“I wish I could bottle this feeling”

Last time you heard from me I was celebrating the success of my first BE completion on baby Hugo. However, as is too often the case with horses, we came back down to earth with a bump pretty quickly afterwards…

Following his very bold cross country at Hopetoun, I had excitedly entered the BE90 at Forgandenny two weeks later. However, during the week of final preparations, Hugo developed a bit of a cough and by the Friday before the big day it was bad enough for me to call the vet. An hour later (very good service!) the vet had established there was no abnormal temperature or scary mucus, so it seemed he was just having an allergic reaction, possibly to the dust (it has been seriously dry this summer). Sadly, the withdrawal email was sent, we stocked up on a tub of anti-cough powder and set our sights on Burgham at the end of July instead. 

He was to stay in work as light exercise would help to open his lungs, so we had a jolly time hacking around and working on our square halts, leg yielding and shoulder-in in walk. Sadly, with no rain (was I even in Scotland anymore?!), the cough lingering and Burgham fast approaching there was yet ANOTHER withdrawal for us and the season seemed to be disappearing far too fast with very little action. 

However, after six long, soul-destroying weeks it was FINALLY time to plait up and get the tack cleaned as we were cough-free and headed for Central Scotland Horse Trails at Dalkeith to tackle Hugo’s first BE90!

My non-horsey other half (NHOH) and I decided we would walk the course in what seemed like the dead of night (how on earth is it dark by 9.30pm ALREADY?!?). As we reached the end of the course, I talked through the track in great detail speaking a dialect which might as well have been parseltongue to NHOH, and seeing his confused face at the phrase “getting him underneath me” (shouldn’t the horse always be underneath you?) I had my epiphany!

All this time I’ve been talking about how Hugo’s going to react to things – “Hugo might find that spooky”, “Will Hugo go in the water?”, “What’s Hugo going to think of this?” – when all along I should have been thinking about me and what I was doing. Hugo will only react as well as I ride. If my riding is on point then his performance will be on point (in theory). So, I decided that in the most unselfish way, today was going to be all about me.

With a new tactic and a fresh wave of determination, I headed to bed only to be woken up before my alarm by the rain lashing against my window – did I wake up in November?! Alas no, it’s still August and I’m getting up to go eventing in a monsoon.

Super grooms Mum and Dad arrived at the stables and offered to reimburse me for my entry fee if it meant they didn’t have to go and stand in a wet field all day! But I ploughed on and ignored their: “It will probably be cancelled anyway” remarks. It was so wet that my Dad reversed the trailer right up to the barn door to load so we didn’t get soaked. Throughout the 45-minute journey to the event, I kept pointing out that it looked brighter up ahead, but I thing I was clutching at straws!

We arrived, number collected, and tacked up completely inside the trailer. The Scottish weather gods took a small amount of pity on me and turned the water off ever so slightly. 

Hugo’s dressage was a great improvement on the last one – no spooking and really forward into the bridle. I would say his head was a little high and our downwards transitions were fairly/very abrupt, but I was thrilled with him! Sadly, his mark didn’t quite reflect my feelings and we got a 37 in a pretty harshly marked section. But, marks aside, I saw genuine progress and have loads to work on going forward!

A little bit of a wait before show jumping meant Hugo chilled in the trailer while I walked the course and watched a few riders jump. By this point the warm-up was essentially a bog, and the take-off and landings were pretty cut up. There were poles flying left, right and centre and, although I wasn’t worried about the fences, I was a little anxious that he might slide into a fence and lose his confidence, this being his first BE90.

However, I manned up, tacked up and warmed up a slightly over excited Hugo whose head was often between his knees with his shoulders coming higher and higher as he dropped his signature pre-show jumping move – ‘the bronk’! But I kicked through it, tried not to mow anyone down, popped a couple of jumps and headed into the arena.
What a round he produced! So sure-footed, careful and, most importantly, rideable! He kept his cool and tried his heart out for a beautiful clear round and I was ECSTATIC! Even if the cross country didn’t got to plan, my boy had done me proud already.
A quick change and we set off on the beautiful woodland hack which was mandatory for all competitors who want to get to the cross country warm-up. This gave him the opportunity for a good stretch and he was chilled but forward in the warm-up. There were only two riders before us so we were in the start box (and it was dry, woo hoo!) being counted down from five in no time.
As the starter shouted “Go!”, off we flew – no napping, hurrah – and out onto the course! He took a flier at number five, which was the dreaded ditch/brush, that left his rubbish jockey behind, but I soon caught up and we were flying through the wood to the next. He was making the step up to BE90 feel like absolutely nothing – so much talent in those four little hooves.
Over the next few fences we went, and soon we were at the water. Those of you who have been following us this year will know that the water is our nemesis! It was a log, three strides into the water, then out and a sharp left turn to a brush which was high at one side with a lower side to jump through. It was a big ask compared to what he’s come across in the BE80s, so I was determined to ride like a pro and give him the best shot at understanding it. Over the log he popped and a little teeter round the edge of the water, but no step back meant we were safe and then we picked the canter back up and he focused on the brush straight away! He flew it like it was nothing! I whooped and cheered – WHAT A STAR! We galloped the rest of the course making it feel easy and we finished the course with MASSIVE smiles. I had a little tear because I was so blooming proud!
A muddy walk back to the trailer, a cool down and a million pats and kisses for Hugo concluded our soggy day eventing. What a day! All our hard work is finally paying off, his brain clicked into place and he realised that he actually LOVES being an event horse. I wish I could bottle this feeling and open it whenever I feel unmotivated because it’s days like these that make the blood, sweat, tears and permanent zombie/tired state-of-mind worth it.
The cherry on top of an INCREDIBLE day was that out of 41 starters little Hugo and I finished the day with a pink frilly in fifth place in his first ever BE90! I love this little man to bits and I cannot wait for the next one! Although maybe a little less moist – I’m not sure my breeches will ever be white again!