The month of May seemed to have been one competition after the other.

Still all the regular horse maintenance programs in place, farrier, osteopathy and saddle fitting.

The month started with Badminton Cross Country day.  Mum and I managed to start early in the morning so we were just finished in time to sit down for the rest of the day to watch a very exciting day of Badminton xc on the telly. It was very interesting watching as it looked as though the course had been dumbed down a little in places since last year, but actually it was a very good fair test that caused problems across the course which is a signal of a well designed track!! It was great to see Tom Jackson, Will Furlong, Lici Hawker, Imogen Gloag and Imogen Murray have such cracking rounds and Imogen Murray being 3rd fastest of the day. It was Will’s and Lici’s first 4* competition.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I am also there.

Sunday Fun Day

Well what a nice surprise.  V.I.P. Vino came second in his Novice run at Broadway. This was only his second novice and really not expected.  He is developing nicely in the dressage and as he builds his strength so this will continue to improve.  He tries hard not to touch anything in the SJ despite the fact that he doesn’t find it easy.  The cross country although not big fences was technically challenging due to the hills and undulations.  I was very pleased for him as he has not had an easy road to now and finally I feel we are turning a corner and he is beginning to enjoy working. 

Vino flew round XC with his HRP Equestrian wing saddle pad picture (www.hrpequestrian.com)

Show jump course training and tips

We took Vinnie and Conquer show jump training with Chris Burton – 4* Australian rider who I spent some time with last winter – It’s great to have some course practice under tuition, they have a lovely big arena – both horses jumped really well and I picked up some warm up tips together with a suggestion of a different bit for Conquer as he always chomps away at his, playing with the lozenge. We had a Long hall home got back at 7pm. Then packed up ready for Aston le Walls the next day with Conquer.

We had late start times at Aston on Wednesday so I was able to ride the others before we left – this is a relatively close competition – 11/2 hours away !.He had lovely comments from the judge at the end of the dressage sheet and he continues to improve, which is always nice.  I have to keep thinking back to last year where he could barely string two movements together – it is easy to forget how the horses have come on. The change of bit definitely helped him relax more and be more accepting of the contact. He was on aeroplane mode in the show jumping and literally flew round with no penalties despite quite a dead surface. The Cross 

Country was fantastic except for the first few fences where he seemed to still be in the sj arena but by fence 4 he had got into his stride and felt very smooth and easy and stayed in a good rhythm, as a result of the slow start we had a few time penalties.  

Chatsworth CIC*** – 

Thanks to Immy coming in I managed to ride all the horses before leaving at midday to Chatsworth Horse Trials – we actually managed to leave on time but had a really slow journey with Friday afternoon traffic and eventually arriving just after 4.30pm.

Vinnie’s test wasn’t until just after 3pm on Saturday so it seemed we had a lovely day ahead to watch others and enjoy everything Chatsworth provides – in reality that never happens,  there is always something to do and we took Vino with us for some experience so by the time I had ridden both – walked the course, plaited up and faffed the day soon disappeared. This was Vinnie’s best test yet and there is still definitely more to come –  just need a few more tweaks here and there to sharpen up. The test was very relaxed and so was I and probably for the first time I  felt I had lots of time in the movements, which is strange as it is a busy test. I do a lot of canter work in his warm up, also some canter shoulder ins – it really helps the hind legs. I also focused on accuracy in the test and riding directly to each letter. When I finished the test I was really pleased but when I  looked at the video after I thought it felt  better than it looked.!! However, we were only 2 marks off the leaders and lying in 11th after dressage so it must have been ok!

When we walked the cross country course – I thought it looked very big and the terrain made some of the fence more technical than if they were on the flat – there seemed little let up on the fences and not a course you could mentally have a rest at any point!!!

We were staying off site with some cousins so an early start on Sunday so  Vino could be ridden before I walked the cross country again with John, my coach at 8.30am. I had already walked the sj at 6.30am which was big and would need forward riding.

Having walked the cross country course again with John the points that we kept reiterating all round the course.

Keep in balance

Set up for fence where needed

Use your core

Use your legs – you have long ones so use them!

Will Walking the course with his ARC4Health and Buddy. (www.arc-family.com)

The Show Jumping arena at Chatsworth has quite an electric atmosphere with shops all around, huge crowds milling around and watching and I hadn’t anticipated that Vinnie would take any notice of this.  He definitely lit up, of course it has been quite a time since he has been in an arena with that atmosphere.  Luckily he was a good boy and I managed to get his focus back for the first fence, he jumped really well, sadly had a pole at fence 4 – I had seen a good stride into it and  lightened my leg contact a fraction so he just didn’t travel over it enough. My Fault!

Cross country was at 13.12 and there had been alot of hanging round during the day waiting for this. It played with my mind abit and I found it quite difficult to get my mojo  – particularly as I kept thinking about Belton where I fell off – I so wanted to get round clear and complete a 3*!!. Once we were in a rhythm it felt back to the good old days and Vinnie felt mega and I really felt at one with him. For the first time ever we got held on course just after fence 11 as a rider 2 ahead of me had fallen.  I had no idea how this would affect Vinnie and how long we would be held for – I kept walking him and the occasional trot  – we had been stopped just after a steep hill so there wasn’t a great place to get a good run up when we set off again.  Unfortunately this broke our rhythm completely and  Vinnie never really zoned back in for the rest of the course – we still finished with no jumping penalties but he definitely had switched off. We had plenty of time penalties as I was never planning on going fast as it is all about learning and development at this new level. However, I have now completed by first 3* and when I stop analysing everything I might realise what we have achieved. This is one fantastic horse.

 We had taken Vino with us to give him an education in a more heightened environment – the first day he started off fine and when I rode him he was soft and relaxed – unfortunately he became harder to manage as the weekend went on. He got more attached to Vinnie- which resulted in Mum or Dad having to miss watching a phase. This definitely added more stress to the weekend which was a shame  –  It would have been much more relaxed if we had not taken him but they have to learn.

 Vino’s first International

We headed to Rockingham horse trials the following weekend, for V.I.P. Vino’s first international competition. The day didn’t exactly start how we envisaged as Vino wasn’t game for leaving his friends when we were loading him and thought it was great to pull away from me and have a run round the yard a few times!! This caused a leaving delay of 30 minutes and we wondered how he was going to be staying in on site stables which was a first for him.  He can be such an affectionate quiet horse but at other times very single minded and you can’t always tell which you have.

Luckily we had a really good run up and only arrived 10 minutes later than we planned. Vino was able to have a relaxed time eating the grass and generally chill as we only had the dressage on Friday.  I allowed 45 minutes for the warm up as you have to have your horse’s passport and microchip checked and I wanted Vino to be able to mooch around and get accustomed to the atmosphere. He was exceptionally well behaved and stayed very relaxed and wasn’t phased at all. He went into the dressage arena area and stayed relaxed  – in the test he just had a few moments where he became unbalanced due to his lack of strength, we were extremely pleased with his test (31.9) and he put in a performance beyond where he is at in his development at the moment. John Bowen, my coach was pleased as one of the judges commented ”Promising test showing correct training”.  Once he had some chilled time we put him in his stable where he was super chilled.

 Saturday brought the  showjumping and cross country.  I had stayed on site with the dogs so was up early to feed, muck out, dog walk, horse walk and walk the show jumping.  The course was big and very twisty with very smart brightly coloured jumps.  Vino has never seen anything like it and it was right in the centre of all the shops – plenty to be distracted by!! Despite 3 fences down Vino was jumping really well and I was very pleased with him, although disappointed that we had them down but again it is due to  lack  of strength where he just can’t quite maintain his jump in some combinations. As a result of this we decided just to take him steady round the xc, he learnt a lot and gave me such a good feel at times. He will have learnt a lot over the weekend and no doubt grown up a little. Only having one horse meant we could enjoy having friends and family around and have a relaxed lunch after the xc.  A quick change and walk across the road to our local pub for supper once we got home, where John Bowen my coach joined us as he was staying the night before a day of training on Sunday.  We hadn’t been to Rockingham for a couple of years and it has really grown and developed into a great competition and plenty to do and watch for all those that come. Thanks to all involved in the organisation.

Learn Learn Learn

Sunday we had lessons all day.  Kate came to help for a few hours at both ends of the day – First lesson at 8am – all the horses had a dressage lesson including Vino.  We always work the horses lightly after a competition so that we can feel how they have come out of it.;They then have the second day off.  All horses worked very well and Ballycoog Breaker Boy (William) was particularly cheeky – he is so happy to be in full work and wants to rather bound on – this causes a few discussions between us both but he is getting there. He has grown so much over the winter and is very opinionated now. A teenage 6 year old!!! Vino was so relaxed after Rockingham and continued his good work.  Again they all jumped very well even William when he actually focused on jumping rather than how big he could get his stride!!!!

TJ, a Picnic Syndicate member, came and watched the afternoon lessons bringing Niamh, a 9 year old girl and her mother Sarah who are on the same yard as her.  Niamh is mad keen on eventing and absorbed as much information as possible during her visit. We look forward to hearing how she gets on with her little grey pony. They were great company and it was lovely to be able to share everything with them.

A little treatment

We went to the gallops in Monday with Vinnie and Conquer to do their last gallop before their competitions at Houghton.  Both worked well.

Vinnie was a little foot sore at the end, probably left over from pulling both front shoes off at Chatsworth.  He had been fine for the last few days but the motion of galloping obviously just triggered a little soreness. We got Robert our vet out just to double check we weren’t missing anything.  We stood his feet in iced water and clayed them over night for the next 3 days and all was good.  

All About Houghton

The rest of the week was all about Vinnie (3*) and Conquer (2*) competing at Houghton.  We left the yard at 5am having got up at 3.30am.  We had decided that we would take each discipline as it came with Vinnie as the ground was likely to be on the hard side.  The horses bickered all the way up which is tiring for them and us.  Shortly before we arrived we got a crack in the lorry windscreen due to a stone flying up from a lorry on the other side of the road – something else to be fixed!!!! 

We unloaded the horses and took them to the vets for a check in, where they check their heart beat, their markings and chip number matching with their passport and then they keep the passports until you leave.  We have been known to forget to pick it up before but not this time!!! As Vinnie’s competition was short format he had to be trotted up there and then – all clear was given. We then took them to their stables where they found lots of grass to eat down before the shavings went in.  Back to the lorry for unpacking and setting up the back of the lorry for the rest of the week.  The Gazebo was put up which lasted a short while before the wind came in and destroyed it!!! A stronger one needed for the future.

I rode both horses around the park before Conquer’s trot up later in the afternoon and Mum plaited up.The trot up seemed very high energy and a lot of the horses found it overwhelming – the wind was strong which wound a lot of horses up and there were some Damien Hirst sculptures which were very modern and certainly got some interesting looks from the horses, once they had clocked them. Conquer trotted up well but got a little carried away on the return run. (All adds to the fun of it).

Thursday early start as Conquer’s dressage was just after 9am.  He felt anxious and wasn’t willing to relax and soften during the warm up and unfortunately this followed into the test but there were some good movements.  We then went and walked both XC courses just to get a feel and have a look.  At this stage the ground was too hard to run in some areas (in my opinion) but the team at Houghton were working very hard to address this.  We were forecast rain and that eventually came in later than expected but was torrential and rained a good part of the night. This was great and made a huge difference to the ground on the XC. Vinnie did his test at the end of the day and this proved to be a very good one.  There were still some movements to improve on and he didn’t quite get either of his changes so to finish on a score of 30.8 – so nearly in the 20’s but not quite, was great. 

Friday was rest day as far as competing was concerned.  The horses still needed exercising and the courses needed walking noting where the minute markers were and walking the lines I wanted to ride.  As there were 2 courses we did them back to back so by lunch we were ready for a sit down.  The horses get a lot of hand grazing everyday to keep them moving as the stables are very small and the horses very big!! Friday late afternoon I made the most of it being a quiet day and the bar being open. It was lovely to sit and chill for once.

Saturday Lindsey Hopkinson joined us with her Camera and she shadowed me for the day clicking away and taking some videos for the picture bank.  Vinnie’s 3* show jumping was first and he jumped the best round yet..  Conquer felt quite tense in his warm up so I decided to take the course as it came and if he didn’t feel great I would retire.  Thankfully he got into his stride and was SUPEEER. Coming home clear and inside the time.  Unfortunately he slightly tied-up (which is like muscle cramp) so once he had been washed off, cooled down and iced his legs we got the vet to meet us at the stable to put him on fluids and liquid electrolytes.  This was a new experience for us so lots was learnt other than the reason why!!! Let’s hope it is a one off……

Final day – Sunday.  Very early start as we had the trot up at 9am and I was in the first group to go.  As soon as that was finished we were back out walking the 3* course in order to decide whether to run Vinnie or not.  We unanimously decided to run him but with lots of provisos.  Some friends came for the day to support and have a catch up which I always enjoy.  Vinnie was first on and gave me such a good ride XC clear with 3.2 time.  I hadn’t looked at my minute watch all the way round – he was in such a good rhythm I left it at that – I could have pushed on in the last stretch but didn’t feel that there was any benefit in doing this (later I found out I would have been 6th if i had pushed on to get inside the time) but I am more than happy finishing 14th knowing we could have done it.

We then had another quick turn around as we had to get Conquer ready for the show jumping. I also wanted to give myself enough time to warm him up and keep him relaxed after the antics the day before.  This paid off as he jumped clear which I was so pleased with as he could have quite easily come out not jumping as I know he can. We finished 19th which I was so happy with him knowing the only area we could have improved was the dressage – 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!

Once the show jumping had finished it was time to pack the lorry up and head back home. It was good to finish the week with 2 super horses doing double clears and despite having no signal it was a really great event and obvious they had done all they could on the ground. Thank you BEDE’s and everyone who helped. 

Also, a very big thank you to all the team who work with me and have got us here so far – it’s a long long journey and your support is invaluable. Thank you.

June is a quiet month and then July we will be back at it with Ballycoog Breaker Boy and Dom (have entered his name competition – see my website www.willrawlin.com) starting their campaigns.

You can follow my journey via my website www.willrawlin.com, @willrawlin on Instagram, @WBREventing on twitter and @willrawlingeventing on Facebook. I  look forward to telling you  more  throughout the season as I chase my goals,  and keep you up to date on the rollercoaster  as a professional event rider.

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