April 4, 2012

It is apparently against tradition to begin eventing in England before March and since we know the Brits are big believers in tradition, event riders spend January and February flocking to every schooling dressage and jumping show trying to shake off the cobwebs and out practice the competition.  While eventing in California and Florida was well underway, I was reduced to stalking the internet, jealously watching the results from across the pond, and of course trying to win every schooling show.  When March did roll around, all we were missing was a starting gun; we were off to the races.  Finn’s first outing of the year was at Tweseldown where we did a very excited dressage test, show jumped well, and had a good, although somewhat playful, cross country.  The following weekend, Prospere went very nicely in the novice (that’s preliminary in America) at Aldon Horse Trials.  Although I ran him conservatively cross country he finished 6th, adding nothing but time penalties to his dressage score.  My other ride at Aldon was Doris, a young homebred mare of Nick’s.  She unfortunately found the Novice a bit much for her first outing and, although her scorecard was marred by greenness, she had a good learning experience and came home a bit more grown up.  Two days later Finn was out again at Lincolnshire Horse Trials where all the big wigs came out.  It was a fantastic cross country course for the beginning of the year, with lots of gallop, good ground, and some difficult enough combinations to get the horses thinking and on their feet.  Finn was much more settled and down to business for his second outing.

The following weekend Prospere went beautifully in the Intermediate at Gatcombe Park again adding nothing but a few time penalties to his dressage score.  I was pleasantly surprised with how well he galloped along and that he found the cross country quite easy.  For the first time I was forced to stop downplaying how nicely he is going and consider that he’s a really good horse.  Then on Wednesday we took some youngsters to Somerley Park where I had my favorite ex-polo pony in the Pre-Novice (that’s Training level).  Dexter did a very steady dressage, and although he taped a few show jumps out of greenness, he was incredibly good to go in the big ring surrounded by the trade fair on all sides and jump around a course that was set very much to size.  Cross country he was absolutely brilliant, gaining confidence and experience with every jump.  For his first eventing experience I’d say he stepped up to the task very well.

Then it was Finn’s turn last weekend at Belton Park CIC3* where we needed to get a qualifying score and where Mark Phillips would see us out for the first time this season.  Finn jumped so well at home on Friday before we went, I was feeling pretty confident but when you need a qualifying score cross country, there’s no room for error.  He warmed up for dressage beautifully and the crowd that gathered at 6:00 at night when we were the last to go proved that I wasn’t the only one thinking we could do a blinder of a dressage test.  Mark said it’s the best he’s ever seen the horse, and one of the stewards said “that horse is nearly perfect!”  Frustratingly, when we went in the ring Finn lit up a bit and I didn’t do a good enough job settling him.  It was a case of nearly but not quite, for a score of 52. Mark and I talked about the fact that the horse is working wonderfully and now it’s a matter of perfecting the warm up to make sure we get the best work in the ring.  Frustrating, but not disastrous.  In Show jumping I let my disappointment of the day prior get the better of me, and I rode a hurried and desperate round causing Finn to have one down.  It is a testament to how good he is that on a day when people were having lots of rails, we only had one.  Fortunately that was a wakeup call along with Nick’s “what are you doing, chill out” pep talk before cross country, and I was able to get my head screwed on correctly in time.  Finn went absolutely brilliantly around a difficult and up to size 3* track, most importantly getting our qualifying result, but also letting me feel like we are right on track with our training and spring preparations.  Not bad work for three week’s time, and as a competitor, keeping a schedule like this will be about 4 times the experience I would normally have in a spring season.  If I didn’t know before, I now know why the Brits are so good at eventing!

This weekend we are off to Burnham Market where Prospere is doing the CIC2* and Finn will do the dressage and showjumping of the CIC3*. I had entered him in case of needing another chance to qualify, but now it will be a good opportunity to get in the big ring again and make some improvements without spending his legs cross country.  Prospere will be making a big leap up to the 2* level and with only two events together, hopefully we know each other well enough to be up to the task.

Hope everyone else’s springs are going equally well.