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13 June 2016

Eliza's Equestrian Blog

Fourth Form pupil Eliza Chapple tells us more about her equestrian training in the build up to her first FEI 1* event at Chatsworth House. Click here to see her in action!

Wow, what a month! It started with my best results so far at the BE Open Novice Under 18 (ONU18) level in the Nationals qualifier at Portman, and it ended with us packing the lorry to head up to Chatsworth in Derbyshire with Mickey for his first FEI One Star run – I can’t wait! In between, we’ve had the BE events at Bicton and Port Eliot, a fall (on the flat!) while cross-country schooling at Pontispool, and plenty of the usual hard work and practice at home improving our dressage and show jumping.

For us, the season really started in earnest at the Portman Horse Trials. It was the first ONU18 qualifier of the season, and our first chance to go for our main aim for this year – selection for the National Junior 1* Competition at Frickley Park in July, as part of the South West Team. If last year was about finding out whether I could complete at BE Novice level, this year is about finding out whether I can actually compete at that level, which is not the same thing! We had put in a huge amount of hard work over the winter on both horses, helped enormously by BE coach Emily Lee, and we were now about to find out how far we had come.

We could see that a very strong field of the 35 best Under 18 Novice riders in the South West were entered, so we set off up the A303 to Wiltshire determined to do our best but travelling more in hope than expectation. However, on the day, Mickey absolutely nailed it! He did his best dressage test so far for me, and then flew double clear inside the time (one of only four horses that did) to finish on his dressage score of 35.5 in third place overall!! First and second places went to two riders who have both been to the Europeans as part of Team GB, so no shame there for Team Mickey. It was great to hold our own in that company, and so satisfying to see how far we had come after all that hard work over the winter. To round off a brilliant day, despite having a pole down in the show jumping, Heather was placed ninth, so two in the top ten – I could not have been happier as we headed back to Somerset.

The Bicton Horse Trials in Devon on 22 April, where both horses ran in the ONU18, provided the inevitable reality check. I did well there last year on Heather in one of my first BE Novice events, and I’m hoping to do my first Open Intermediate Under 21 there at end of season if all goes well, as it’s somewhere I feel comfortable. However, despite two excellent dressage tests that put us in the running on both horses, two good show jumping rounds and being clear cross-country on both Mickey and Heather, needless cross-country time penalties on both horses knocked us out of the ribbons and into the “also rans”. It was really annoying and entirely my own fault. I had done all the hard work and just took my eye off the ball when I should have been bringing home a result. Still, it’s an important lesson learnt – with eventing it’s not over until it’s over! I certainly won’t be making the same mistake at the next qualifier at Pontispool.

This month I was also lucky enough to be asked if I would compete Mrs Julia Minchin’s awesome little horse Westwinds Knightrider. It’s a great opportunity for me as he is a very different ride from my two and I’m already learning loads from him as a result. It’s so true that the more you ride the more you learn. He hasn’t really competed since coming over from Ireland last season and we agreed that the BE 90 at Port Eliot would be a good place to start. My sister was going down to do her first BE 90 there and I was able to travel down on the lorry with her which was nice. Port Eliot is a really lovely event. If you haven’t been down there you should go! It’s a well organised, friendly and fun to ride event in a totally amazing setting by the River Tamar. The catering is also about the best we have come across too – freshly cooked paella makes a very welcome change from endless bacon sarnies! The day went well as a “get to know you” session but BE 90 was probably a step down too far for him. He didn’t really take the show jumping seriously enough and I think he found the cross-country a bit too easy. However, we both had fun and came home safe and I hope I did enough to keep the ride! We haven’t set any targets yet but we’ll definitely put him in a 100 class next time out.

And so to my fall on the flat! We were doing some cross-country schooling last week at Pontispool in preparation for Mickey’s trip to the 1* at Chatsworth and we hadn’t put any studs in. After such a wet winter the ground had suddenly become dry, hard and skiddy, and the result was that he lost his back end turning between jumps and went over. Thankfully no damage was done – but it could have been worse. Another big lesson re-learnt: ride according to the conditions not according to what you did last time or “normally do”.

Anyway, next stop Derbyshire. One of the great things about stepping up to BE Novice is that you get to ride at some of the really iconic eventing locations – going clear cross-county round Gatcombe remains my stand-out memory from last year – and I could not be more excited about the opportunity for a first ride around Chatsworth House! It has been a great first month to the season, but with the FEI 1* at Chatsworth and then the last two ONU18 qualifiers at Pontispool and Nunney to come, the next month is certainly shaping up to be just as exciting!

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