If the dressage was on a bit of a wing and a prayer, the jumping class was plain ridiculous. I was entered into Level 4 Showjumping - 70cm course with 9 jumps altogether (two doubles, so 7 fences but 9 jumping efforts). My experience at this level consisted of one session with my coach and the regional showjumping coach, which had been partly to sign off my coach as capable of coaching this standard (which of course she was, no problem) and partly for me to have a go at it and then film me doing the whole course, which would count as my regional qualifying round.
|From the training session - I have no idea why I had the giggles but you can tell from my fashionable attire that it was hot, hot, hot!|
|It isn't easy to see, but if you look closely in the red circle you will see my little booted legs up in the air...|
'Preparation' for Nationals
To be honest, I didn't feel confident about doing the jumping at all, and the only horse I would have contemplated doing it with was Rolo. However, as already mentioned, he wasn't really sound. With the various illness/lameness problems we were having, it was hard for us all to get our rides in, especially with so much to prepare for. I looked at booking some private lessons but the only ones with instructors qualified for jumping were booked up completely until long after Hartpury.
So it was that on Wednesday - the day before we drove to Hartpury, and just two days before the showjumping class - I had my first ever jumping lesson on Danny. Gillian had kindly managed to get the arena and some jumps out for us and had given up her morning to help me and a few other riders. I was not confident about jumping Danny, to be honest. I'd ridden him only a few times and always on the flat, but I had seen him get really strong even when it was just poles around, let alone jumps.
|Riding Danny in the presence of poles...eek!|
On the day...
It's a good job I had that feeling because otherwise I don't think I'd have slept a wink for two nights. I had expected that Danny might feel a bit different at a competition venue, and I wasn't wrong. He was hyped! We went into the warm-up and I attempted the jumps. He was feeling very strong and flew over them. I realised I just couldn't control him with one hand, so I stuck my left hand into the bar reins and tried my best with both arms. To be honest, I don't think it curbed his enthusiasm at all but it made me feel a bit safer! He also had a martingale on for a bit of extra control and to give me another strap to clutch!
Our @rdauk Showjumping Level 4 is starting soon as the competitors just walked the course!! 🐎🏆#RDAChamps #TeamRDA https://t.co/Dm10WrN4yt pic.twitter.com/rzTJhXCnJu— RDA (@RDAnational) July 13, 2018
We went back to the warm-up and I prepared, as best I could, for the off. From the collecting ring/warm-up arena, there is a little walk down a sandy path to reach the big building of the international arena. Before riding into the arena proper there is a much smaller arena - maybe about 20x30m - that I used to try and pretend to Danny that I wasn't terrified at all. He walked out nicely on a long rein and I tried to stop myself from shaking, and to swallow down all the nervous vomit!
|Helen and Laurie at Hartpury. I was in this photo but looked hideous so I cropped it!|
Finally the rider before me came out and it was my turn to ride in. You never quite know how a horse is going to respond to a new arena. He had been for a little walk around it earlier, but that was before they put all the jumps up, before the judge and photographer were there, and before the spectators had gathered. Taking Boysie into that arena two years before had been quite sweet - he walked in quietly but reasonably confidently, but as I turned him around to see the banks of seating I felt him stiffen, plant his hooves and roll his eyes back at me, as if to say, "What on EARTH are they all doing there? You can't SERIOUSLY expect me to go near them?!"
|With Boysie in 2016|
Blow by blow account!
The first jump was fine. Danny felt very fast and strong, so I remembered what Gillian had told me - "I'm not bothered about you cantering him the whole way round. I'd rather you were in control and you made him listen, and spent time in trot, than just let him charge you around." We went back to trot and made our way, reasonably calmly, towards the diagonal line which had the second and third jumps. They were both OK too. We were even OK to canter the related distance between them without getting legs in a muddle!
|Helen's face (top right) is a picture...|
|I wasn't joking about the sigh of relief. You could've seen it from space.|
Nobody applauded – my mum later said that everyone had felt so tense watching us that they weren’t sure if doing so would set him off like a rocket – and I actually heard all the spectators breathe out with me when I let Danny have a long rein and he walked out as calmly and meekly as a lamb.
|The judge gave me my rosette and asked, "Did you enjoy it?" My answer was as honest as I could make it: "I enjoyed it after it was finished..."|
My showjumping round at Hartpury this year was a really great result for me as a rider. It’s very rare for me to get nervous before competing – usually I’m so focussed on what I have to do and the fact that I enjoy what I do that I love the actual thing and just get nervous about the scores – but I don’t mind admitting that I was incredibly nervous for this one. Gillian realised how nervous I was and had already told me that I didn’t have to do it – that ‘nobody would think any the less of you’ if I backed out and didn’t want to ride Danny. She meant it, I know, but I think she also knew that I would think less of me if I wimped out.