|Ian and his best friend, Moose|
Ever since we started writing this column we seem to have experienced more adventures than ever before, and September was no exception. It has been a rollercoaster of a month starting off on a bit of a low point but definitely ending on a high.
Our first event was West Wilts Horse Trials, a new venue for Team White and the furthest we’ve travelled so far. It turned out to be rather more of an adventure than we had anticipated. Very early dressage times meant we had a choice – either we set off at 3.30am or stabled overnight. The former was not met with the greatest enthusiasm as you can imagine (least of all by the Crippen’s who own the yard where Moose and Willow are stabled!). So several frantic phone calls later and with a lot of help from an already frazzled entries secretary we managed to obtain stabling at nearby Stonar School.
With that under control we set off on Saturday with renewed vigour. Anyone who has been to Stonar School will know that the stables are in a lovely yard but are usually occupied by 13.2hh ponies. Whilst the size of the stables was fine, the height of the walls and doors made Moose look like a giraffe. It didn’t take him long to realise that he could torment Willow over his partition and the screams could be heard for miles around! We were soon asked to move them to stables with slightly higher walls to save Willow’s sanity as well as ours.
Whilst the ponies settled into their new surroundings so did we – our horsebox - which I hasten to add has no living. So, on a very drizzly Saturday night we huddled around a one ring camping burner, under torchlight, with the prospect of sleeping on an airbed in the same area the horses had travelled in.
|My confidante and friend - Willow|
After a less than satisfactory night’s sleep it was a very grumpy Team White, human and equine that arrived at West Wilts! Tempers were not helped when five minutes before poor Ian was about to warm up for dressage we realised we’d learned the wrong test – and the rain was still pouring. What was said through gritted teeth by my dearly beloved cannot be printed…. Needless to say he practised the test on foot to the great amusement of the rest of the lorry park. Despite the lack of preparation both horses did well and our spirits were lifted. The rain was beginning to ease and Ian’s parents arrived with coffee. What else could possibly go wrong?
Perhaps it was the shock of being well behaved in his dressage or sleep deprivation but a petulant Moose entered the show-jumping arena. After two refusals, a pole down and time faults an even grumpier jockey exited – the cross country had to go well. It did – the boys recovered to storm round the course in fine style only picking up 20 penalties for crossing their tracks at a long route – the Moose was exalted, Ian was exhausted!
In the meantime we “girls” had displayed our new found skills in the show-jumping phase – we found a rhythm – and finished with only four faults. This should have made me eager to go cross country but something didn’t feel quite right. I don’t know what it was. This was only our third novice course so maybe it was lack of confidence on my part or just sheer exhaustion but I was not looking forward to it at all.
|Willow, the dressage diva|
Andrew Hoy recently said in an interview that experience has taught him that if he doesn’t feel prepared enough at an event he won’t run - experience counts for a lot and I now understand what he means. With hindsight it would have been sensible to retire after the show jumping but instead I prepared for the final phase.
We jumped the first five fences well and then disaster struck. Having descended the steps at Fence 5, the next fence – an elephant trap over a large ditch – came up quickly and I was not prepared. Still trying to pick up my reins I was not in control. On seeing the ditch Willow stopped and then launched herself from a standstill. Had she been in the centre of the jump she may have made it, but being so far over to the right she clipped the flag on the way over, affecting her momentum and she crashed over the top pole. Miraculously she landed on her feet on the other side with me still on board. In fact she was already to going onto Fence 7, but I wasn’t sure what we should do given we had broken the fence – would we be eliminated? Despite her apparent soundness I pulled up and decided to retire.
|Extended Team White with my mum and Ian's parents|
It is amazing thinking back that I even contemplated carrying on - but that’s the power of adrenalin. It was not until the horse ambulance made its way towards us that I saw the blood pouring down Willow’s back legs. The adrenalin vanished and I began to cry. The extent of her injuries was unknown at this point and the guilt I felt in walking away unhurt was unbearable.Ian’s mum and dad took control and looked after everything as did the veterinary and support team who were wonderful. Willow was also taking control – no way was she loading into the back of the horse ambulance thank you very much. This stoic old bird was going to walk back to the lorry, no doubt telling everyone on the way what a bad mother I was! Thankfully, her injuries were deemed superficial by the onsite vet and we were allowed to make our long journey home.
|Gatcombe 2006 - what an event!|
Despite our adventures the experience had not been in vane. We had yet again learned more about this sport than you ever learn from reading books and watching videos. It had been a steep and painful learning curve, but a lesson none the less.
Much to Moose’s disgust, whilst Willow was convalescing and enjoying all the accompanying fuss, he was hard at work preparing for his next event. Gatcombe beckoned and we set off in sunshine across the beautiful Cotswolds. Maybe it’s seeing riders in their top hats contesting the CIC** or maybe it’s because it’s the home turf of a great eventing family but Gatcombe always has a special sense of occasion. It is of course the home of Zara Phillips and Toytown – the latter of whom Moose believes is a distant cousin of his which is why we think he’s always so calm when he comes to Gatcombe – he thinks he’s visiting family!
With both sets of parents on hand to lend their support, and me as groom, spirits were running high in the Team White camp. A very relaxed Moose did his best dressage test to date, showing off his moves in fine style and scoring under 40 penalties for the first time this year. The good fortune continued in the show jumping phase with Ian riding a clear round. Last year, the jumps at this event had looked enormous. This season they were the same size but with more novice events under their belts they looked less intimidating and the boys entered the arena with more experience, confidence and finesse.
Unaware of his dressage score Ian started preparing for the final phase whilst the rest of us (who were acutely aware that he stood a good chance of being placed) nervously found our way to vantage points on the cross country course. The novice course at Gatcombe is always very well designed with a flowing, galloping track that suits the long striding Moose.
He flew round, eating up
the ground and the jumps with incredible ease. In fact he went through the
water complex so fast that it prompted a comment from an onlooker of “now
that’s how to ride water”!!
|Prize-giving and a chat with the Princess Royal|
With our breaths held, they cleared the direct route at the corner (Moose’s nemesis) and successfully negotiated the troublesome complex out of the woods to cross the finish line with only five time penalties. The huge grin on Ian’s face was a picture and the result was a testament to his hard work and dedication. This was their first double clear to give Moose his first BE point.
It was ice-creams all round to celebrate whilst we stood and waited for the final placings. The wait was worthwhile – not only did Ian and Moose win their first rosette at novice level but never in our wildest dreams did we expect him to receive his prize from the Princess Royal. This was just the icing on the cake for what had been an incredible day for Team White. Note: Ian took this rosette with him when he was transferred to the Sue Ryder hospice and joked with the nurses about how his hand had touched Royalty. Despite all he was facing, he never lost his sense of humour. And, as luck would have it, the prize giving was captured on video (see below).
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