“Cross country can only be described as incredible”

Sarah and Hugo take on their last event of the season, Alnwick Ford. But did they go out with a bang?

Between the terrible weather at the start of the year and the ridiculously hot/dry weather in the middle of the summer, it feels like 2018 has been the shortest eventing season in history as it is already time for me to report on my final event of the season!
Since we last spoke (is that the correct term?) Hugo and I have successfully completed two more BE90s and have gained our MER [Minimum Eligibility Requirement] qualification to move up to BE100 next season. 
Let’s begin with Frenchfield, which was only added to the eventing calendar this season but already feels like an established event. We started the day with an average dressage, which I blame myself for because a) I warmed him up for far too long on a muggy day and b) I rode like an actual lemon in the test. Coming down the centre line with baggy reins and expecting a square halt is not a realistic approach to the situation. 
The show jumping proved tricky as the ground was very slippery and the Cumbria events are known for their challenging courses, which always have plenty of turn backs and dog legs. He felt mega around the course until we slipped on take-off at number seven and clattered through the spread. Although we got to the other side unscathed, he is still young and it just seemed to knock his confidence slightly, meaning we didn’t get the right shot to the final double either and finished with 12 faults. 
Cross country can only be described as incredible. There is no water at Frenchfield so it suited us down to the ground and meant we could just go out and enjoy ourselves. He made the BE90 track feel easy again, tackling doubles on the angle, a log-ditch skinny and a step up to a skinny for the first time. I didn’t wear my stopwatch again as we weren’t in contention for a placing, however we ended up crossing the finish 20 seconds ahead of the optimum time and receiving reverse time faults – whoops! Thankfully it seemed that his fright in the show jumping was now far behind him.
So, on to Alnwick Ford we went for our final run. In a world full of sunshine, rainbows and butterflies I’d be reporting that I finished my season with a double clear, but we are talking about horses and it just wasn’t to be. 
That said, there were certainly a lot of positives from Alnwick, including HUGE improvements in our dressage test. I warmed up without stirrups as I ride better without (I know, weird right?) and Hugo was listening and forward, which continued when we were inside the white boards. I was super happy for a score of 30.8.
We had a long wait before show jumping and when the time came it wasn’t one for the record books. Anyone who has been to Alnwick will know that the arena is lined with full-length mirrors on all sides and is a whole new world of spookiness. The first time I took Hugo to a pure show jumping competition here it took me about four minutes after the bell had gone to get to the start, so that paints a pretty good picture of how terrifying it is. But only eight faults later I hadn’t exited through the front door and was pleased we got to go cross country!
After another long wait, Hugo warmed up beautifully for the cross country – really calm, but keen and forward. He came out of the start box like a man on a mission and motored over the first couple of fences. We were a little quick across the bridge and up the hill, so I had to take a bit more of a hold as we were already 15 seconds up on our first minute marker. He cruised around the course like it was nothing – effortless, even – and we both enjoyed every second. I had a grin on my face to match that of the Cheshire Cat.
But alas, horses always have a wonderful way of bringing you crashing down to earth in the blink of an eye. It would appear that our water demons have not been 100 per cent slain just yet as we came to a sharp stop at the boat three strides before the water. Damn it (although I don’t think my turn of phrase at the time was quite so polite).
We took a minute and cleared it second try and, would you believe it, after all that he trotted straight into the water itself without a second thought. Horses, eh? So, my smile returned, and we finished the course full of running and with lots of things to work on over the winter.
Although our final run might have been a little bit of an anti-climax, when I think back to earlier in the season it’s incredible just how much we have achieved. There are far too many achievements to list just now, so I will take the opportunity in my next blog to look back on our season and talk about just how far we have come. 
In the meantime, the countdown is on with only seven months until our next event…

Image credit: Dave Cameron Photography