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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

MAJOR MILESTONE! British Showjumping at Morris Equestrian Centre

WHAT A WEEKEND!! I have firmly ticked off a major milestone from my list of goals, ambitions and hopes…enjoying a long weekend at Morris Equestrian Centre competing in British Showjumping classes! I really hope that many of you now reading this have followed mine & Louie’s journey over the last four years, because you’ll instantly know how much this means to achieve this. For anyone who hasn’t, it’s a great showcase of what hard work, dedication and patience can lead you onto achieve.

It’s a long one folks, so make sure you’ve a good brew in a cosy spot to enjoy the full write up of our weekend away!

A quick summary…there has been times Louie has had a meltdown at going over a simple pole on the floor. There has been times when he 100% believed he was taking on that fence & then changed his mind in the final stride. There has been times when I’ve sat coming into a jump thinking how unsure I am. There’s been many time when we start to make progress only to have a small speed bump that takes us back a few steps. Many people kept saying to me ‘one day it will just click…’ I never believed a single one of them (sorry everyone who said it to me!) until Louie came back from his mini-holiday mid-October THIS YEAR!  We had a cracking training session over jumps with our local riding club, and while I was thrilled to pieces, I didn’t quite believe Philippa when she said we were now ready to head out to jumping parties, especially when she suggested a trip up to Morris at the end of November…

I wanted to do as much as I could to prepare and plan our training between that point and going to Morris. I wanted to head off full of confidence, have a great time and give Louie a positive weekend to build on afterwards. I planned an arena hire, a local competition, and two sessions with Philippa to work on touching things up before we went, as well as getting a good confident jumping round a few days before setting off.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like, and we had to adjust our plans, no thanks to the weather! We’ve published a few blog posts along the way, so you can see how our arena hire session went & how we got on at the local jumping competition. Jack Frost got the better of us for our first training session with Philippa, and heavy rain on the second. As it was a few days before we were due to leave and we hadn’t even so much gone over a pole on the floor since 2nd November, I was desperate to have a confident jump. We managed to get a space with Grace Maher, who was hosting a showjumping clinic at Philippa’s arena the very next day. We blogged about that too!

I left feeling confident, but with bad weather and no turnout in the days before we were due to head up North, I wanted to make sure Louie was exercised. So opted to lunge in the pouring rain on Monday evening and hired a new venue for polework on Tuesday, where we ended up popped a fence. Wednesday evening he enjoyed a pamper night… 

Thursday 28th November had FINALLY arrived!! 

I quickly mucked out Louie, leaving his bed lifted and the fresh straw all ready to go down when we got back on Sunday. Gave him (another) brush, and got him ready to load. Now to pack up the wagon.

From the stable…
✅ Haylage
✅ Feeds, buckets and water bucket
✅ Rugs, liners & exercise sheets
✅ Brushing boots, over-reach boots & Equ Streamz
✅ Hat, short boots, chaps and gloves
✅ Everyday saddle pad
✅ Massage pad
✅ Dreamcoat, stain remover, mane & tail and shampoo
✅ Grooming kit
✅ Tack cleaner
✅ Silvermoor swingers and treatsies

From the car…
✅ Saddle & girth (yes, we’ve forgotten the girth before!)
✅ Bridle and bit (yes, we’ve forgotten the bit before too!)
✅ Overnight holdalls for me and Andrew
✅ Competition boots for me
✅ Competition boots for Louie
✅ Competition jacket
✅ Quilted jacket and gillets
✅ Waterproof coat and padded under-gillet
✅ Hats, snoods, gloves and Davos boots
✅ Sat nav (just in case…!)

It took a little longer than I thought, walking back and forth, carrying everything out to the wagon, but that was it. We were ready to leave, just to put Louie on. Mustn’t forget him! (or Andrew!)

We headed out to the A1, across to Carlisle on the A69, and took the M6-M77 to Kilmaurus. It took us about 3 hours fifteen minutes door to door. We had a great run, with easy roads and not too much traffic. Best of all, because we set off at just before 11am, we travelled in the light and had an hour or so before it got dark when we arrived. 

It wasn’t only us head to Morris. Philippa was taking her baby horses – two 4-year-olds not long broken, and a sassy Dutch 4 year old that had done a little more. Her friend who stabled on her yard was also with them, bringing her new horse to jump on the Saturday and Sunday too. Following a little way behind was another livery from Philippa’s yard, bringing her own mare with her for the 1.20m class on Friday and 1.05 & 1.10m classes on Saturday, as well as one of Philippa’s client’s horses to jump a few 1m classes over the three days. 

We found out where our stables would be, ordered some shavings and made a bed for Louie, helping out with some of the others when we were done. I unloaded Louie and popped him in the stable. It was a MASSIVE stable! He has a very large stable at home but this made it look like a postage stamp! As usual, he completely dug up his beautiful bed before just settling to munch on his hay. Once everyone was settled, we sorted bits and pieces out and headed for the café for a while to let the horses rest after travelling.

There’s also a tack shop within the centre, and it’s a REALLY good one! I knew I was going to look out of place in my RXC hat and silk, and dressage jacket. But I wasn’t going to invest in our first show. Let’s see how it goes. So there I am browsing at some lovely jackets and THE most beautiful Samshield hat caught my eye. It was low priced, even though it was Black Friday. Andrew said he’d get me it as an early Christmas pressie. Very kind, but I can’t just spend THAT on a hat in a one-minute decision. 

And there, in the middle of the shop, he just said it… I’ll buy you that hat if you get a double clear in ANY of the rounds you jump this weekend! I had witnesses! Brilliant. Deal is made. 

Inside, I knew not to expect a double clear, as even though Louie is very clean in jumping, it was all new and lots to look at distracting his concentration from the jumps!

Around 5pm, we started to ride some of the horses. I took Louie into what would be the collecting ring when the competition ran, with the intention of doing some flatwork…in my jump saddle and pelham! Someone else riding, not in our group, put two jumps up, and I couldn’t resist starting with a small cross pole. Came into it and a stride out Louie stopped, looked down. Great…all this way for this. But no, I squeezed my leg on and he just looked up, stepped forward and jumped it. Straight round and again, this time perfectly normal. Jumping the oxer he just flew! After 30 minutes, I put him away for the night as he’d had a long travel and a good leg stretch.

With so many horses to ride, we didn’t check into the hotel, which was 5 minutes away from the venue, until 8pm. It’s funny as although it was a long day, I didn’t feel it nor did I feel tired. We headed down for dinner around 8.40pm after a quick shower and freshen up, before heading to bed.

Friday morning was fairly leisurely, with breakfast at 7.30am. Usually in a hotel, I’ll just have a bowl of cereal with yoghurt, milk, added raisins, dry banana, that kind of thing. But looking out of the window, it was a very hard frost, and I wasn’t sure what time we’d get to lunch, if at all. So I ordered poached eggs on toast. They were gorgeous! And a great way to set up for the day, so much so I ordered them the other two mornings too!

We arrived on site about 8.15am, and quickly mucked out, before helping Philippa get her horse ready for the first class of the day, the British Novice. It was really great watching the warming and other jumping around the classes throughout the day as I really feel you can learn so much from just watching! Louie enjoyed a swinger mid-morning to keep him occupied. Although he was actually immaculately behaved and totally settled, but he still got one!

Next up was Philippa’s client horse in the 1m class, before we had a little wait to the next one in the 1.20m later in the day. The restaurant at the venue is AMAZING. It’s not like most venues, and serves good, made to order food, with an open kitchen and chef. So soup was on the menu for lunch. I absolutely blinking LOVE soup & a roll. Unbelievable on a cold day, and so underrated! The restaurant is alongside the competition arena, so we could watch many go around for an hour or so. It was nice to be in the warm, as it was FREEZING outside! 

After lunch, I’d planned to take Louie for a little ride out on the country lanes around the venue, but the carpark potholes showed me the ice and frost was still there, even in the sun, so I opted to stay safe and just walk him out around the venue outside in hand. At least in a hardcore carpark, there was some grip where it was icy. I hadn’t noticed, but our horsebox was parked in full sun, and it was still completely frozen!

I’d really wanted to hack out so I didn’t need to go back in the collecting ring that night to work him, but it worked out well and I did some flatwork and resisted the urge to jump this time! 

Philippa’s friend was staying in the wagon, as was her livery, so we decided, rather than eating at the hotel, we’d all eat together at Morris’s restaurant on-site, and the four of us (Andrew & I, and Philippa & her partner, Glyn) would head back to the hotel afterwards.

I ordered a Mozzarella sticks to start and a burger for main, and Andrew had the same starter with a tempura chicken main. See, it’s not your standard cheesy chips and a greasy frozen burger! I also had a couple of G&Ts with it!

Back at the hotel, I enjoyed a long soak in the hot bath and washed my hair. What a luxury compared to the usual horsey weekend away! I went to bed around 10.30pm, really looking forward to Saturday morning. 

With a few more horses to get ready, we ate breakfast at 7am and headed straight off to Morris. Quick muck out, groom Louie, and a course walk at 8.30am. First horse in was 9.30am, one of Philippa’s, so I had Louie ready to head into the collecting ring as she jumped her round. Louie warmed up great and was really keen to jump. One ahead of me was Philippa’s friend on her new horse, so I waited to go in behind them, filled with excitement!

I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. I’ve literally ALWAYS crapped myself before I showjump – before I go in the ring, and I even used to before training. But here, I just couldn’t wait to get in there! I knew I needed to keep a lid on my excitement and concentrate. My aim was to get around. Yes, after all the mishaps we’ve had over the year, that was the achievement to reach. 

It was me. I was full of determination. Here’s our 70cm Club class round.

OK, so maybe a little too full of determination. But we got around!

'Remember you have 45 seconds once the buzzer goes', I remembered Philippa saying. So I trotted around the opposite end of the arena, before cutting back across the diagonal and picking up canter to roll back to the first fence. I overshot the line a little, but brought him back straight, looked up over and beyond the fence, and keep kicking. There was no way I was going to be caught out by the first fence! YES, we were over, and onto the long dogleg to number two. He came in looking at the entrance and I drove with my seat – I definitely didn’t want a nap at the entrance! Onto the third which came up quite quickly, but he popped over!

Round the top end and across the diagonal for a small upright at four, before a right hand turn across the bottom to number five. There was a lot to look at from a reasonably short straight after the corner – flags hanging behind, bright wings and poles and two fillers underneath. I kicked as I came in. Wahoo, we were over! Look around to the right to come back across the diagonal in a two stride double. He was flying! 

At the top of a short distance was an upright at seven, with some tall lighthouse wings. Straight over, and I looked at number eight as I did…a lovely green oxer on the back wall. We came on a great stride and it was where the photographer was taking snaps. ‘Ooooh make this a good one’, I thought. Cue the pole being knocked! It was the ONLY pole we had. Damn, first chance at that sparkly hat had gone, and it probably would be a good photo either!

Onto fence nine, which was all the way around to the left and back up the arena on the diagonal in a five stride distance for nine and ten. Before right-handed back across a white oxer at 11, and a challenging dogleg line to the one stride double of 12a & b. We jumped straight through, and we came through the finish! BEAMING!

I was so thrilled with how it had gone! I entered the D&H 85cm National Amateur qualifier on a day ticket and couldn’t wait to go again. The course was the same so at least I didn’t need to worry about learning a new one, and we got ready for going in early to the class. 

A quick warm-up and it was us. My objective was a tidier round than the first; not quite so gung-ho! He was going to go…

(Sorry about the stitch together after fence one. Andrew managed to stop recording before resuming again)

I knocked the first fence. That is always frustrating. But toward the last few, I felt Louie tire a little, and he had a couple of poles at fence 11 and the first part of 12. That’s OK. Keeping our canter at the pace we needed was new, and not something he was used to in an arena of this size, coupled with jumping 85cm height and spread jumps. Again, it’s not something we’ve done heaps of at home or in training. 

I couldn’t have been happier with how Louie had gone, and even with a few poles, I felt unbelievably proud and so happy to have achieved what has been such a big goal for so long!

After watching and helping a few more in our group, Andrew popped out to put fuel in the horsebox while the horses rested. What a legend he is. Because just as we all felt the cold and the need for some food, in he walked to the stables with two large Dominoes pizzas! I mean is there anything better at that moment!?

We had a couple of slices each and headed for the warmth of the restaurant for teas, coffees and to enjoy watching a few more classes, before our final one of the day in the 1.20m.

It had been a good day for the whole team, and we agreed to all eat at the hotel that night, with those staying in lorries, making the short trip in taxis. Again, I enjoyed a very hot bath to warm up and headed to the bar to have a drink with everyone, before we sat down for dinner at 8pm. It was a feast! With starters, mains, drinks, such a great evening, so relaxing and such a great group of people!

The next morning, Sunday, things were pretty much repeated from Saturday. I’d decided with Philippa to only enter the 70cm Club class, as Louie would be tired again today and the aim was to leave with both of us feeling super confident. I’d hate to make a big mistake because I push him when he’s already done a great job!

Warming up, he felt less keen than the day before, so I was pleased with my decision to only enter one class, but in the main arena, he lit up, and was just as interested as the day before! We started, and he felt so good, just getting a little too close to one oxer in the middle. I finished the round…


Not only was a beaming ear to ear at what we’d done that weekend, but I’d just jumped a double clear. And of course, I’d just won myself a hat!! It was a bit of joke with everyone about the hat, but thanks to the judges, as they announced my result, they also announced Andrew owed me that beautiful, sparkly hat! It was BRILLIANT!

It really sums up the supportive, welcoming, and friendly nature of ALL the staff at Morris. Everyone was just excellent, especially the collecting ring steward. How she has a voice after day one, I’ve no idea, but she’s friendly, she’s helpful, always calling your name (not number) and how many to go before you. Throughout the whole weekend, I never once saw her look stressed or frustrated, and that it one tough job in a busy showjumping collecting ring!

I put Louie away in the stable to rest before pretty much packing the wagon for the homeward journey. I obviously headed to the tack shop too. The ladies there were VERY helpful and were really thorough with their sizing up for a hat. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a 54” for me to try and the 55” was a little gappy at the back. I tried a 54” Kask hat on, which was snug. So, I now need to find a local stockist to try on before we go back (online) to them to buy!

After an hour or so, I got Louie ready to travel and mucked out the stable fully. It was quite sad when we came to leave. Our little weekend adventure was over…but we had achieved SO much!

We arrived home just after 3.30pm and gave Louie a lovely big bed to enjoy a cosy night back at home. My Mum had been dog sitting for us while we’d been away and I needed to get her to the airport for 6pm, so it was quite a quick turn around and Louie enjoyed his tea and was left to go to bed at 4.20pm.

Since coming home, I’ve spent almost every minute that I’m not at work, asleep or riding, planning our next few months of competitions to make sure we keep building on these first achievements! Make sure you stay tuned to follow along!

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