Having owned my horse, H, for nearly two years and brought him on slowly from a clumsy, unbalanced five year old to something resembling respectable performer, now came the time to up the ask and take him to his first horse trials. While I've show jumped and hunted him as well as spent many hours in a school, I wanted his first experience of doing all three disciplines in one day to be a positive one. Based on this forethought, I knew that I wasn't the right person to ride him. In part because my nerves get the better of me watching, let alone riding, but also while I've ridden all my life, it's many decades since I've been eventing.
Who should ride was a much easier decision! Event rider Katy Dziedzic has ridden H before and both she and her mother Ingrid, who run Klass Equestrian instructing and competing across the South, have taught both us so I asked Katy if she would take H round Tweseldown's unaffiliated pre-intro course. Preparation went according to plan. More fitness work, a couple of days' hunting, physio and quite a lot of pampering. A pre-event schooling session for Katy and H also went well, so we were all set. But it's amazing how doubts creep in. I began to think H wasn't fit enough. He seemed quieter than normal, almost too well behaved, but I didn't want change anything so close to an event.
I needn't have worried! He breezed through Storm Brian, not fazed by the wind and rain, nor did he over react to having a bath and his mane bunched ready for plaiting 48 hours ahead of time. Such a cool dude, who possibly thought he was off for a day following hounds.
We got to Tweseldown in good time, tacked up, studs in (another first) and Katy set off to warm up for her dressage test. As she did so, the local blood hounds spoke up and H was convinced a day of speed and jumping with his horsey mates were on the cards, so when Katy asked him to focus on a dressage test warm-up, he set about being his most belligerent. He just couldn't see why he should bring his head back from the sky (no martingale didn't help), but he did momentarily and then completely lost it, leaping upwards, losing his balance and sinking to the floor. Katy totally anticipated his reaction and got out of the way, escaping with a muddy leg, but without injury as H set off - solo - to find his friends. Caught in the lorry park, Katy remounted (without her spurs this time) and continued her warm-up. That incident alone is why I chose not to ride, I wouldn't have anticipated his over-reaction and would undoubtedly have come out of it hurt and unable to continue. As it was, H had to be vet checked as did Katy. Both were passed fit and went into their test on time. For a first test, it was good. Fair comments from the judge (he was against Katy's hand whenever he felt he could get away with it), made her life quite hard for 40 penalties. Typically once dressage was done, he completely calmed down, thinking possibly his job was done!
Not so, just boots and a breastplate added for the show jumping phase. He seemed back to his laid back self, strolling down to the warm up arena. Once there, he was keen to get on with the job, but quite distracted by the other horses busy around him. Again, Katy sat quiet, warmed up and went into the arena. While he was only jumping 80cms, he was very green in his approach. He hasn't done much jumping on grass and while neither the jumps or filler worried him, his concentration was definitely lacking by fence four as he just didn't pick his front feet up, but that was his only faults as he kicked the top pole out. He did though need quite a lot of help to get round the remaining fences, even getting two strides in a one stride double!
Again, he was convinced that having show jumped, his day was over and he needed lunch! A cheeky nibble of grass and he set off for the XC warm up, where once more, he came alive taking Katy into the practice fences as if he were drag hunting, excited to be with other horses all doing the same thing. Katy was almost concerned that she wouldn't be able to hold him or that he wouldn't listen to her. At the start H was keen to get going, no napping or hesitating which was a great sign as he was leaving his friends behind. He set off full of energy, jumping the first two obstacles. It was then it dawned on him that he was 'all alone' and his focus started to waiver slightly, but he didn't hesitate, going straight into the water (which was causing other some difficulty), but when he got to the open ditch, he was convinced a monster would get him. A stern talking to and he went on the second time of asking.
The rest of course went without incident, returning with 20 jumping and 15 time penalties and although H was very tired by the time he got home - physically and mentally - he still had his ears pricked and seemed pleased with himself.
H didn't disgrace himself (totally), but watching Katy ride, confirmed that my decision to get a professional event rider to take my very inexperienced (and as it turned out unpredictable) young horse to his first horse trials was absolutely right.
The pressure is for me to pick up the competing mantle, so my brave pants will have to come out of the cupboard, but in the meanwhile a few more lessons needed!