The time to leave for the very much anticipated Australian International 3 Day Event had arrived, and so at 3am on Tuesday morning we were loading Hughie and Geisha on the truck and hitting the road. Luckily for me Andy likes driving so I had a pretty cruisey trip over! We stopped off halfway to give the horses a walk, some water and their breakfast. As usual Hughie gobbled all of his up, and Geisha, overcome by the routine change would not touch hers, so Hughie happily finished it up for her too. (Geisha is such a finicky eater that it has become part of Hughie’s everyday diet to finish her leftovers!!!) We were soon on the road again, arriving at Victoria Park in Adelaide around 1.30pm. We were a little early for the scheduled arrival time, so had a chance to walk and graze the horses before their vet examination at 2pm. On arrival to a 3 day event all horses have a quick vet examination to make sure they are healthy before going into the stable block. The vets take their temperature and heart rate, to check their health, but also as it is good information for them to have as a reference point for the cross country cool down. Hughie and Geisha were thrilled to be let loose in their stables after a long day travelling, and both dropped straight down to their knees for a big roll. (While I watched on somewhat anxiously - the stables were far too small for such exuberant rolling!!!)
The horses had some time to relax while we parked and got everything set up for the week ahead. Later that afternoon I took them both for a light ride, to stretch their legs and help them settle in and get used to their new surroundings. Geisha was very calm and settled so she had a quick and easy ride. With Hughie it is a case of the more rides the better, as it helps him stay relaxed and rideable for dressage. At times he can still be quite green and revert to racehorse thinking, so this familiarisation is extra important for him! He thought it was pretty scary over near the main arena, so I worked him as close as possible to it until he started to settle down! The area I was riding was then being shut off for the night I was asked to move to the polo fields (the main grazing, walking and exercising area at Adelaide for riders). Hughie was much more relaxed there away from the main arena action so having had a bit of nice work to finish on we headed back to the stables.
Trot up day at a 3 day event is one of those days where you have heaps of time and quite often, not much to do. In our case it was certainly a much slower pace than we were used to, considering we regularly take 6 horses to events on the weekend. I rode both horses in the morning, and then Maddy, my supergroom for the week, set to work washing, and then plaiting them both in preparation for trot up. Both horses looked spectacular for trot up, it is always quite rewarding seeing them looking so shiny and healthy, as well as in peak fitness! We kicked the event off to a good start, with both horses being accepted through trot up. I then had another ride on both horses, doing the arena familiarisation. Geisha was quite calm in there, being more experienced. Hughie however thought it was terrifying, and proceeded to throw in all sorts of antics which ended in me having to get off and lead him out as I was unable to keep him in the required “walking only”! At this point I was really hoping that he would be able to hold it together for his test.
With Geisha being drawn as number 3, we were up bright and early on Thursday to prepare for dressage. She warmed up beautifully, and continued feeling fantastic until we headed down the centre line for our test. At this point the atmosphere became a bit much and she began showing resistance, being inconsistent in her head carriage, and then seemingly managed to make a small mistake in each movement. I rode her as best as I could for what she was like, but it was quite a disappointing test, particularly when she had warmed up so well, and the score reflected that.
We put it straight behind us, and focused on getting ready for Hughie. My biggest challenge for Hughie was for him to cope with the atmosphere and remain calm and rideable. Especially after Geisha’s test not going to plan there was extra pressure on Hughie to put in a good performance, despite being the greener of the two. He warmed up very well and so as our turn came we headed into the main arena. I didn’t time it particularly well though; right as I entered the arena there was a round of applause for the previous rider and Hughie leapt so high in the air that I lost a stirrup! We quickly got re-organised though and with a few laps of the arena he settled down quite quickly. He then proceeded to do the best test he has ever done. I was so proud of him, and how he coped with the atmosphere. He scored just over 60%, a good result for him seeing how harshly the judges were marking. We were all also somewhat relieved at this point (especially Andy) that coming to Adelaide hadn’t been a complete waste!
Friday was our rest day, with nothing scheduled competition wise. It was a great opportunity to watch some of the 3 and 4 star dressage, as well as walk the cross country course a few times. With its twisty turns through the beautiful parklands it is definitely a course you want to become well accustomed with when walking. It always comes up very quickly when riding and it would be very easy to take a wrong turn! The course looked fantastic; there were certainly a lot of questions and technical lines that would have to be ridden accurately, as well as two big jumps into the lake and the crowds to contest with. Both of my horses are fantastic cross country horses so I was confident that it was all doable.
Cross country day arrived and I set off for one final look around the course on the electric bike. There are some serious advantages with the electric bike, and one is definitely that I end up going around the course more times than I would if I were on foot, as it is so much quicker and easier! The other thing that is great is that everything comes up so much quicker, almost as if you are riding it, which is good practise for knowing exactly where you are going!
With Geisha being so early in the draw, it wasn’t long until we were saddling up and getting ready to go. At 9.33am we left the start box and Geisha was feeling fit and fabulous, eating up the first few jumps with ease and covering the ground beautifully. Unfortunately it was quite short lived, because all of a sudden at fence 7b we parted ways! It was the first serious question on course, two angles brushes, 1 stride apart. I came in quite quickly, knowing that Geisha usually always locks onto her fences extremely well, however when I landed from the A element it just felt like she never saw the B element properly. At this early time in the morning it was very much in the shadow, and she went a little left and then when I corrected her to the right the next thing I knew was she had ducked out the edge of the fence and I came off! It was a sudden and early end to our cross country however we were both completely unscathed and it was probably the best type of fall to have. Poor Andy watching on the big screen didn’t get to see that. Instead they just showed Geisha trotting around riderless! Considering I had fallen off at the biggest event in Australia, on an amazing cross country horse, I surprised myself that I wasn’t more disappointed… but I think it probably helped knowing we weren’t in a competitive position after dressage anyway, and it definitely helps having a second horse to focus on! So I was able to put it straight behind me and focus on Hughie. One again, Hughie the green and inexperienced OTT TB had all the pressure on him, with Geisha now completely out of the picture. Hughie was raring to go at the start box, and I had to get Andy to lead me around to make sure I could keep him near the box and ready to go. As soon as we were off and galloping though he settled into a rhythm. I was much more careful at fence 7, particularly with Hughie being green, so I gave him a little more time to look at and read the fence. He jumped through perfectly and proceeded to eat up the rest of the course. I was so impressed by how brave he was through the two water jumps, and how well he locked onto every accuracy test. About ¾ of the way around, with everything going to plan so far I looked at my watch for the first time and realised it wasn’t working properly and was showing a completely irrelevant number. So I just kept galloping and as it turns out we came in 40 seconds under time! We set to work in the cool down, always a very important aspect of recovery after a long and tough cross country track, particularly on a warm day. Poor Hughie had had to work a little bit harder than everyone else, going so much quicker, however he recovered well, and we were allowed to leave the cool down and head back to the stables. The next stage of our recovery process is icing and walking. At a 3DE we usually ice for 20 minutes and walk for 20 minutes three times. During this time we also make sure the horse has a drink and a feed as well as giving KER Restore, an electrolyte paste to help replenish the fluids lost through sweating. After this Hughie had some time to rest in the stable while we headed out to watch the 4**** cross country. That evening we trotted Hughie up. It is always important to do that in the evening so that you get an idea of how your horse has pulled up and if there are any issues. We also plaited him up in readiness for trot up and show jumping. The reason we do that the night before is because if the horse pulls up a little stiff in the morning you don’t want to be standing still plaiting, but rather exercising and loosening them up! Hughie had recovered and pulled up perfectly, so we were very excited for show jumping the following day, particularly given we had moved up into 9th place in the Open and 3rd in the Young Rider after cross country.
We were up very early on Sunday morning for a quick trot, and with everything looking good we put Hughie back in the stable for some rest, as well as breakfast and ice on his legs just to be sure! We then had the 2nd horse inspection (trot up) which Hughie was accepted through. With jumping being in reverse order we were quite late in the draw. This was nice as it gave me a bit of time to watch a few rounds before getting on to warm up. It seemed to be show jumping carnage with rails falling down everywhere and a lot of tired horses! Hughie surprised me with how calmly he warmed up, especially given how stressed out he had been before cross country the previous day. Our turn came and we headed into the ring, this time waiting until the round of applause for the previous rider was finished before entering! Hughie proceeded to jump a lovely round. He just touched one rail, which unfortunately came down, however jumped the rest of the course very easily and cleanly. I was thrilled with him and how he had performed. He had proved himself as a seriously classy and promising horse for the future. As we watched the final rounds, there were still rails falling, and in the end we moved up to 6th place in the Open CCI 2**, and even better, into 1st place in Young Rider Championship. I was somewhat gobsmacked, and couldn’t believe that the goal I had set myself in coming to this event - to have a competitive placing in the Open and to win the Young Rider – had been achieved. I’m not sure if Hughie was equally excited as he proceeded to have a major meltdown in the presentations! At least he had behaved when it was important to, and he certainly made the presentation more entertaining with his antics! All in all it was a wonderful week away, and while things didn’t go to plan with Geisha, I am thrilled to have had such a fantastic result with Hughie, and look forward to hopefully having them both here in the 3*** next year!