Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to do two international competitions on the continent, one in Compiègne, France, and one in Prangins, Switzerland. They were very different competitions but I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and I was so proud of my horse, Don Diabolo aka Max [owned by Alex Harris and Judy Sharrock], who was placed in every class he did and who really excelled with his consistency and brilliant attitude. This was our first time competing in the Under 25’s Grand Prix classes out of the UK so it was both nerve-wracking and exciting.
Compiègne was a huge show, with 198 horses competing. There were lorries, horses, dogs, bikes and scooters absolutely everywhere and it almost had the atmosphere of a major championship. Max was pretty hyper on the first day of exercise but felt great, and it was brilliant that he was so keen even after the long journey.
The first day of competition was baking hot, well over thirty degrees, and Maxy and I had to perform our Intermediate II in the heat of the day. He coped fantastically well, only starting to tire on the very last centre line in passage. We just had a couple of little errors – an unscripted change in the extended canter and a trip in the transition to trot – but I was thrilled to finish on 67% and to finish eighth in an unbelievably strong class.
On the second day we had to ride a more complicated test but Max rose to the challenge really well. It was a little less hot which also helped. This was only the third time we had ridden the Under 25’s Grand Prix in competition so I was absolutely over the moon to achieve a personal best of 66% to hold our eighth position.
Compiègne was fantastic fun, partly because of the atmosphere that comes with a huge competition and partly because there were lots of Brits taking part which made for a really social week and fantastic support from the rest of the British contingent.
The next competition in Prangins was just as fun but for very different reasons. It was a very small competition set right on the banks of Lake Geneva with no fellow Brits. It was, however, one of the most friendly, welcoming and laid-back competitions I have ever been to. From the very moment we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms and it was clear that they were thrilled to open their doors to international competitors for the first time.
The night before the first day of competition all riders and their friends were invited to a welcoming party in the neighbouring golf club. It was truly a fantastic experience in front of the beautiful clubhouse looking over the lake – an unforgettable evening and one that I would never have experienced without my wonderful horse who has got me to the point where I can compete in these varied and beautiful locations.
Max once again did me proud in the Intermediate II to finish second in a small but strong class on 66%. Unfortunately we had one costly communication error in the one time changes that may have cost us the win, but I really couldn’t be disappointed with second place.
By the second day, the energy needed for two consecutive internationals and lots of travelling was starting to take its toll on Max. He was still as enthusiastic as ever but struggled to keep the activity we needed for the Under 25’s Grand Prix. We still finished third on 65.9% but I was very aware that he was starting to get tired and that I would need to adjust my preparation for the following day’s freestyle.
On the last day I gave Max a very short warm-up and did very little collected work, instead focussing on getting him feeling as soft and supple as possible. The tactic paid off because he did a lovely test to music very gratefully borrowed from Alice Oppenheimer and for the first time we broke 70% internationally to take second place!
It was a wonderful way to end what had been an enjoyable and educational fortnight. Max and I learnt a huge amount in just two weeks and I can now better appreciate what the judges are looking for at international Grand Prix level. The Under 25’s classes are perfect for giving younger riders that experience without having to pitch ourselves against the big players in the sport until we’re ready.
Huge thanks must go to those who made the whole trip possible, particularly my parents – my mother, Alex, owns Max and is a veritable ‘supergroom’, stand-in sport psychologist and general organiser, while Dad drove the lorry all the way down to Switzerland and back, trained me and Max, and really made the whole trip happen. My coach, Paul Fielder, did a remarkable job preparing us and was always on the end of the phone when I needed help or advice. My sponsors, Animo Italia and European Saddles, made sure that we had the right equipment for us to keep performing at our best. Huge thanks must also go to the Lottery funded World Class Programme, which has been utterly instrumental in our transition from just about able to do the Grand Prix movements on a good day to being consistent and successful Grand Prix competitors. Without the help and support of those mentioned, and many more, none of this would have been possible.
Max and I are now having a break before picking up our training again in preparation for Hickstead International in July. I can’t wait to build on what we’ve learnt in France and Switzerland and hopefully we can keep improving and keep pushing towards our goal of Senior international Grand Prix.