“It’s time, British Eventing Life followers – it is time!”

As the eventing season gets underway, Sarah Johnstone reports from a damp Dalkeith!

My first event report of the season and first event report post-injury – I’m not even sure where I start with this one!
 
A little background for those who are new to our story: Woody and I came up from BE80(T) to compete in our first Novice in 2017, however shortly after he tore a significant hole in his superficial digital flexor tendon. We treated him with libogems and he had a year off, coming back into work very gradually to give us maximum chance of a full recovery and a return to eventing. 
 
Fast forward 20 long months and we are ready for his first run at Dalkeith Park Horse Trials, the first Scottish event of the year! I hummed and hawed over which class I was going to enter because he’s feeling incredibly well and jumping better than ever, but it has been a long time since we have done this, so I decided to play it safe and entered the BE90 for a (hopefully) stress-free, confidence-boosting round to kick off our season. 
 
Four days before we trot down the centre line and things weren’t going to plan. I got the worst sickness bug I can ever remember having AND I pulled a muscle in my butt, which ultimately got taped up with bright blue tape – not a good look under white breeches, especially as rain was forecast! Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, so Saturday morning came, I still hadn’t eaten anything, but I was stocked up on Lucozade and ready to go!
 
Of course, the heavens opened and the rain fell (we do live in Scotland, after all), but we were bathed, plaited and ready to go, so it was into the lorry with a full squad of grooms (a.k.a. Mum and Dad). We arrived to what can only be described as a mud bath and, although the rain had stopped, it left behind a low, thick mist which meant you really couldn’t see as far as the other side of the show jumping ring! Thank you to the organisers and ground jury, who did their absolute best to give us the best going possible and moved the show jumps between each class. Your efforts were very much appreciated. 
 
I won’t go into much detail about our dressage, because the test was less trying to do beautiful dressage and more trying to stay on our feet and not disappear into a boggy hole. As Woody is a bit on the ‘heavier’ side of eventers, he sinks in more than a light Thoroughbred would, so the overall picture wasn’t great, which was reflected in a disappointing mark of 35.5. At least I didn’t fall off/faint/vomit in front of the judges, so I’m winning so far!
 
It was a long, soggy wait until the show jumping, but we kept ourselves amused and reasonably dry. My non-horsey other half also appeared to watch for the first time ever – we’ve only been together for six and a half years – and now thinks we are even more mental than ever for willingly standing in a field in the rain all day for all of about 10 minutes’ competitive riding. But it was very sweet that he appeared to watch Woody’s return – he even held him for a bit while secretly huffing because his cool designer trainers were getting dirty. 
 
Show jumping finally came around. Woody is an ‘If in doubt, take one out’ kinda guy and recently we’ve been working on getting him closer into the fences, so he jumps up and over instead of going long and low. However, that wasn’t going to work in those conditions, so I, like many others, opted for the ‘Just keep moving’ tactic in the ring. I think that if I’d tried to shorten him, chances are we would have struggled to get up out of the mud without taking the poles with us. It wasn’t pretty, but it was clear, and I came out of the ring with the biggest cheesy grin. 
 
Now, the fun part. We got changed as quickly as possible as it was about 5.30pm now and visibility was getting worse by the minute, so I didn’t want to waste any time. Anyone who knows Dalkeith knows you have a gorgeous hack through the woods to get to the start, so we didn’t need much warming up when we got there. Woods knew EXACTLY what was going on and I could feel the fire in his belly as we circled at the start, raring to get going and do what he does best. Into the start box we went, stopwatch at the ready and the first fence just visible. 
 
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … GO!
 
Minimal kicking required – just point and shoot, and we were away. I missed this feeling. I rode around the course with a stupid grin on my face as he was eating up the ground, constantly looking for the next jump, and we were both enjoying every minute. After splashing through the water and I heard the commentator saying that was “Excellent riding through there”, but really I just point him at the flags, hold on and embarrassingly yell “Good boy” and occasionally “Woo hoo” over the jumps!
 
He finished full of running and towed me around the field for another lap, even when we were out the end of the ropes. I had a little emotional moment to myself while my arms were being pulled from their sockets as at one point – I had feared that this day would never come. To be back out eventing my boy was so special, but to finish fighting fit and with a double clear inside the time was just incredible. 
 
We were very lucky to get to go cross country as shortly after our round the day was abandoned, which was such a shame for the organisers and for the few competitors who were still to run. I felt truly gutted for everyone. 
 
Woody was untacked, ice boots on and he got stuck into his well-deserved garlic lick while I popped off to pick up my dressage sheet, only to discover he had finished seventh in the section and was even coming home with a frilly. What. A. Day. 
 
I went home exhausted and ready to drop, but absolutely buzzing and I am pleased to report that Woody bounced out to the field happy as Larry the next morning. Everyone who is going through box rest/rehab HANG IN THERE – it’s worth it. 
 
Thanks to everyone who helped out and has supported us, but the biggest thanks goes to the most special horse in the world for giving me absolutely everything.