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Monday, 3 February 2020

A Weekend Away Showjumping at Morris Equestrian Centre

During the last five years, there have been times that I have lost all faith and confidence that jumping around a 90cm course, with its questions and challenges, was never going to happen. Even after our very successful weekend at Morris Equestrian two months ago, where we jumped the 70cm and 85cm classes, it didn't feel like jumping a British Novice at a category 2 show was within range of achieving.

Last January, any showjumping that we did, had to start with a pole on the floor, and depending on what was whizzing round in Louie's head (& mine!), some days just a single pole of on the floor felt like a challenge that we successfully tackled. Other days, basic uprights could be something that needed careful planning as to how we'd approach them...and we couldn't even consider having a warm-up over a cross pole!

A week after our last trip up to Morris, I headed to Philippa (Will2Win Professional Showjumping Coaching) to begin working on sharpening up some of the more technical elements to my riding. I  made many mistakes throughout the session, but Louie really just ignored them and carried on throughout. At the end, Philippa set me a goal... At the time I thought it was nuts! To join her and some others heading back up to Morris over the last weekend of January and compete in the British Novice classes. My first question was is there a 70cm class at the beginning of the schedule? No. It was doing a British Novice or nothing.

Crikey. Best get our act together.

In truth, I never really believed that we would make it. It's 6 years nearly since I jumped around a 90cm course, and even that was eventing, so not quite as technical and demanding as a British Showjumping 90cm course. That was on 8th December.

December is never a great month to squeeze 31 days worth of work out of - Christmas takes up so much of it. With a week-long work trip and my parents here for a huge 10 days over Christmas, I calmed down and left it until January. We were soon back on it a few days into 2020, with a confidence-boosting session which went really well, we just needed to work on sitting calmer and with my hands staying low.

Because of that, I had three weeks to just work on our homework over poles at home (it's not well lit enough at home on an evening to jump in the winter) before a tune-up session a few days before heading up to Morris. This session didn't go quite to plan...or at least, it didn't leave me feeling filled with confidence & fired up to head north.

But after a day of negative thoughts, I watched my videos and finished up the day in a much more positive place.

So, despite getting Louie (& Andrew & I) prepared for heading up to Morris on Thursday, I wasn't anywhere nearly as excited as I had been previously. I wasn't nervous, and I wasn't not confident, but I'd really needed the boost from a good training session before. I needed to put the positives into the front of my mind and take in that it was becoming a reality that we were ready to go!

So with that, let's turn to the weekend!

Thursday morning I popped to the yard at the usual time to give him his breakfast and muck out, before heading back home to get my own breakfast, pack the wagon and pack our own bags! All that was left to do when I came back to the yard was to fill a couple of haynets, pack up Louie's rugs and feed, and give Louie a good groom. We left about 10.50am, and after stopping for fuel and to grab a sandwich before hitting the A69, we were on our way, this time with an extra member of the family...Harry!!

It's a really easy drive up to Morris - A1 for 10 minutes, A69 for about an hour, before hitting the M6 north and onto the M77 - and takes about 3 hours. We arrived just after 3pm, and after finding our block of stables, bedding down, I popped Louie in to settle. Like a pro, he needed no settling in!

Not long later, Philippa arrived with her four horses, and soon everyone was settled in. I headed straight for the shop, First Saddlery. For anyone who remembers, last time, Andrew said if I jumped a double clear, he'd buy me the super sparkly Samshield helmet I'd been admiring each time I'd been to Morris. The ladies there, Alex and Karene, are so lovely, but also very helpful and knowledgable, and can help out with so many tack, equipment and clothing questions (obviously, I have many!)

Alex fitted my helmet, and crucially the chin strap too, taking care and attention to how I thought it felt, my own preferences and how it should sit and protect. After a final check and adjustment, it was finally mine...and I absolutely LOVE it!! I'd also spied a beautiful matching sparkly jacket by Samshield, but unfortunately, even their largest size, isn't the right fit for me - a bit snug on the shoulders and a little too short. Shame, but I've seen another Pikeur one I like a lot, so maybe soon we can have a matching jacket!

Next up was to give the horses a little leg stretch before, heading for dinner and heading to the hotel to check-in. As I've mentioned before, Morris has a really good restaurant, so much more than cheesy chips and flip fried burgers... So the six of us (plus Harry!) grabbed a table to get something to eat, with a G&T to enjoy the evening. It was great to spend some time together and see some faces we'd met last time we'd been away - Lauren and Sarita. Later on, another two people joined us - Dannie and Grace. Grace you'll know from my training video back in November and I'd not met Dannie before, but who is a farrier in the area local to my yard and was a livery with Philippa.

As we had Harry with us, we couldn't stay at the usual hotel, but instead, we stayed at the Travelodge Kilmarnock, which is only 5 miles from Morris and a really straight forward drive to/from it. We had a massive room, which I think was a family room as it had an extra single bed. Very convenient for Harry! We settled in and had a very comfortable night's sleep.

Friday morning was quite leisurely as the first class was the British Novice at 9.30am, so we headed to the venue for 8.30am, to walk the course, before tacking up and heading to the warm-up.

The warm-up. Wow! It was BUSY! But although you have to have your wits about you and be conscious of pretty much everything around you, so do most others. Tail ribbons aren't ignored and horses that are looking like they are having a bit too much of a good time are given a bit of extra space. The fences and few strides out of them are given space and most people just stay on one rein to avoid having the left to left etiquette to worry about too.

I gave Louie a good walk out, before getting ready to have a jump when Philippa had jumped on her first horse. Louie warmed up really well, but I had a feeling I needed to up my canter, and Philippa got me to go up 25% for our final jump. Before I knew it, it was our turn, and while sitting in the tunnel waiting to go in, I whizzed through the course in my head. I had it firm and fast and was confident I knew where I was going, my strides and my turns.

I had a few nerves as I entered the arena - all good nerves. It meant a lot to be there after all the hard work, not only from me, but also from Andrew and from Philippa too. I didn't want a silly mistake to make a mess, but also it was also my first EVER British Novice, which is a big thing in itself to me.

So here goes our round...
Right rein. DON'T TROT THROUGH THE START GATES! Remember, 45 seconds gives me time to trot a circle and pop off up to canter, don't let myself feel rushed.

Along to number one. Yes! We were over, and on a dog-leg curve to number two - a white oxer. Gave a lovely jump, and onto seven strides to number three. Another nice jump, but landing on the wrong lead, steady up and change through trot. Watching back, this took WAY too long, and will definitely be at least two of my 4-time faults. A bit of a rattle on the shutter as we went past gave us a little stutter to our rhythm as we came back across the diagonal over fence four to another dog-leg to number five.

I got in a bit deep, but left it standing, and again landing on the wrong lead. So another change that took me too long - another couple of time penalties. Around the bottom end and get my eye up onto the pink double across the diagonal. I didn't get my eyes up and beyond the fence, and got a bit deep and took out the front oxer pole. Out of there, and a left handed dog-leg to fence seven, a bright red and yellow oxer that we got a great shot into and Louie gave a super jump over. But again, wrong lead! I kept going as number 8 came off the short side quickly and I needed to just make sure I was straight. Unfortunately, I lost all my momentum and dropped to a trot coming into the fence, my hands launched a life of their own and Louie took the opportunity to have a good look and the white fillers, wings and poles, so we had the top pole. Never mind, look up and to the next.

A left-handed dog-leg to a big green double across the diagonal heading straight to the tunnel out of the arena. An oxer going in which a wide plank in it, and a delicate upright coming out. I didn't pick up my rhythm as well as I could after number eight, so got a bit deep and didn't use my leg, and ended up with two strides in a one stride double. I'm not sure how with a horse as big and long-striding as Louie but we managed to leave both parts standing!

Fence 10 was a gold upright heading towards the short side end on the right rein, before swinging around and up the long side to a red and white oxer. Philippa advised that the run up was long and not to aim too far back, otherwise, I'll be a long way off the fence, instead to be patient and wait for it to come and then commit to the stride. I definitely slowed up here, making sure I was patient, and then it came, there it was, my stride. I rode for it, and got a lovely big jump from Louie. SIT UP. Fence 12 was an upright with two wiggly blue planks topped with a blue pole. Commit to it, be positive and look beyond the fence. I thought Louie would chip in with a deep one, but he went where he should, and I got a little left behind, but he gave such a lovely big jump, we cleared it.

Through the finish!

YESSSSSSSS! We'd done it! We'd completed our first British Novice and not disgraced ourselves at all... 8 jumping faults and 4 time faults.

I watched the video back and could see that it was far too cautious which probably led to some of the disorganisation and unbalanced moments. But nothing was going to take away from what we'd just achieved and how fantastic I was feeling. 

I cooled Louie off and took him back to the stables, before heading back to the main ring to watch Philippa ride her second class in the same class. There were a few jumping that day - Sarita's horse, aptly named Morris, was jumping in the Discovery, and Lauren was jumping in the Newcomer and Foxhunter classes later in the day. 

Every class was SO busy with 30-40 horses in most classes throughout the day, so it was 8pm before we got back to the hotel that night. Although a long day, I really enjoyed it. It really feels like you're part of a big team, that all support each other, help each other and have a good laugh together. This is one of the things I love about going away to these shows - being with everyone. We also meet a few new people each time and it's great to see them again at the next one.

Andrew, Harry and I relaxed in the hotel room that night, catching up on the Love Island recoupling earlier in the week and Friday night's episode too, naturally!

Saturday's schedule was a little different, with the day starting with the Newcomer, Foxhunter and 1.30m classes, before dropping down to Britsh Novice, Discovery and 1.05m, so we arrived around 8.45am, and felt good not to be in a rush. Lauren was jumping in the Newcomers, so we helped get her horse, Galaxy ready, watched her round, before heading to the restaurant for some breakfast - poached eggs on toast! The best!

None of us were jumping Foxhunter or 1.30m classes, so we had a wait for the British Novice, but kept each other entertained throughout the day, and around 4pm, it was time to walk the course! I declared about 21st, and the three horses went in the same order again - Philippa's first, Louie and then Philippa's second horse.

Starting on fence one, a bright red and white upright, on a slight diagonal in the middle of the arena. I was determined to be more positive and keep a better rhythm this time. We got a good start on a good stride to the first, before sweeping right-handed around the arena and back across the diagonal. Over fence two, a big green oxer and six strides to fence three - a black and white fence with stain glass window effect fillers. We just squeezed in six - a very short one at the end! 

Around the top end, remembering not to waste time going all the way round, and into the pink double back towards the tunnel. Louie lost a bit of concentration in front of the first part and just knocked the front pole on the oxer first part, but came out clean. Right-handed dog-leg to number five, which he gave a lovely jump to, before a quick curving line to the sloped white-winged fence that was almost in an identical place at the other end the day before. I managed to keep our rhythm much better into it this time, getting a lovely big jump.

A short distance but unrelated to the red and white double along the far wall. He gave a good bold jump in and was clean through! Onto fence 8 with a run all the way up and around the arena, turning back to come across the diagonal - I got a beautiful shot and a great jump to go with it!

Down to number nine - the wiggly planks. Louie was much braver this time, and with a good forward rhythm, we got a good shot to it. Cutting left-handed across the arena, and turning back across the arena over a big white oxer with a lovely jump and had five strides to number 11. Again, we only just squeezed in the five, before heading right-handed and over the yellow and red to finish off with fence 12. 

I was SO pleased with how consistent this round felt, especially compared to the day before. We both had so much more confidence and positivity. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. My only correction would be to hold a little better to make those distances a little easier. 

After cooling off, we helped with the other horses that were due to jump - one in the British Novice and a few in the 1.05m class. Saturday was a late finish, sitting down to dinner at almost 9pm! Sticking to the restaurant on-site, we sat as a big group and it was good fun, before heading to the hotel for 11pm to get a good night's rest. 

Sunday morning, I was in the British Novice and we'd made a plan I would go first of our group. So I needed to be there 8.30am to walk the course, tack up and go in about 10th. I thought I'd left enough time, but in hindsight, I wish I had 15 minutes more. It's all new to me, so next time I know. I had a short warm-up and didn't feel quite as together as the afternoon before, but we got some good jumps in the warm-up so headed in.

Talk about a shift in barometer...Friday was too cautious, this was a bit too quick and long. 

Fence one on the left rein which I don't think Louie expected as he wobbled a stride or so out but flew and cleared it. Across the diagonal to two and three, I got a short one in at fence two, sat up and pushed for the six strides, but I left Louie get a bit long, so he had the front oxer pole with his back feet at fence three. Back on ourselves to fence four, and again, a bit long when committing to my stride and had the same style of pole again! It was a double, and we jumped cleanly out. Never mind, get it out of my head and carry on. 

Down the arena to fence five and Louie took a little look at the hanging filler underneath, and I just couldn't get for the longer stride, but he cleared it. It disrupted my rhythm a little as did the next turn which was sharper than I'd realised, back to the wiggle planks. I steadied around the turn to get straight as soon as possible for the planks. It was all a factor in losing some rhythm and forward-thinking.

Louie cleared them! And it was on a right-handed sharp dog-leg to number seven, a big white oxer. He was keen and came well to it, giving a fantastic shape to the jump! 

Now to fence eight. Here was a solid white hanging filler, with a company's logo painted on. It was on a short straight distance off the short side and was something we hadn't yet jumped. With a good bit of leg and a bit of a growl to remind Louie, he jumped it really nicely. I was forward and needed to turn left-handed right behind a wing to make the red and white double, but I needed to be forward as it was an oxer coming in. I didn't want to add an extra stride into it! He jumped it lovely although I got a very lucky rub on the first part, before we set off right-handed around to fence 10. I wanted to get this right as it set up for the next three. I came round the corner, saw my stride and committed, which unfortunately pushed him into a long frame again, so we arrived deep to the white-winged fence as 11. To finish we had a slight right-handed dog-leg to number 12, which I was nervous of knocking, stupidly, so took my leg off and pretty much dropped Louie in the last stride. No idea why I did that - I literally had zero reason!

He cleared it and we rode through the finish! 

WOW! What a feeling, we'd completed a 3-day show in the British Novice classes!! I didn't even really believe 100% we'd do that when I'd arrived on Thursday night, so I was over the moon with what we had achieved. 

I cooled Louie off, absolutely beaming from ear to ear. Back at the stables, he enjoyed a quick wash down, before we headed to help the others jumping in classes later in the day. Once everyone had finished jumping, I started to organise the wagon for Louie to be loaded so I could muck out the stable fully before leaving. This is where being part of a team really kicks in - everyone helps everyone get ready for going home. Whether it's taking everything round to the wagon, or rugging and booting horses, or sweeping out stables, everyone chips in to help each other.

We left Morris Equestrian just after 1pm, and with good traffic, we pulled back into our yard just before 4.30pm, where Louie got an extra thick bed to welcome him home, as well as a yummy big tea! Andrew treated me to a chinese and a few cheeky beers...I couldn't stop smiling!

With taking two days annual leave, I knew I'd have a lot to catch up on come Monday morning, so I'd been draft away parts of my blog while I was away, and added a bit extra when we got home. I have to say, it was sad to think it was back to reality for us and that we weren't going to be enjoying another day jumping. But after a super productive morning, I edited my post together over lunch, and finally put the finishing touches to it after I'd been down to the yard to sort Louie this evening. Writing and reading through I've smiled many times at just how exciting it is and how far we've come.

I can't wait to explore the next chapter of our journey!

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