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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Burghley

Well, we’ve made it to our first ever 4*.  Amongst the build up of training, getting the horses fit and competing all of the other horses of the yard, it hadn’t really sunk in where we were going.  It’s been a very long journey having started with these horses right from the beginning as 5 year olds through to now.  The ups and downs, the successes and the disappointments and all of the time spent riding these two guys in all weathers has brought us to this stage.  We are finally dawning upon one of the most prestigious competitions in our sport.

The most common question was ‘are you nervous?’.  My reply was ‘not at all’.  Whether it was naivety, but I was more excited.  Competitive people will be able to empathise.  You always want to excel within your chosen discipline, that is what keeps us driven, ambition keeps you striving to improve and succeed.  To actually get to this stage was a huge goal in my career and I was relishing the challenge.  I was going to make the most of it, I had nothing to prove, nothing to loose just lots to gain and plenty to enjoy so Bring It On!

Redpath Ransom and Zagreb were in the best shape of their lives and their preparation had gone really well.  I have an amazing partnership with both horses and they were coming here full of confidence so it was all to play for.

Once we were settled in we took the horses for a gentle hack and this was the first time we had chance to take in the size of the showground.  The park was stunning and as we were hacking passed the house I really felt that it was a privilege just to be here let alone be part of the main attraction.

Day one of dressage started with Zagreb.  He was drawn number 3 so we had a pretty early start.  As much as trying to put all of your schooling in to practice you are trying to make sure the horse is relaxed in this buzzing environment.  I had ridden him several times the previous day and I’d given him a light stretch and hack first thing.  Now it was game time!

My aim was to ride a mistake free test.  I wasn’t going to go all out and risk blowing his mind as this was his and my first time at such a high profile event and this was my opportunity to give him a great first experience at 4* of which we hope will be many more.  He coped brilliantly with the crowd and the cameras and gave me a fantastic ride.  He remained focussed and relaxed producing a fluent and pleasing test.  I know there is more expression in there and I could have ridden for a bit more but I was thrilled with his performance and we put a competitive mark on the board.  We were off to a good start.

Redpath Ransom was drawn on Friday afternoon which is probably when the show is at its busiest on the dressage days.  He has a history of getting flustered in an atmospheric environment so I knew I was going to have to work hard to keep him relaxed, this is a bit of a contradiction in itself but we were going to try.  He had put a great dressage performance in at Hartpury during his build up to this and he warmed up really well so we were hoping for the best.

To paint a picture for you as you enter the main arena and you get passed all of the officials and cameras to get to the dressage arena you have a huge smack in the face by hundreds of faces with their full attention on you.  It’s quite daunting as a rider and you know what’s coming so you can imagine what it must be like for the horses.   Redpath Ransom did unfortunately pick up on this and became a little anxious.  I started the test and tried to ride as normal as if there was nothing different and hoped he would settle but he made an early mistake where he broke in his extended trot into canter.  This was hard to recover from and I was riding a bit for damage limitation.  It was such a shame but I’m sure he would have learnt from this experience for the future.

With all of the boring stuff done we could now turn our attention to the cross country.  I walked the course 5 times in total, and I needed every one of them.  I’m not going to lie to you, the first time I walked it I thought it was HUGE!!  You get 2 fences to warm up then the fences are just massive from there on.  There were two water crossings very early on in the track which I knew would slow me down so I was going to have to be aware of this when I was thinking of how I was going to pace my way around the course.  After the crossings the next 2 minutes were all up hill, and when I say up hill I mean UP hill.  This was my first visit to Burghley and I would say that the TV cameras never do the hills and undulations of the park justice.  The climb through winners avenue up to the infamous Cottosmore Leap is relentless and gruelling.  We are not even 4 minutes into the course and the horses will have worked really hard already just to get to this point, oh, and then you have to jump the Cottosmore Leap, the biggest fence in our sport, in the world!

Next was the Dairy mound where you had to rise up the mound and jump a big corner set at a steep angle with no ground line.  The ‘B’ element was on a long 2 strides on top of the mound, you jumped a roll top table which landed you on to the slope down the mound and you had a curving 4 strides to a massive corner to finish.  There was a nice ground line on this one which I think would help the horses a lot.  Although the final corner was very big, I think the key to jumping this combination well relied on getting a good jump over the first corner.  You couldn’t afford to be tentative otherwise you wouldn’t make the 2 strides to the next element which would consequently give you a bad jump over element B and leave you running down the slope beyond out of control.  This was one of the toughest fences on the course.

If we skip passed some humungous jumps at about minute 7 you were at the trout hatchery.  There were so many options to jump through this water complex but my choice was to go the straight route.  You had a big log with a drop in to the first pond, a curving line to a brush corner and a continued curving line to a skinny brush in the second pond.  This was going to need balance and bravery from your horse to make this look good.

Nearing the end of the course was the Leaf Pit.  This is a massive drop and the ground runs steeply away on landing.  As you approach this it really looks as if you are asking your horse to jump off the edge of a cliff.  It is a very impressive looking fence and you should get some great photo’s here but I think it’s more of a rider frightener and most horses will probably make this look quite text book.  Its then onto the main arena for a straight forward combination, I know if I’m going through here I’ll be punching the air to get the crowd going and then it’s your run in to the finish.

So it’s as easy as that!!

Being 3rd to go didn’t give me any chance to watch any other riders go before it was my turn.  Sometimes this is a good thing as you have a plan and you have no reason to be distracted from it by seeing other people rounds.  As I left the stables the butterflies were whizzing around my stomach and I could feel my adrenalin pumping.  It’s really important to keep the horse calm so he can conserve his energy and to do this I have a very structured warm up.  As soon as I got into the routine I felt settled and calm and the excitement was building.

They called me quite late to the start box which gave me little time to take in everything and as I approached I was already on my 10 second countdown.  The buzzer went and we were off!  I jumped the first fence and as I turned the corner and jumped fence 2 all I could see as I galloped down our alley were hundreds of people ranking the edges.  They were all cheering and screaming good luck and It’s safe to it was one of the best feelings in the world.  I couldn’t help but smile as I was trying to take it all in.  It’s a memory that will stick with me forever, I was loving this show sooo much.  Zagreb did get a bit starey eyed going under the lions bridge when he seen all the people on the exit but once we were passed this he was off and it was game on.

At the next water crossing I was given advice to get in and kick on so to get ahead of the splash.  As I jumped in I was getting ready to kick and didn’t quite judge how steep the landing was and got thrown a little forward.  It was a bit of a rooky error but we were fine and the horse galloped through the water and jumped out like a pro.

We were into the course and Zagreb was travelling well.  We got over the Cottosmore Leap and this was the first time I’d ever felt Zagreb feel his legs a bit as we started our decent towards the Dairy Mound.  I think this is when you really know you are at Burghley and both you and the horse are going to have to work hard and dig deep to get around.  We had an amazing jump into the Dairy Mound and even if I do say so myself we had a great ride through and Zagreb showed his athleticism for such a tall horse.  We were growing in confidence and all was going to plan and the straight routes were all riding well.  We were straight through the trout hatchery and galloping well, all was going great and the horse felt fab.

We made our approach to trout hatchery and jumped in well, I made the six strides to the middle element well and had a super jump, I’d decided to ride for the acute line on 4 strides to the final skinny and this was our undoing.  Zagreb shortened his stride to balance up the slope and we didn’t quite get to our point of take off and he chipped in a small stride which caused him to hit his leg on the fence.  This sudden impact shot me out of the saddle and unfortunately that was the end of what was a super round up til that point.  Several emotions are running through you at that moment but the main thing was both him and me were fine.  It was more of a trip than anything else which shouldn’t affect his confidence in the future, it was just a frustrating incident that will take me a little while to deal with.

It was important for me to get passed my ride on Zagreb and concentrate on Redpath Ransom and get ready for his round in the afternoon.  I took myself off with my daughter and watched a few other peoples rounds to kill a bit of time in between.  The weather took a turn and the rain started to fall which was making the ground a lot softer to ride on.  This was important to take notice of as it would tire the horses out more.

The plan from the camp was to get a score on the board with Redpath Ransom, not to worry about the clock and to focus entirely on getting a clear round and getting home.  I set off in a sensible rhythm so to pace ourselves and we were soon settled and travelling well around the course.

I would describe this horse as ‘solid’.  He knows exactly where his legs are, he’s sharp and makes quick adjustments and always seems to rebalance himself immediately if something goes wrong.  This was evident when we came to capabilities crossing.  This is a deep round crossing where the banks of the road are exceptionally steep.  As you rise up the slope after crossing the road there was a double of rails.  He left a ley at the first but he righted himself in the middle and jumped out over the second as if nothing had happened, it’s like he’s got a built in spirit level and just stays so composed.  What a talent.

He jumped his way around all the straight routes with his ears pricked always looking for the next fence.  We approached the Trout Hatchery well and as he jumped in he had a small stumble.  I’d seen a lot of riders fall here, and it seemed as if there was a hole that the horses were catching, so as soon as I felt this happen I cancelled going straight and wiggled my way through the complex via the alternative fences.  This cost me a lot of time but we were all importantly still clear.  I planned to go the alternative at the Discovery Valley after having my little mishap earlier here and we were through this and galloping towards the end the course.  He jumped into the leaf pit and again show cased his adjustability on the approach to the skinny after the drop.  As we jumped through the main arena I punched the air as promised and the crowd responded which gave us a huge lift as we commenced are homeward gallop.  All I was thinking here was, don’t make a silly mistake and make sure you get over the finish line and there it was, the Landrover Burghley fence, the last fence on the course.  Wow I love that fence!!  I jumped that to cheers from all of our team, what a feeling to complete our first 4* at arguably the toughest event in the world.  It was safe to say we were all over the moon and immensely proud of Redpath Ransom.

Dealing with the press is fairly new to me and I’m not one to be able to keep my emotions locked in.  It’s very exciting especially when you’re still pumped full of adrenalin, but apparently that’s all good for TV.

Time a few drinks to celebrate!!

Trot up at a 4* is as much about checking the horses as it is a fashion show.  Redpath Ransom trotted up well and apparently so did I.  I’ve received a bit of ribbing about my tightish pair of jeans that got plenty of attention on Horse and Country TV.  Very funny but also a bit cringe worthy.

The show jumping was what you’d expect but it was noticeable how gruelling the cross country had been as there were plenty of tired horses.  We didn’t jump too much in the warm up as the ground was deep and heavy and I wanted to keep as much petrol in the tank for the main event.

Redpath Ransom tried his heart out and was leaving the ground well but was clearly tired in his lower back.  He tapped a few fences with his hind legs where he was slow to throw his back end away.  Although on paper we would have hoped for better we were all so pleased to complete and thrilled with the horses effort.  He’s proved he’s capable and I’m sure he will grow from this experience and come back next season stronger and wiser.  He has now earned a nice break to recover and chill out.

Zagreb will probably re-route to Pau 4*, and we will be hoping for a super performance there so we can enter both of these horses for Badminton next spring.

I’d like to thank all of my owners, my super groom Chloe Howson and my wonderful wife Simmone.  With out them this really wouldn’t happen and it really is a dream come true for me.  I can’t wait for the next one!

 

Hartpury International

We descended on Hartpury with a half of the team of horses.  We had Dartans Albert and Spypark Ferro XS in the CCI 1*, Swang Crackers II in the CCI 2* and Redpath Ransom and Zagreb in the CIC 3*.  It was going to be a busy week but full of fun.  It’s great to turn up to a top show with a group of super horses all feeling in tip top condition.

Everything went well with the trot ups and we were ready to get started with an epic 2 days of dressage.  It’s not my favourite bit, especially when you have no jumping to look forward to in between, but it is so very important to make a good start in order to be competitive.

Spypark Ferro XS was first out for us early on the Thursday.  He performed a brilliant test with just one small mistake at the end.  He produced some fantastic work for a great mark of 48.2. This was just the start we needed!

Next up was Redpath Ransom in the CIC 3*.  We had done some pure dressage in preparation for this event and it seemed to really pay off.  He stayed more focussed and produced an accurate test for a great score for him at this level of 50.  I was definitely beaming with confidence after this super start.

With day one of dressage complete there was a few cross country courses that needed walking, and, oh!! A little party to celebrate my Birthday!  I set off to walk some courses and on my return to the lorry everyone had got together, the BBQ was going and the wine was flowing.  It was so nice for everyone to make an effort in the middle of a busy season.  I received some good presents which I was asked to put on and display all at the same time.  This did make for a fantastic photo opportunity which everybody took full advantage of.  You won’t find me posting any pictures of that so if you want to see them you’ll have to hunt out the members of the paparazzi who took them!! lol.

Day 2 of dressage and Dartans Albert was on at 10am.  He began his test well but unfortunately for him it seemed prime time for people to come and get their breakfast from the food area which did produce a fair bit of noise.  I know that the training of the horse should keep them focussed, but for an inexperienced like him it was to much of a distraction and whoop, we were off!  After one fairly impressive spook he became quite unsettled in his canter work.  This is such a shame as this is normally a highlight in his test and to loose marks here was not going to bode well with his final score.  We did complete the test, all be it with several mistakes, but I’m sure this was an experience which  he will grow from in the future.

Zagreb was up next and he was feeling better than ever.  He performed a much more mature test with very little wrong.  He had some super highlights and was rewarded with a fab score of 43.4.  This was his final run before Burghley and it seemed all of the training was coming together at just the right time.

Last of the day and last to go in the 2* was Swang CrackersII.  She did her test indoors which can create quite a bit of atmosphere.  She coped very well and concentrated throughout.  She could of shown a bit more suppleness in her lateral work for the higher marks but she produced a competitive test that actually brought her owner Naomi Roe to tears.  I think the music in the background helped but it shows how much these horses mean to everyone and I was so happy to see how proud she was of her horse.

I was now very much looking forward to doing some jumping and all of the horses were in great positions going in to Saturday.  An early night was in order before a day which would consist of 2 show jumps rounds and 5 cross country rounds.  Bring It On!!

We were up bright and early to show jump the 3* horses over a big and technical course.  Redpath Ransom was first up and jumped a fabulous clear round to kick off the day in a really positive way.  The course was causing a fair few problems and several rails were dropping so I was hoping it wasn’t just luck with the first horse.  Zagreb showed his scope by cruising around the course as if he was schooling.  What a brilliant result to have 2 clears of only 15 in a class of 80+

My attention went straight on to the 1* cross country.  I thought this track was very inviting to the horses and should jump well.

Both Spypark Ferro XS and Dartans Albert gave me super rides and jumped their way around easily inside the set time.  It was great to see them recover so quickly from what was their first long format cross country.  Dartans Albert climbed several placing’s and Spypark Ferro was left just outside the top 10.  This was going to be exciting going into the show jumping tomorrow.

The 3* horses were next up.  This course was on the strong side, and in particular fence 4 seemed very tricky so early on.  It was a double or skinny rails that had large man made ditches in front of them on top of raised ground and as you jumped the second element the ground fell steeply away.  This was an accuracy question but because the distance between the two fences was a long 2 strides you would need to ride fairly forwards into it so you got close enough to the second fence so the horses didn’t have to over jump it and land to far down the slope on landing.  These are a lot of questions to ask of the horse all at one fence so early on.  You would hope your mount had it’s brave pants on and they had plenty of confidence and trust in you as a rider.

I left the start box on Redpath Ransom with this being his first run back after Bramham.  He was jumping everything with huge enthusiasm and maybe over doing it a little.  Never the less he felt absolutely awesome.  We negotiated the tricky combination at 4 well, but it did make him pick his knees up rather high.  I felt the effects from this a couple of fences later where he jumped into the first water absolutely huge!!  We recovered quickly and jumped through the double of skinnies in the water and headed up the hill.  He was starting to settle after the steep climb and became much easier to ride.  He cruised around the rest of the course taking all of the straight routes for a well earned clear.  This was due to be his preparation run for Burghley, as it was for many other riders and horses and I didn’t feel that it was a course that gave the horses confidence.  It would be nice if they altered a few things for next year so that the course rewarded the horses that were jumping well instead of continuingly surprising them.

I rode Zagreb a bit more confidently out of the start box so we were attacking these difficult combinations from the off.  He showed his experience and didn’t get phased by any of the fences and gave me a thrilling round.

I was so pleased to have 2 double clears, Redpath Ransom finishing in the top 20 and Zagreb in the top 10.  First lot horses finished and the first prize giving attended!

Last but not least was Swang Cracker II.  She was last to go of the day in the 2*.  I thought this was a very difficult course for this level but all of the fences were built well and it seemed if you were brave it should ride well.

I left the start box in a steady rhythm, this was my first ever long format course with this horse and I didn’t know how her stamina and fitness would fair so I was edging on the side of caution.  She settled into the course quickly and I was able to up the pace.  She flew around the track seemingly growing with confidence at ever fence.  She took up the challenge and stormed around for a fantastic clear with only a few time penalties!  What a brilliant day.  Clear all the way for all of the horses!

Sunday morning brings the dreaded trot up for the 3 day horses.  All of the team are up early walking the horses, as well as cleaning and plaiting them ready for the inspection.

All 3 of our horses passed so it was time to focus on the show jumping.

This was the first time Dartan’s Albert has had to show jump after the cross country.  He is usual an excellent jumper but anything can happen the day after cross country with horses feeling more tired than normal.  He didn’t let us down and jumped a very perky clear round to finish his first 3 day eventing experience on a high.  As the class went on it was apparent that there weren’t going to be too many clear rounds.

Spypark Ferro XS hadn’t lost any of his jump from his exertions the previous day.  He powered over the fences giving them acres of space to jump a quality clear, now all we had to do was wait and see how the top end of the class would get on.  I popped him back to the stables briefly when I received a phone call saying we were needed for the mounted prize giving.  The rails just kept falling and he moved in to 7th place.  What a brilliant result in his first 3 day event, he had exceeded all of expectations and to say we thrilled was an understatement!!  Another prize giving.  Whoop whoop!

Crackers was feeling a little fatigued after giving her all around the tough 2* cross country but I feel in her last couple of competitions she has really started to fight for me and give 110%.  She was going to need to dig deep as it was a big and square show jumping track so hopefully my feelings were right.

We started the round quietly and she jumped so high over the front rail of fence one she tapped the back rail off.  This is not a good start when you have 15 more efforts ahead of you.  It did seem to wake us up and she gave the rest of the course her all.  The one rail did cost us a top 10 position but to get placed in top 20 in our first 3 day together was amazing!

To some it all up I would say it was a ‘peach of a show’.  All of the horses performed really well, all of the team involved, owners, helpers and supporters had a fab time, what more can you ask for.  The 2016 season is seeming one of our best so far!

Barbury International

Barbury is a great showcase for eventing.  The showground is set in the middle of a natural bowl shaped depression which creates the feeling of an amphitheatre.  The difference is, as a spectator, you get to stand in the middle and all of the entertainment goes on around you.  This makes it a super event for owners, sponsors and the public as you can see about 90% of the action from one spot.

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Bramham

Here we are at our 2nd 3day of the season.  Bramham is always a huge challenge with its electric atmosphere and tough cross country course.  Zagreb and Redpath Ransom were very fit and raring to take on the task.

With Bramham hosting one of ‘Event Riders Masters’ legs the main arena was full of camera stands as well as all of the usual decoration.  We knew this was going to be a lot for the horses to take in when they entered the ring for the first time, especially with the atmosphere from the large crowds of spectators that Bramham always attracts.

Redpath Ransom struggled to relax in the dressage and although we performed an accurate test, he was tense throughout.  We weren’t the only ones but it did mean we were on a score of 60.1.  We have decided that we will register ourselves British Dressage and compete at some of the bigger venues so to get more mileage with the dressage in between events.  Hopefully this will improve his coping strategies during the test.

Zagreb also picked up on the atmosphere and decided the little gaps in the arena boards were very scary and did put in a couple of spooks.  He performed some really lovely elements in what must be the most electric environment he has experienced..We went forward with a score of 51.8.

On the Friday I gave Zagreb a little jump in the afternoon and he didn’t feel quite right.  It was with huge disappointment that we decided to withdraw him from the rest of the competition.  He didn’t need the qualification and we thought that it was best to save him for an Autumn 4*.  Bramham is not a course to tackle if you are unsure of your horses fitness and well being.  It’s a difficult decision, especially when you are a competitive person like my self, but the horses well being is paramount.

The cross country had more of a 3 and a half star feel about it.  The fences are always big and the terrain demanding and this course had several very challenging combinations.  It was going to take a brave and genuine horse to continue to jump its way around the course and stay positive.

I’ve had Redpath Ransom from the beginning of his career and I trust him implicitly, but this was definitely going to push us to our limits.  We set of from the start box in a steady rhythm so we could settle in to the course, and I wanted to make sure he had time to make good jumps over the beginning of the track.  He soon picked up the pace and grew in confidence with every stride.  Although he is relatively inexperienced, he has a very thoughtful head on his shoulders.  He assesses the questions that are asked of him quickly and is always thinking forward.  We jumped the straight routes throughout the course and he covered the ground really well.  I was able to keep pushing all the way to finish and we came home with a foot perfect clear and only 6 seconds over the time.  With only adding 2.4 time penalties to our dressage score we shot up the leader board and it was safe to say we were all thrilled with his performance.

We took some time to enjoy the  superb hospitality that Bramham offers with all of the crew involved at Team Bragg.  It has one of the best atmospheres that any show can offer and it’s so much fun to be a part of it and we had a great cross country round courtesy of Redpath Ransom to celebrate.

Sunday brings forth the early morning trot up.  We cruised through, even if I was cutting the time a little close which made the owners slightly nervous.  Oops!!

The show jumping track was absolutely massive.  It was all built to maximum height and spread and was full of technicality.  When you walked it, it looked big and square and it seemed as if it was going to take quite a bit of riding, especially the day after a gruelling cross country.

Redpath Ransom seemed settled entering the main arena this time and was totally focussed on his job.  He started his round very well but towards the end we had 2 late rails.  I’m sure it’s down to experience of him feeling fatigued on the final day and learning how he can cope when his body feels tired.  As much as a 3day event is physically demanding on the horses I believe that mentally they need to be tough to succeed.  This I think he will get better with as he gets more experience.

We know have two 4* qualified horses and after a short break these two will start their build up to Burghley.  Very exciting!!

Ballindenisk International

It was 2 years ago that we first travelled to Ballindenisk, and we had fond memories of the fantastic hospitality and the warm welcome we received on arrival.  We were looking forward to revisit.

We had Zagreb and Redpath Ransom on board and both were to compete in the CCI 3*.  It was Redpath Ransom’s first long format 3* so we were keen to see how he would cope with the longer cross country course and the show jumping on the following day.

This was the beginning of our plans to get the horses 4* qualified for the Autumn.

The dressage went well for Redpath Ransom.  He does suffer with his nerves in the atmosphere of a big occasion and this unfortunately can affect his relaxation in the test.  He did have some tense moments but also showed some of his class in other movements.  He received a respectable score of 58.

Zagreb performed a really good test for this stage in the season.  He was a bit cheeky in his flying changes but everything else was as good as I could of expected.  He was awarded a competitive score of 48.1.

The conditions for cross country were perfect.  They had worked hard on the ground so to offer the best going and the weather was dry but cool.  Redpath Ransom set of first and simply ate up the course.  He settled in to a lovely rhythm and skipped across the course.  The final minute I did feel him tire a little, and he started to jump a bit flatter.  I decided to set him up amore carefully because of this over the last few fences which resulted in us being 4 seconds over the time.  Still, not a bad effort for his first long format 3* cross country.

Zagreb was eager to have his go and flew out of the start box.  He showed all of his class popping around the course as if it were a schooling session.  We did have one little stumble at the final water complex where he slightly pitched on landing.  He recovered quickly and jump on home comfortably inside the time.

I was thrilled with both of the horses but we had to keep our eye on the show jumping the next day. so we went to work walking and stretching the horses off throughout the evening.

It was a decent show jumping track with big treble combination that was off of a difficult corner where the undulations of the ground made it difficult to get a balanced approach.  This caused most of the problems by far and unfortunately the middle element caught out Zagreb for a 4 fault round.  Redpath Ransom was a bit more tired on the final day and I had to help him create a powerful jumping canter.  As always he tried his heart out but the fatigue set in towards the end of the round and he had 2 late rails.  This didn’t really effect the result as the show jumping was causing many problems.

My 2 boys both finished in the top 10.  Zagreb 6th and Redpath Ransom 8th.

Not a bad effort at all.  The long journey home is always easier when you’re travelling back after a success!