Katie & Punch
Did I ever think that I could come 2nd at Badminton! (It may have only been Grassroots, but a step in the right direction none the less!!)
Where do I even start, at the beginning I guess makes sense really. So we left Wednesday morning after exercising the other horses, with the plan of getting to Badminton and having time to settle Punch into his stable before going to support my friend Nathalie George and her horse Law Enforcer (Bobby) in the dressage. It all went smoothly and for once the plan was the reality - not often that happens really!
Nathalie did a lovely test, and apart from nearly missing a circle it was mistake free, I thought it was a harsh mark of 33 considering the other marks in her section, but it was close enough to be in with a chance - especially as the cross country was seriously tough! I then jumped on Punch to take him for a wander and leg stretch after the journey. He was very excited to be there (I think he knew it was important) so I brought him back and did 20 mins stretching him off and schooling him to settle him which worked really well. We then put him away and went off to walk the course! I even jumped one of the fences - I am going to upload a 'Badminton Grassroots' Album but at the moment the camera is still at Badminton with mum! The course looked jumpable but tricky and Nats and I were really relieved we were on experienced cross country horses as there were plenty of tough questions. Namely decent barrels straight into the lake at fence 6 and a sharp turn to a big brush out, a double of skinny hedges at 9, and a proper old fashion coffin, with open rails in and out!
After that it was time for dinner and a huge thank you must go to 'Team Sasserath' who not only hosted us but provided us with a really yummy meal in their caravan at the campsite - it was much appreciated!
We then headed back to the lorry to bed, but not before giving Punch a late night haynet and Meadow Brick (which are his new favourite, he loves them) so that he had something to munch on as well as his hay!
Having slept surprisingly well, I was up and out walking the course at 7am! Keen I know but I wanted to get out there and walk it in the quiet on my own. I made sure I knew the exact lines I was riding and the tightest and most time conserving lines. The sun had just come up and the grass was still wet with dew - it was almost like a dream, after all was I really about to ride round Badminton?!
It was a surprisingly long time to have to wait before my dressage at 11.18, but by the time I had plaited up and made him look all smart it was time to go!! He started off rather tense but settled more and more, and with Liz helping me I was able to get the best out of him. I gave him a walk round on a long rein until the horse in front of me went in - then picked him up and he was ready to go. We trotted straight in and I just thought to myself, 'so this is it, whatever you do don't throw it away!' Well I didn't and Punch pointed his toes and strutted his stuff. He did a foot perfect test, except one canter transition (which was my fault as I didn't prepare early enough so it was late!) Despite a propeller aeroplane not only landing but turning round and taxiing back past my arena in my free walk - and yet he leaps into the hedge when a car drives past.. Clearly he knew it was a big deal!
We had a huge support crew by this point, Nathalie and Sally were watching, as well as Mum, Liz and chief (and fantastic) groom Katie! Granny was there too. Catherine & Crosby (who were colour coordinated!) Lisa, Nicky, Ginevra, Lee, Deborah, Jan, Jacqui, Wendy and her husband, Michaela, Rachel and Kelly! Sorry if I have forgotten anyone - but all your support made the day really really special - it created a lovely atmosphere and was great to see you all!
I was disappointed when I first heard his mark of 36.8. As normally that would be right at the bottom of the list. However, they were marking harshly and many people had recieved scores in the 40s. It was good enough to leave us in equal 9th after the dressage, with two people in 36.4 and one on 36 - so in touching distance if I could finish on my dressage!!
We put him away, with a big bucket of Greengold to target feed him and give him some much needed energy for the jumping phases. I had a chat with some of the people that had come to watch before walking the show jumping. I knew what I needed to do and where I was adding strides down various distances as Punch is only short striding and always prefers to go on a deep spot than a long one. We watched Nats and Bobby jump the most fantastic and confident clear round which was great to see as I know she has been working really hard on Bobbys show jumping. I then had to sit through the whole of Nathalies class as I didn't show jump until 3.04!! It was horrible as the more I watched the more nervous I got. However I knew, that despite others struggling I had to stick to my plan and just go for it! I got on and started warming up and my first 3 practice jumps were rubbish (I couldn't seem to hit a nice spot) So I got rather stressed - Mum and Liz told me to calm down and start again - so I did and it worked. He warmed up beautifully and at that I was in!! I rode the lines and distances that I had planned, and apart from tapping the 2nd fence (because I wasn't riding postively!) he jumped amazingly and flew round a decent course easily for a clear round! At this point I knew all was to play for cross country and I simply had to go for it!!
We got him back to the box and what is so fantastic about Simple System feeds is that you can feed as soon as they have finished working or right up to 10 minutes before they start work as the feed moves through the stomach quickly and this is how target feeding helps as it gives them the energy boost at the vital moment! So we gave him another bowl of Greengold to aid his stamina as much as we could cross country as we weren't sure how fit he was. My original plan was to take him sensibly at the beginning to save some petrol for the end. But when I knew I was right up there I knew I had to kick on. I thought that if he started to tire I would steady him up and nurse him home - then at least I would know I had given it my best shot!
Soon we were walking over to the start box and my heart started to race - this was it.. the climax of what I had been working towards since the 23rd September!! The starter counted us down and we were off! He jumped the first to plain fences beautifully, and at three was a trakhener with water trays in it which he flew. Fence 4 was the first combination of a turning lines of skinny wishing wells, which I took on the angle to save time. But he popped through making it feel easy! We then galloped passed Badminton House (see picture below, Thank you to Dave Murray for the lovely photos!) before jumping the bench (which I did slightly miss at, luckily Punch was on hand to sort me out!) The lake was next - so I set him up and rode positively! He has never jumped anything like it - but he was a total pro and skipped through like he had done it hundreds of times!! Getting confident in him by this stage I had a definite lack of preparation for the table at 7, and ended up half a stride off - bless him he picked up but ended up bellying it which understandably shook him up a bit. I gave myself a virtual smack and pulled myself together as the next combination was the trickiest on the course. The brush in was big and he overjumped. I turned towards the next two elements and he was really doubting his ability by this point so I held him together and just kicked and shouted at him. Bless him he took one diagonal stide to the right, one back to the left, half a straight stride and jumped out - what a totally genuine little horse he is!! used the next two simple fences to regain his confidence before the two houses through a dip - which he jumped fabulously! 13 was an old fashioned coffin - but no trouble for Punch, he was awesome through there before another two let up fences - brushes which as long as you rode your line were easy! He jumped the next fence - the wall to a twisted table really well and then the log drop to a skinny brush, again he was fantastic! Over the next simple fence with just one combination to go - the logs at the quarry - which he was super neat through and over the book to finish! I have run out of positive words to describe quite how good and genuine he was to keep going round that course!! However he finished with plenty of running which was great!
I realised he had lost a shoe so led him back to the stables and found the farrier who was half way through putting his shoe back on when Liz ran up saying we were 2nd!! I have never been so proud of him - he has been the most consistent horse and he really really deserved it! We had Prize giving in front of Badminton House and then got whizzed off in the official vehicles to the press conference!! As a member of the EHOA Liz won the highest placed member and received a gorgeous rosette and silver platter! I am so pleased for her too as she has been such a help to me and I feel privileged to have been allowed to ride Punch over the last 4 seasons! Badminton was to be our swansong of eventing as Coco is hopefully about to step up a level and Punch doesn't need the wear and tear on his legs, as much as I love eventing him! Hopefully Liz will be able to event him now - and maybe even qualify for the grassroots herself!
I know this has been an essay but it really was an incredible couple of days and I am off on hockey tour tomorrow but will get the album up as soon as I am back!
PS. I couldn't sign this off without thanking mum, ie. Keeper of the peace and lorry driver & organiser extraordinaire! (Thank you) But also my cousin Katie who at just 10 years old groomed for me and ensured Punch was looking beautiful at all times - willing to walk miles up to the stable to help me sort him out (and the picture at the top of her and Punch proves it all!) Thank You Katie! Also thank you to my Uncle, Kari. Who had a last minute call through his work and ended up jetting off across the world to business meetings rather than being able to be at Badminton with us all and he was missed (don't worry though - when I compete at the proper Badminton you can come!!)