Fried Mars Bars and Archery- It’s the Young Rider Europeans!

Wow what a week Blair was!

We arrived at Blair on the Monday afternoon to set up camp and settle Charlie (Arkendale) down after his long journey (although not quite as long as some!). He loves being away at events- especially big ones where he thinks everyone is looking at him! Melanie Parker was his groom for the week which was really weird as I’m used to doing everything myself but she did an amazing job. The team were all staying at a hotel nearby which was also different from slumming it in the lorries!

It was a busy first few days even though the competition hadn’t yet started, training with Gill every day and walking the cross country course at any spare moment- twice with Gill, once on my own and once with Nicola Wilson. On Tuesday evening we ventured out to have a go at archery and shooting which was brilliant fun as we were all pretty bad! That was followed up with loud singing in the car and chippy chips as well as my first try of a battered mars bar… never again!

Wednesday was trot up followed by an opening ceremony in which we all paraded to the castle, had a cocktail party and then a BBQ.

Dressage day arrived, and Charlie was on form- we got 56.2 which put us in the middle of the field of incredibly close scores. Dani Evans was the dressage queen leading on 41, Team GBR were in Gold medal position! There was time for some wild Scottish Dancing that evening before an early night to prepare for the next day!

By Saturday, the Welsh support team had arrived en-masse; parents, brother and sister, aunts, grand parents, friends and HDI sponsors Skye and Haydn, all adding to the pressure to do well. The cross country was beautifully built, big, bold and hilly, causing lots of problems in different places which is the sign of a good course builder! Considering the amount of rain, the ground was not bad on the course, and as always there were plenty of spectators especially at the two water jumps. Young Riders were first to go which meant we didn’t have time to watch so we relied on our ‘spotters’ to give us information on how it was riding.

The collecting ring was quite sticky with the ground drying out so fast and Charlie used this as a good excuse to be quite naughty, bouncing around and generally being awkward, so I was quite glad when it was our time to go! He flew out of the start box and cruised around the first part of the course, we climbed the hill and he still kept galloping. He gave me an amazing ride popping through the water and bouncing up the step, we even got a compliment from Yogi Breisner later on. Charlie felt strong going down the hills, but he kept jumping and came home full of running with just 2.8 time faults. This moved us up to 14th and with the overnight french leader not presenting at the final trot up we moved up to 13th. Team GBR had mixed fortunes cross country with two rider falls, but the team were still in Gold medal position going into the show jumping.

There was a mounted parade for all nations on Sunday afternoon and I felt really proud to be part of the team as all the home crowd were cheering us on. The show jumping came next in reverse order so I had a nervous wait, and watched lots of poles drop. I warmed up knowing a top ten placing was possible with a clear, I wanted it so badly! It was a very twisty track with 14 jumping efforts and a huge crowd. Charlie was amazing and as we landed after the last fence CLEAR we got a huge cheer! The crowd were brilliant. It was one of the best moments of my life- Charlie got a huge pat and really showed off as he left the ring. We had done it- double clear- now all we could do was wait to see how others jumped. As fences fell we moved up the order eventually finishing 7th. I could never have imagined my first European Championships to finish like this, I’m still ecstatic and not wanting to come back to reality, what a horse! To top things off the team won gold and Willa won individual silver. An unforgettable and successful week all round with some amazing people. Thank you to everyone… Gill Watson, Emma Fisher, Alex Colquhoun, Mark Lucey, Sarah Bullen, Melanie Parker and everyone else for such a brilliant experience!

This it was back to work at Nicola’s whilst she went to the Senior Europeans. Charlie has had a well deserved two weeks off, but now its back to business hopefully at Boekelo.

Images: Fergus Baird

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