After months of having the British Riding Club winter championships in the far distance, planning and organising my Mum`s work with Matt, `flu vacs, lessons, warm up tests, and all of that. Once Matt came over to me at the beginning of March, the champs seemed to be looming very quickly. March was very busy for me in terms of work, trying to keep Otis ticking along, and fitting in all of Matt`s prep – I`ve lost count of the number of times I`ve been riding by 6.30am over the last few weeks!
My Mum challenged me to see how many blog posts I can get out of today … but I won`t bore you over the next week, and just give you a very long post, with lots of pictures!
It`s been a tumultuous couple of weeks as we made heaps of progress in our first lesson and had a great warm up competition. But then only a few days later, on Thursday, Matt came in from the school lame on his right hind. I was devastated! So I gave him some bute and told him to rest in the field – he wouldn’t stay happily in the stable alone – and on Friday he had another bute, which was the last he could have before the champs. My vet friend checked him out and agreed with me that we thought he`d fallen in the field and bruised his flank. Nervously, I rested him over the weekend and found him a bit better on Monday. Tuesday he looked sound, but I gave him another twenty four hours to rest – I wouldn’t have done much more than a gentle hack anyway on Tuesday.
On Wednesday we had an alright short schooling session. He was sound but I did think it was a bit of a long shot going to the champs. Thursday morning was a better session, and I felt he was getting on the ball. Then I started organising my things and planning for the champs. There wasn`t any time to get nervous, and to be honest I didn’t have chance to stop and think about the upcoming weekend.
We had a shorter, but productive session on Friday morning, and I told Matt he just had to perform as he did today and I`d be happy. Yes, there are bits to work on, but considering how much time I had left I knew I couldn`t work miracles! That afternoon Matt had a bath and was told on strict instructions not to roll.
I don`t think he listened.
The alarm clock was set for 3am. Yep, you read that right. 3am! we had to leave the yard at 5am in order to arrive at the showground by 8am, ready for my test at 9,02am. I think the boys were shocked. Otis was happy to have an early breakfast, and Matt was so surprised he stood very quietly eating breakfast whilst Mum and I titivated him. We even had time to let him have a graze before loading.
The journey was smooth, but we did had to stop to get me a cup of tea as I`d left my travel mug on the hall table, and I needed help waking up! Matt travelled well and then we were there!
I have to say that the championships were very well run. The venue was clearly signposted and there were plenty of stewards to park us, and everyone was very helpful, answering any questions and directing us as necessary. There was a fab community atmosphere, especially from those who were riding as part of a team, or who had travelled a long way. Riding club banners were slung between lorries, which all added to the mood.
We took Matt to the declarations and, to my great relief, his vaccinations certificate passed inspection. Then Mum went to get my number and complimentary rosette (phew, at least I have some proof of going!). She had a mental block and gave my maiden name, caused a panic because my name couldn`t be found, but then came to her senses (I blame the early start) and the mystery was solved.
I had loads of time in the warm up, but Matt didn`t seem to need it. It sounds strange, but he felt like he knew what his job was today, was calm, in the zone, and totally focused on me. He just felt great. So I spent a lot of my warm up encouraging him to have a free walk as that’s our weak part.
Whilst in the warm up I had a good look at my fellow competitors. I was a bit apprehensive that there would be a lot of flashy warmbloods, luxurious dressage saddles, and dressage divas. I was so wrong! There was a huge variety. Ladies (and it was mostly women competing) were of all ages, shapes, sizes, ability, and the horses ranged from skittish Warmbloods to comfy cobs, plaited divas to hairy vanners, rangy seventeen handers to little Matt, just qualifying as a horse! The important thing I noticed was that everyone seemed happy; they all had a little band of supporters, were very happy with their horses and in general seemed just, well, pleased to be there. It was actually a really nice atmosphere and I had a couple of passing words with several competitors.
I only really got nervous when I was called, along with another two riders, down to the test arenas. Matt must have picked up on my nerves because he started doing little poos every minute. Then it was our turn.
It was a large arena, with three dressage arenas in, music playing from the tannoy system, a dense beech hedge, and an audience along one side. This was my biggest concern; maintaining Matt`s focus. I trotted smartly towards my arena, had a little canter because we`d been stood for a few minutes, spotted my Mum hiding in a corner, and then tried to ignore everything. The bell rang, and we began.
Our test started well with a nice, straight centre line. The third movement was a change of rein, FXC in working trot. As we neared X, Matt suddenly put on the brakes. I panicked and gave him a sharp kick. This was most unlike him! What had he seen? Then I felt his tail lift and a final nervous poo was released. Dying of embarrassment, I tried to smile it off at the judge, who was laughing. Not in a horrible way, but in a “horses will be horses” way. Matt picked up his lovely trot straight away and the test continued.
The rest went smoothly; I felt our downward transitions were better than they have been, and while the free walk is getting better, and he stretched a bit, it was still a weaker area. I was pleased anyway, and made a big fuss of him as we left.
For your eyes only, take a peek at our test – watch it here!
Mum and I left The Chauffeur grazing Matt, to have a look at the official photos and to get more tea. We picked our two favourite photos and bought them – after all, how many times do you get to go to the National Championships?!
The scores were going up as we bought tea, and to my surprise we were in the lead with 74.31%!
After waiting on tenterhooks for another hour, the final results were announced … Matt and I had won with a 4% margin! I was gobsmacked! Who would have thought little Matt would go and win the National Championship!?
Eagerly, I read my test sheet … a five for our pit stop. Not surprisingly, but it could have easily have been a seven point five score. Eights for our centre lines, halt (I don`t think the judge could see his wayward front leg that he wouldn’t shift forwards), canter transitions, circles and for two collectives. The rest of the marks were sevens and seven point fives. I was really pleased! Even the free walk had improved to get a seven!
Mum read my test, and commented, “Oh, your medium walk wasn`t very good”. I rolled my eyes at her – just because sevens were my lowest marks, doesn’t mean it`s a bad score! Most people would be thrilled to have a seven on their sheet! I also realised that the five is the equivalent loss of marks as a spook, or a break in canter. And the important thing is that we got straight back into our rhythm.
We had a mounted prizegiving and Matt got to lead the lap of honour, to his delight. Then, we had an interview with the Horse and Hound, lots of photos taken for BRC and KBIS, and Matt just got to bathe in the limelight!
Of course, Mum had to buy some more photos, so off we went again! But I think you`ll agree that they are pretty special pictures of a pretty special pony!
Matt was fairly exhausted by the time we got home, as were we, but we had a fabulous day! The weather was perfect, the show ran smoothly and on time, and there was a lovely, encouraging atmosphere which made me really grateful to belong to a riding club, and I definitely want to return to another championship show soon!
I woke up on Sunday morning and did the usual social media check I found that Matt and I were the overall winners for the whole day! How exciting, what a way to top a superb day! Apparently a couple of magazines will be in touch for interviews and we have a super snazzy rosette, sash and some prizes on their way to us. What a cracking journey Matt and I have had, and I`d like to say a quick thank you to all of BRC organisers, volunteers and judges who put on the championships and to KBIS, the sponsors, and of course to my Mum for letting me take Matt and to The Chauffeur for getting up incredibly early to drive us there!