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Monday, 15 October 2018

PetPlan Area Festival Final at Morris Equestrian Centre

WOW!! What a weekend...! 👌

After qualifying for the Finals at Northallerton in August, I'd been looking forward to this weekend for what felt like AGES!! Not only an exciting competition, but a night away with Louie being stabled and Andrew & I checking into a rather nice local hotel...

So, here's a round up of our weekend. Sit back & enjoy - it's a long one! ☕️

Getting ready for a weekend away

In the weeks leading up to the Final, I'd got a checklist prepared with everything that we needed to do to make sure that we were ready for our trip away. Everything was on it, from making sure we'd got an entry and a hotel reservation (important!) through to the smaller things of extra lotions & potions to go in the horsebox.

Friday afternoon, Andrew worked super hard to give the horsebox a clean in the cab, jockey area and in the horse part, so we could travel in a clean & comfortable horsebox. It gave us a good chance to check everything that we needed was in there and I made another checklist of bits & bobs that I needed to bring from the yard.

As we had a busy non-horsey morning on Saturday, we also packed everything we could into the horsebox so we had less to do before leaving home on Saturday. 

Saturday lunchtime was all about getting Louie ready

Just another time that I am MASSIVELY appreciative of the fantastic livery service I have available to me at my yard - Louie was turned out and mucked out for me so I just needed to turn up, bath him, load and leave!

Obviously, this had to be one of the few days that we've had rain, so Louie didn't exactly come in with white legs, but a quick blast with the hose and a ezi-groom brush, they were ready to be shampooed. It also isn't so wet that the mud was anywhere else...just his socks.

While we weren't in a rush, with a three and a half hour drive ahead of us, I was keen to set off sooner rather than later, and it was already 1pm. So we found a great system for washing which really sped us up...

I started off using just water and my ezi-groom to get the mud off Louie's legs & scrubbed his hooves. Then Andrew shampooed the front legs and while doing the second one, I used the ezi-groom to foam up the shampoo and get his socks fairly white. I got the back legs wet and Andrew shampooed these while I washed the shampoo from the fronts. Then when I washed the shampoo from the backs, Andrew rubbed blue rinse shampoo into the fronts. I rinses that off after a few minutes, and then did the same on the back legs. 

Having Andrew to help like this certainly makes life much easier and quicker, but also an extra pair of hands for getting warm water for Louie's tail definitely speeds us up. Otherwise I seem to spend ages going back and forth to the tap for warm water...

Louie's very pampered (as I'm sure you all know) but I don't like putting bandages on wet legs, so I always towel dry them first. I also find it brings them up a bit whiter too. So after a quick towel dry, Louie was bandaged up, given a spray with stain remover here and there, rugged and ready to go. 

Andrew was busy filling a dumpy bag with a few nets of haylage, as well as getting Louie's feed ready for the evening & morning, so all we had to do was walk onto the wagon! Having an extra pair of hands in these situations definitely has massive benefit, especially if they are as well trained as Andrew!! 🌟

Travelling to Scotland in the horsebox

The trip from door to door showed on the sat nav as three hours & 20 minutes - there were two options; via the A69 & M6 or up the A1. We opted for the A69 route which was also around 20 minute quicker. 

Although a long journey and with some of the stormy weather meeting us at points, it was very easy to get there. All on major roads and with some exceptional scenery - the Northumbrian hills along the A69, Cumbrian landscapes as we met the Scottish border, and some stunning Scottish valleys as we headed further north. There was certainly always something to look at...

We met glorious sunshine but very strong winds as well as some VERY heavy rain along the A69 as we travelled along the top of the hills.

At 6pm we arrived at Morris Equestrian Centre.

Morris Equestrian Centre

It's HUGE! We pulled on site with the site of the most enormous indoor arena, restaurant, bar, shop and reception. Following signs, we drove around the centre to the stables, passing another enormous outdoor arena, with smaller arena that was clearly used for warming up.

Inside the stables, we found 5 or 6 rows of stables, each with about 20 horses facing each other. Honestly, the size of the place is just MASSIVE! 

Louie's stable was in a great place - on the end of the row, right next to the entrance. I knew he'd enjoy that spot - he's a right nosey parker!! 😂

After putting Louie's bed down lovely and neatly, I popped Louie in, where he promptly dug it all up, before having a look out then straight onto his haynet...while I sorted his bed out. 🙄

I left Louie to settle in while we found our way around this unbelievable centre. Walking from the stables to the restaurant took you past the main arena... As spooky as Louie is, I really wished I'd been doing my test in here. What a fantastic feeling!!

We'd heard from a few people that the restaurant wasn't your typical equestrian centre food, and was in fact quite nice. We saw a few people's food come out while we had a beer, and it did look really tasty, so we decided to have something to eat there, check on Louie and then head for the hotel. I don't think either of us really had the energy to get changed and dressed for the fancy hotel restaurant!! 

We both ordered a burger and agreed, the comments of good food weren't wrong! We sat next to an older gent, called Hugh, who has been volunteering as steward since 1962 (WOW!!!) and watched many changes to the centre over the years, including the location! He was really interesting to listen to and he really made me think that its genuinely is people like Hugh who make our sport happen. 

Heading back to the stables, Louie was perfectly content...munching on his hay. So off we headed to our hotel.

The Fenwick Hotel 

On recommendation of Philippa, we booked into this hotel - Philippa had stayed here on her many occasions on competing at Morris Equestrian Centre. Looking at the website, it looked fairly fancy, but wasn't badly priced when I compared to local chain hotels nearby. Andrew and I don't often enjoy a weekend away & I didn't fancy sleeping in a non-living horsebox in the middle of October.

We paid £85 for bed and breakfast, and on arrival were very impressed to find we'd been upgraded to a suite! Now we REALLY wish we'd arrived earlier!

It's clearly a hotel popular with wedding, so I was glad we'd already eaten and could just go to our room as we felt somewhat like tramps walking into reception in our boots and outdoor clothes...

If you ever head to Morris Equestrian, I'd recommend The Fenwick Hotel as a place to stay - it is literally a 5 minute drive and had plenty of space for a horsebox to park.

Competition Day

After an excellent night's sleep in a HUGE comfortable bed, I arrived back at Morris about 6.15am to give Louie his breakfast and start the arena walk at 7am. There was a lot of riders that were slightly sceptical that this would be possible as it wasn't floodlit, and still reasonably dark... But it happened and by the time it finished at 7.30am if was light (almost!)

Leaving Louie to enjoy a massage from his Equilibrium pad, we grabbed a coffee before starting to plait. The best part about this morning was that there was absolutely no rush - it was perfect! I took my time plaiting, carefully dividing his mane, and making the plaits as neat and tidy as I could. I even had Andrew on hand to pass my plaiting spray, brush and bands...& someone to talk to!! 🙌

We then had just over an hour and a half until I needed to start getting changed and tacking Louie up. So while Andrew cleaned my tack (excellently trained!! 😉), I gave Louie's tail another quick wash because despite being plaited and tied up, he'd still managed to get some brown marks in it... A quick 5 minute with blue rinse and it was good to go again. 

Like I said, we had heaps of time before our test so we chilled out, putting everything away and getting everything to hand for when we needed to get ready.

Then the time came - I was MEGA excited!! Unlike me at something that really means something to me, I didn't feel a single nerve, just excitement; I was really looking forward to getting into the arena. Over the summer, there was a period of time where it was looking less and less likely that we would even be able to make a qualifier for this final, so to actually be here was an achievement in itself!

Both Louie & I are very inexperienced at being in the buzz of a competition this large - so many competitors, lots going on around us, and plenty of beautiful horses & riders to admire. We were proud to be in amongst it all & it made me really look back at just how far we have come together.

Now it was time....time to get on and start warming up!

As Louie hadn't really stretched his legs much, I let him walk around on a long rein for 5-10 minutes before beginning my warm up. He felt GREAT - really responsive, fairly relaxed and switched on. He was a bit tight over his back on the right rein, particularly through the upward canter transition. Little did I know how costly that tightness would be...

I felt he was in a good place, and when it was our time, we went in. I was super proud to be trotting my horse around that arena, and after twice round, he were beeped in. Although not nervous, I will have tensed up, looking for the perfect test - it meant a lot to me... So I could feel Louie tucked up behind the contact a little more than he had recently, and that right canter transition produced a buck, with some tense movements that followed.

Here's our test

However, overall I was really pleased with the test. He was listening & concentrating, I felt like I rode the test and the horse underneath me and came out with a huge smile on my face. It now didn't matter how it had gone - I'd done it. I'd made it here, my horse put in a great test & I was thrilled with how it had gone!!

After a good cool down, Louie got lots of pats and polos, before enjoying a massage under his pad, while we put everything away. Along with a couple of other riders we'd met while we were there, we headed to the restaurant to wait for the results - I knew it shouldn't be too long as we were second last to go.

I felt slightly awkward keeping my jacket and hat on as I really wasn't sure how we had done - I'd only really seen one other test. So I was ABSOLUTELY OVER THE MOON to discover we had come third!!!!  I was chuffed to bits - not only had we got here, but we'd come third!! I thoroughly enjoyed receiving my rosette and plaque, and standing on the podium alongside second place and the winner!

Looking through the published results, I saw that we were just 0.28% from second place - another fantastic achievement, but also a gutting feeling that we were so close. Nothing was going to spoil what we have just done though - THIRD PLACE IN THE FINAL!

It was also a proud moment to be stood with three other Northumberland riders that had been placed at the finals - great success for the county!!

Back at the stables, Louie was still pretty content on munching haylage and couldn't have shown less interest in the rosette he'd just won!

I headed back to the wagon to get changed, where admittedly, I took a lot longer than usual, still taking in what we'd achieved and just enjoying the moment still.

Heading back to Northumberland

With a long journey ahead, I wanted to let Louie chill out before we left, so after we got everything in the wagon sorted, we headed to the restaurant to enjoy some lunch before we set off. I gave Louie about two hours to carry on munching on his haylage - honestly, he will turn into haylage one day!!

We left around 2.30pm, with a stop needed to fuel up, and arrived home a touch after 6pm. Louie marched through the yard and was clearly pleased to be back in his own large stable, but for a change didn't tuck into his haylage, instead opting for straw... 🙈 But he was content and happy to be back home. 

It was a lovely feeling when we sat down at home that evening... we'd had a great weekend away, it had taken a lot of energy, but it was definitely worth it. Even better, we'd both got today off work, so enjoyed an extra long lie in without the sound of an alarm clock! 👌

Louie's now on a mini break until the start of November, when we're looking forward already to getting back out & about! 😊

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