The eventing season finished last weekend for Otis and I, and for once I`m not sorry to have a break. Usually we finish on a high and are thirsty for more. However, this year we have just about scrabbled ourselves together to survive our final run.
At the end of August we had a fantastic run at Elmwood Equestrian in the 100 section, getting a personal best dressage score of 28.3 to lie in second place. Then some unfortunate time penalties cross country and a rolled pole (Otis and I had a difference in opinion in the speed) showjumping dropped us to fifth, but I was really pleased with our performance. However, a fortnight later we crashed and burned and have been struggling to regain our confidence since.
We were at Burnham Beeches doing the 100 – the dressage could have gone better, and I`m angry with myself as I know I could have ridden better but we were in the top third. Then during the showjumping Otis got himself very wound up, locking on to any fence he saw, and then panicking when fence four approached rapidly. He refused and then both of us were shaken up and we were eliminated at jump five. Back in the warm up, Otis flew over the oxer, so I knew there must be another reason.
On the way home, I narrowed it down to one of the following: The change in chauffeur and groom unsettled me; Parking next to Piggy French and seeing her comings and goings intimidated me slightly – particularly when she rode her dressage test immediately after me; I was worried about the testing cross country course that was coming up; Otis`s jump saddle wasn`t sitting as well as it used to. He must`ve changed shape over the season; Otis`s back was due to be checked – although he still felt straight to ride, and was jumping straight; Otis was anticipating the cross country and wasn`t focused on the showjumps; The size of the up-to-height course worried both of us.
With so many possible theories I spent the next couple of days altering the saddle with various pads, building him up over a few confidence giving fences at home, booking saddle fits and physio. It`s amazing how your confidence has more ups and downs than an Alton Towers rollercoaster. One moment you`re sky high, and it only takes a slight error of course, or a negative comment, to bring it all crashing down around your ears, and then you must spend months putting the 1000-piece jigsaw back together.
The following Thursday we set off to Blenheim at the crack of dawn to participate in the Riding Club 90cm Team Eventers Challenge. The course was twisty, but not big, which wasn`t a bad thing in my books as I just wanted Otis to have fun and enjoy himself again. We got round with a huge rider error that I`m still kicking myself for ... I basically forgot to ride towards a fence, being so focused on the alternative routes after the fence. Anyway, we were feeling a bit more confident, and pleased to have ridden at Blenheim Palace, albeit not in the proper competitions!
Last weekend, with a heavy heart and a bag of nerves, I set off for Swalcliffe Equestrian ODE last Sunday. I contemplated withdrawing as I`d lost enthusiasm for the final event of the year. Then I thought about changing to the 90 section ... but that felt like admitting defeat. So off we went, with one ear on the cross country whistles during the dressage. I was unable to find my zone, that I`d managed so successfully and Elmswood, but the test was fair. There were some very low scores though in my section! Then in the showjumping Otis went slightly loopy, and careered around the course, finally settling into his rhythm at fence five after unfortunately knocking two poles. The second half of the course he jumped beautifully, albeit a bit big! He felt great then!
We were clear in the cross country, but the steep hills showed up our lack of fitness preparation and we incurred some time penalties. I was happy that we survived though, and Otis flew the cross country fences confidently and easily.
So at the end of the eventing season I know that I have some serious work to do over the winter. Namely, continue to build on our dressage, working towards Elementary, and then go out and jump more 1m and 1.05m courses so that neither of us get fazed by the bigger courses. Then I need to get organised to get out on the nearby gallops earlier next season to help build Otis`s stamina and speed – something his cob-like frame finds difficult. And I also think practising more dressage on grass will help improve our scores. Hopefully by the spring I will have rediscovered the thrill and excitement of eventing and begin the season with new vigour.