A Journey to the 2018 BD PetPlan Championships: A Dream that almost didn't happen
It all started for real last year, our prelim scores were strong and I found myself looking into the BD Championships. We had already dabbled at a summer regional the previous year but mainly because it was held at one of our favorite venues. We weren't going to worry the top placings but felt good enough to have a go.
With three judges we couldn’t hide and our scores averaged out around the 66% so we finished mid table at both the Summer and Winter Regionals.
The Regionals were a great experience and I didn’t feel out of place on the day but I am super competitive and bashed myself about a bit for the fairly major drop in scores having generally stayed in the high 60s and even creeping into the 70s at BD venues.
Alfie is an ex racehorse he isn't a big moving warmblood. He isn't always straight and I am no Olympic Rider. But I do believe in keeping your expectations high. You must set high goals to branch out. You must take risk to succeed.
It makes me laugh sometimes. I look back at when BD changed over their ranking system. I had only competed prelim at the time so I started the new points systems with a score of zero but because I had dabbled at a Regional class I was put straight into the Silver section. Now this didn’t make me feel proud it made me feel out of balance, out of my comfort, out of my reach. But I started looking into the PetPlans that I had once dismissed and realized there was a venue close by for the first rounds. This venue was familiar to me so my comfort feeling was returning.
I have mentioned I am super competitive and if I don’t have a slightly out of reach goal to work to I fester, I ponder, and I never get a thing done. Decision made Petplan Silver Prelim was going to be next on the list.
We got our Prelim Petplan scores easily and started having a little play at some Novice tests BD having already played UA at Novice. But we needed to be careful not to rack up too many points as we still wanted to play with the Riding Club teams.
2017 soon flew by and the before we knew it we had bagged a second place at the first rounds. Not a fantastic score but we were through and we had felt happy with our performance. More importantly we felt on top of the world ready to conquer all, just the boost we had needed. Second round dates went straight into the diary.
Life is never smooth when Alfie decides he isn't 100%, don’t get me wrong he always gives 110% on the try factor but he can also through a major wobbler when he wants to. And then sometimes life is almost perfect, which takes us up to August and the RoR National Championships. Of course, you dream of winning everything but when you actually come home as Double Champion it doesn't truly sink in for a while.
This was my super high, I was there on top of the world, I had won my own version of the Olympics.
Everyone with an RoR wants those Aintree titles.
Why did we crash?
We don’t really know and despite keeping a management, training and competition diary we can't pin point where it went wrong. But we were on a slippery slide heading for thick mud.
Lessons were going ok, we were planning more Novice outings even looking at an Elementary Freestyle test to have a play with at home.
Second Rounds didn’t go to plan. Nothing went horribly wrong but Alfie decided it was time to freestyle the prelim and made his own choices about where he should canter or maybe my body language was confusing him. Everyone was joking it was his way of telling me it was time to move on up. But this time we went home deflated. Maybe everyone was right time to say goodbye prelims. But how could I say goodbye to a level I wasn’t very good at. Yes, I can hear you all screaming at me as you read this but I fall hard and what was amazing belief soon falters when I have doubt whether I can actually ride my horse correctly.
Over the winter our confidence was knocked further, Alfie wasn’t happy in his work, Lessons again were going ok, but competitions were bad. We both had a break and a Xmas holiday.
Undecided what to do and where to start with our investigations we plucked for a new saddle first.
Of course, Alfie picked the expensive saddle on the van but he was my Aintree Prince and held no price tag for his comfort. Looking back its one of our best ever buys.
I am still learning how to ride it but I am so much happier with my position which makes me feel more confident in my ability to ride. Alfie still didn’t have his confidence back that was going to take a while.
Then out the blue I was tagged in a Facebook post. I hadn't even considered a wild card. Well I opened up the website link and there we were listed in the first batch of Prelim Silver Wild Cards.
Well what was I to do, we were going in the right direction, could we do it. I think maybe insanity set in and I entered online before I could change my mind. If you accept you might fail and do your best you still win so that was it I had just entered us for a Major National Championship. Me and me dinky ex racehorse were off to Hartpury.
So how was I going to turn this around in less than four months: Chiro Teeth Saddler all booked. Lessons booked. Stretchy Stretchy mission was in progress.
Roll forward to March and after a few dodgy competition outings and a few disagreements in our lessons we were thinking of withdrawing. We can cope with making tits of ourselves but not at the expense of an unhappy horse
Having teeth done made an amazing difference poor Alfie had nasty hooks on his back teeth which was annoying as it had been less than a year since the vet came out. Note to self, stick to super dentist you trust in the future!
Chiro found a few niggles that needed addressing and we were left with massaging homework and carrot stretches.
Then along came HayGrazer with an offer to trial a slow / low feeding hay bag.
We had a super stretchy lesson on the Sat before with the poles and booked one last run through on the Wednesday where again we concentrated on going super stretchy. Decision made we were travelling up on the Friday with a saddler stop off on the way up
We arrived armed with our Haybag. I had almost half a bale in the bag as I carried it up to the temporary stables with Alfie in tow.
I was on my own so I was grateful for the super wide shoulder strap. I certainly didn’t feel like I was carry a full bag of hay and a water bucket.
I set up the haybag as low as I could, hanging it in the stable corner with piece of mind knowing with its solid outer Alfie wasn’t going to get stuck in it when I left him for the night.
Luckily for Alfie his Chiro was also there on Friday so he had a quick treatment / check over before I rode him. Again, we were left with some massaging homework for the two hot spots on his neckline and his carrot stretches.
Saturday morning came around very quickly, up with the birds with brekkie and muck out tools.
When I arrived at the stable I was impressed with how little waste there was in the stable.
Alfie is terrible for hay dropping and once it is in the bed he won't touch it even if it's clean hay.
There was very little tension in his hot spots and because the haybag was set low I plaited whilst Alfie finished off his brekkie bowl and the hay that was still left in the bag from the night before.
Well. If you had told me at the end of 2017 I would have been tacking up and mounting my fine thoroughbred at the Nationals in April 2018 I would have told you to shut up and stop being so ridiculous. It was never going to happen. I am so pleased to be so so so wrong.
My superstar wasn’t at his best, we knew that before we set off from home, but I could have asked no more of him.
Friday, he worked in with lots of posh horses throwing flying changes at him.
Saturday, he warmed up cool as a cucumber. He ignored the music and the tannoys and concentrated on his own test.
Rider needs a kick for her error in riding the first canter transition so we lost a few scores for some tension in that move but we had stretchy walk.
We have been waiting for ever for a stretchy walk. Ok its wasn’t as stretchy as it could have been but it was still stretchy and we finished our first ever
BD National test with the most enormous smile you could imagine.
A smile the Cheshire cat would be proud of.
And to finish off my story not only have we carried on with our stretchy stretchy routine we have this weekend been out and qualified for the Trailblazer Championships at Novice and at Elementary.
Feeding to improve performance: Well yes I certainly have.
The difference in Alfie has been fabulous.
There have been a lot of factors in play and a spanking new saddle has helped, Alfie also need his teeth checking. But even after the saddle purchase we just weren’t getting to the confidence recovery level we needed to go out competing.
Que arrival of the HayGrazer hay bag, and just in time.
Alfie had not only lost his competition confidence but whilst lunging him in the snow the other month I was horrified to realize he was also losing his topline.
Sometimes when you ride all the time and with lack of time you miss the important signs right under your nose.
Alfie doesn’t really work long and low unless he is tried and needs a good stretch, he would rather get on with his schooling and have a stretch at the end. As you can imagine that does me no favours in the free walk movement of a test.
I have been getting really frustrated lately with the comments ‘’lacks swing’’ more so because I know he has an amazing swing when he wants to (normally out hacking!).
I have to admit the improvement at Hartpury in our walk shocked me so much I forget to ride the next transition properly which was a little expensive but I was so overjoyed he wanted to walk I had to stop myself from screaming hell yes half way through the test.
I hope to keep you all updated over the next few months with our new stretchy stretchy routine and long may the improvement continue with the help from our new stretchy slow hay eating routine.
Watch this space for our new big adventure report: We can do this.
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