This month's main focus has been preparing Brina and Rival for the Regionals. It always amazes me how quickly time passes and I haven't managed to fit everything in. I had planned to take Brina out and about as she has a limited competition experience. The problem is she is pretty unflappable, so she ends up at the bottom of my list of educational outings. So, with only a few weeks until the Regionals, I was glad I had the forethought to book her and Rival into a couple of shows, at least I managed to be that organised.
Neither horse let me down, both behaved really well, despite the freezing weather and lack of experience. Rival had only been out once since the summer Nationals. I was a little sleep-deprived as I was staying at the farm whilst my parents were away. I don't like the idea of no-one on site with all horses and, this time, it was essential as Casey their older dog seemed to have injured his back just before they left. The drugs he was on left him disorientated and he spent most of the night barking, not conducive to sleep!
Brina warmed up really well and wasn't spooked by the arena. The only thing was in the first halt, one of her bad habits reappeared. I asked her to halt and she grabbed the bit and kept going! Eventually I did haul her to a very late halt, with her head sky high and she then proceeded to inspect the viewing gallery, oblivious to my efforts to regain her attention. She proceeded down the centre line beautifully and didn't put a foot wrong after that, much to the judges' amusement.
With Rival, I had been working on suppleness and engagement through the corners and was thrilled with the feeling he gave me in the ring. I felt like I had so much more time and balance, making Advanced Medium seem easy and that he is now ready for the step up to Prix St Georges. I was disappointed with his mark, as the ease I felt in the test wasn't rewarded; he scored 68% and there were plenty of scores way up into the high 70s. I concluded I was going to have to achieve the same ease with more flamboyance, if I had a hope at the Regionals.
The next weekend Brina was back out to try her first music, mainly to check she was confident in the arena. I had cobbled together a hasty programme which suited her well, but wasn't the most polished. It had been one of my toughest weeks, Casey the dog had been so ill I'd needed some midnight trips to the emergency vet, and thought I was going to lose him and I couldn't allow that to happen whilst dad was away, as he adores him. Brina, thankfully was excellent, looking after her exhausted rider and pulled off a fab’ 72.2%, a real boost so I was looking forward to seeing what we could pull of at the Championships as she has the advantage of being unfazed by atmosphere and arenas.
By the time my parents returned, it had all changed with Casey. He was diagnosed with lymphoma but had responded well to treatment and was looking a much happier dog then the one they left behind, while I looked a much more haggard daughter! At least I had time to re-energise before the Regionals, with both horses feeling amazing training at home. I'd taken Rival for a session with local friend and judge Mark Ruddock to give him another outing and Mark's viewpoint from a judge’s perspective was invaluable.
I was in for one of those all too frequent disappointments with horses though. The day before Brina was due to compete she went lame, the farrier kindly came to check her and he suspected bruising. I was gutted, I hadn't expected to go and win but she was going so well and is such a gorgeous mare, I knew she wouldn't disgrace herself but it wasn't meant to be. It doesn't get easier to cope with the lows of horses, all that expectation and preparation, let alone money, wasted! I confess I was distinctly out of sorts that afternoon but, of course, by the next day I’d moved on!
Rival wasn't for five days, so he was wrapped up in cotton wool as he was not missing his Regionals! I love the extra pressure of a Championship, it makes you focus and ride that bit better, I think I find that a little addictive! In the warm up he was his usual buzzy little self, so I had to focus on keeping the energy but channelling it into a slower more cadenced rhythm and getting him to relax through the neck into a better frame. He also boils over if I warm up too long so I have to do that in the shortest possible time and then trust him to come good quick enough. Like I say, I thrive on the challenge. Mark was there so it was really useful to have some feedback from the sidelines, a luxury I've not often had.
In the test Rival was amazing. His neck was out, I could keep releasing the rein so he carried himself. We kept a slower but powerful, cadenced trot and his changes felt uphill. The walk pirouettes were the only thing we could do better, they weren't as secure as he can do. His last extended canter was huge and then feather light to come immediately back to collection. I was ecstatic, it was the best ride he had ever given me and almost as good as we could do, what more can you ask for? I was so proud of my beautiful boy. He scored over 70%, which put him into second place, with the top two combinations qualifying for the Nationals. There were still a lot of competitors to go, so the wait began! The girls had all started early at the yard so they could come and watch, it was lovely having the yard so supportive and interested. We decided to retreat to the lorry for celebratory tea and cake in any event. We held on to second place right to the end, so there was a very happy rider, mum, owner and yard.
This month sums up a life with horses and animals. Having to nurse them if they are ill, that awful time when you have to decide if treatment is best or it's time to say goodbye. The highs and lows of preparing for a Championships and not being able to go and everything you hoped for coming together in the right five minutes. I am so lucky to have developed such a tight-knit team who pull together to support each other through every scenario put in front of us. For me that sense of 'community' within my yard is key and as precious as those highs of success we all strive for and I am proud of both equally.