We’ve been Eventing! The training Event run at the superb Ely Eventing Centre at Little Downham was an excellent way to dip a hoof into the water and experience the pressure of riding in a show environment for the first time. Max is no stranger to Eventing, but as a combination it was our first go, and my first too. I’ve been to plenty of Dressage shows, attended One- and Three-Day Events, and I helped out at the last similar event at Ely, but this time it was me on board, and dealing with the extra things like judging how long to warm up for, whether we’d cope under scrutiny, and be able to focus in the test and jumping rounds.
The drive up was relatively stress-free, although a long stop at roadworks prompted impatient stamping from the horse area, with Max letting me know that if we were there he’d like the ramp down…! No such luck, but after a little longer we were there and the excitement of actually being at our first Event started to kick in.
I had expert help for the afternoon from Adrienne Devonish from Church House Farm Livery: she provided reassuring calm vibes, picked up some of the grooming jobs, and took lots of photo and video material. I love how the equestrian world is full of helpful people who go out of their way to offer advice, support, wish you luck, and make you feel part of a really encouraging community (even if in a competition they’re out to beat you!)
Our Dressage warm up was windy, and as it was my first ridden test ever, it was a little nervy and hurried, but the point of the day was for training, so we had a good debrief after the test (I managed to get all the movements in and in the right order, so that’s a start, no?!); with a little more control and confidence there are ‘higher marks to come’, which is encouraging – just need to make sure that I have a white tie in time for our first BE Event. After a walk of the surprisingly long course (given the relatively low height of the fences themselves), it was time for a change of outfits for us both, and we headed over to the Showjumping field.
The SJ warm up was – to put it politely – challenging: not so much the jumping around others and keeping out of their way, but more finding out which order we were going in, but it meant that there was the chance to watch a few people go ahead of me. In the warm up, Max was very strong and full of go – once we were in the arena itself things calmed down and despite one brief stop – I’m not sure that he’d spotted fence 3 – we cleared each fence and ridden a fairly efficient round without taking risks on the turns; the ducks on fence 2 didn’t cause any complaints, which was a relief, given what fusses the real things on the pond back home cause…
And then it was onto the part I’d been waiting 12 years for: a cross course as part of an Event. Again, Max started to get very excited about getting ready to go XC, but first there was a surprise encounter with his previous owner Claire, and her daughter. It was so lovely to see them and for them to see Max out and about a year since he came to me, and he was happy to see them too – I think he was probably still thinking about the course at the time though, as he established a solid reverse gear for the next few minutes!
A quick pop over some practice fences and into the start box we went – I’ve seen people go out before, but this was exciting to do for the first time, and we made a good start. A quick sort-out of long reins would have counted for a little loss of momentum, but we only had one real issue, at a long blue pipe in the middle of a field: a cheeky run-out got me out of the saddle, but as I was fine and kept hold of Max I remounted, as allowed by the Event rules, and we came to the fence again. We flew it, and moved on [having abandoned a fallen packet of polos] to more connected fences which he was much happier to see, and made fairly light work of the rest of the course – having taken care to work out as far as my novice eye could what we need to be aware of, and having taken decent lines to the fences; we wouldn’t have been hugely competitive as far as the time went, but I meant to get round and it was such a fantastic thing to experience something that I’ve wanted to do for so long. As quite a bit of my job, and my training with Max at home, is spent working in isolation, it came as a bit of a surprise just how isolated you can feel up on top of the horse, even when there are several hundred people in the same venue – without spectators or the tannoy rattling in the background, it is rather different.
And then it hit me – we’d actually put so much training together, a year of Max and me, so many lessons on different horses – so much still to learn of course – and we’d been out and done our ‘warm up’ Event, so the #80by40 challenge is still on: I turn 40 in November, and before then we will – all things being equal – be going Eventing under British Eventing rules, with our first BE outing being at Munstead on Saturday 19 September. Thank you for reading, and for your support so far – this is very much not the end of a journey, but the beginning. Who knows how far it will go, but I’m really excited to be able to be a part of a sport that I’ve loved – my school PE teachers would be shocked to hear those words coming from me – for just over a decade, and to actually be competing is (as cheesy as it sounds) a dream come true.