, as well as being able to reassure the parents with our plans for each fence. A much-needed stress-relief for everyone now that dressage was over! Finally, it was time to watch Heidi who did the best test of her life which put her in 6th place overnight on 28.3, and brought our team up to 4th place! With the new FEI scoring system the scores were all so packed together it was clear that it was necessary to finish on dressage scores if you wanted a good placing, this really put the pressure on. We had one more walk before heading back to the house for dinner, reviews of our dressage test, and some more highly exciting card games! With adrenaline for XC day already running high, several of us struggled to get to sleep that night.
You can read Part 4 here.
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