The theme for this season has been weather. We all know that eventers need to get used to it or find a different sport but this season had some real challenges. When in February and March you find yourself enduring snow, bitterly cold temperatures and howling winds whilst trying to do your pre-season fitness work you do start to wonder if you’re totally mad. Tweseldown Novice at the beginning of March was the first target and I was really lucky that I’d jumped round their Novice Eventers Challenge at the end of January and then made it to a Combined Training at Coombelands at the end of February.
The cold weather caused the cancellation of everything else we had planned and I was very glad to have kept on top of Cicero’s fitness over the winter and also had Sarah’s support, otherwise missing a lot of work in February could have made it very difficult to get to Tweseldown. Instead we got there with Cicero in fine form and were very lucky to get a run as the rest of the competition was abandoned after the Novice. One thing I had worked very hard on over the winter was Cicero’s flat work so I was quite disappointed to score a 35 in the dressage! After watching the video back I felt that I would just ignore the score as his work looked flash to me… nerves got the better of me in the show jumping and I went too fast to have two down. We finished cross country clear with just 3.6 time penalties so I was happy that we’d made a huge improvement on his fitness from last year!
The next event was cancelled so we re-routed to Chilham. This was an interesting challenge for Cicero who is not built for hills… He only has a very small amount of thoroughbred in his breeding and I can really feel him having to dig deep when we do hill work. We agreed that Sarah would see Cicero before and after Chilham to see what effect it had on him and we were very pleasantly surprised that he came out in such good shape following the event. On the day itself he was firing on all cylinders, producing a 29 dressage, one show jump down and clear cross country with 4 time penalties to finish 8th. I was so pleased because the ground was very wet and it rained all day but Cicero pulled his socks up and looked after me, despite it being his first visit to Chilham and hills not being his favourite thing!
We were then back to Tweseldown for their May event by which time it had finally stopped raining. This time we did a 31 dressage (it wasn’t a great test – I think Cicero gets a bit bored at Tweseldown), one down show jumping – I rode too quickly again, and clear cross country for 0.8 time penalty! We finished 9th… nothing if not consistent!
Full steam into June, we had BCA and Farley Hall in the calendar - both fairly local events I really enjoy! I’ve discovered I’m not great when complacent… Cicero was very cheeky at BCA and bucked his way through the dressage for 34 (I felt that was quite generous because whatever he was doing, it didn’t feel like dressage). The show jumping is in a very small arena (getting my excuses in early) and I managed to turn very tightly to fence 4 which gave Cicero no chance of jumping it. We left all the poles up so just 4 penalties for having to re-present. We got ourselves together on the cross country and made it round clear inside the time, so between us we got one phase right! We finished on 38 which was only good enough for 12th which shows how competitive the Novice sections are.
I was determined to have a good result at Farley Hall… No bucking this time and a 28 dressage – one happy rider. We had one very unlucky pole in the show jumping which was a shame because it was the best round we’ve jumped this season and it felt much more competent. The show jumping was causing some real drama so we went into the cross country in a very competitive position. I knew I could make the time so I set off at a fair pace and Cicero was making it feel so easy! Coming to the last combination on course I got the line completely wrong and didn’t get anywhere near the second element. Very frustrated with a 20 penalties I re-presented and Cicero jumped the second and third element perfectly, I think he was just trying to show the fence judge how useless his rider is. I have to admit I was very annoyed because Cicero is so easy to ride cross country and I robbed him of a good result.
After a busy June Sarah gave us the thumbs up for Barbury so I focused my energy on
preparing Cicero for what I think is the toughest Novice in the eventing calendar (where he did a beautiful clear last year). However, July was very hot and the ground was concrete. It’s very difficult as an amateur rider when you have your heart set on something to change plans, especially when you’re stubborn like me. In hindsight I probably should have just withdrawn, I know that Cicero doesn’t go well when it’s hot. We were lucky because it was nice and cool down in the valley where the dressage is held. Cicero was bouncing around and I really enjoyed it in only the way I can enjoy a Novice dressage test… We were rewarded with another 28 so the judge must have enjoyed it as much as I did. That was really the highlight of the day… by the time we made it to the show jumping we had both totally overheated and after a lacklustre round I decided to withdraw from the cross country which was disappointing but I know Cicero and I know when he’s not feeling it! We went and had an ice cream instead…
I took a bit of a break after Barbury to enjoy the summer and took Cicero on lots of river rides to keep him cool. We are so lucky to have access to amazing hacking and the ride with all the stream crossings is very shaded with lots of hills for Cicero to walk up and down without overheating. By the end of July we were both getting a bit bored and ready for a party so I entered Aston and did a little prayer– I knew the ground would be fine regardless as they are happy to water at Aston but what I really needed was for the temperature to drop. Well I’m not religious but someone was listening, Aston was very cold and very wet! I don’t think I have ever show jumped in rain like it! I will never get over how we went from over-heating at Barbury to desperately searching for extra blankets at Aston. Like I said at the start, the theme of this season has been weather.
Aston was a totally new venue for us and thanks to Sarah and all the extra hill work we arrived feeling on form. A 31 dressage was well-placed in our section but then I reverted to going too fast in the show jumping (there’s a theme here) and had one fence down. I wasn’t sure how Cicero would find the cross country at Aston but he whizzed round - if I had one very small criticism of Aston (which is a very well run event) it’s that their cross country roping was very confusing on one section of the course. I ended up on the wrong side of it and very nearly tangled up in it! This cost us a bit of time and although we jumped clear we had 4 time penalties which pushed us down to 9th.
One slightly amusing anecdote was when I went to collect my rosette… the organiser explained they only give out rosettes to 6th “unless someone is very upset and wants a rosette” – I must have looked very upset at this point because they asked where I came and when I replied 9th they actually said the words “oh, you don’t get placed often…?”. I thought about this for a moment before replying, no, I always come 9th and I’d like a 9th from Aston add to my collection of 9th place rosettes. I’m not sure if they knew quite how to take that or if I was joking… maybe I’m sad for wanting lower place rosettes but when you endure all the weather England can throw at you in one season, forgive me for wanting a rosette!!! I did laugh about it though and I’m always grateful for the organisers and volunteers that put on all the events across the country in all weather.
I wasn’t really sure where to go after Aston as there doesn’t seem to be that many Novice events in the south in the second half of the season. I decided to run at Wellington as it’s local and a brilliant event. They don’t have a Novice so it was 105 or intermediate… As I’m not clinically insane (I’m sure Cicero is capable but my riding has left something to be desired this season) I decided to go for the 105.
We had such a lovely day out, finally some weather that was just right and ground that was perfect, i.e. eventing heaven. Cicero did a great test for 30 – I thought we would sneak into the 20s but sadly not. He then went a little bit green on me in the show jumping – he does have a habit of doing this over smaller fences and I’m not quite sure why. He had the second fence down which was very small and then was very overly cautious at the next few fences, not wanting to touch them. By the end of the round he felt much more like normal Cicero and I couldn’t believe we’d had yet another 4 faults! He flew round the cross country making me seriously question whether I should have just entered the intermediate. We finished 5th and it was so lovely to have Sarah there to support us! I have to say, Wellington do the best prize giving. You don’t have to be there at a specific time but when you turn up if you’ve been placed they hand you a prize and a glass of prosecco. Aston take note!
So we’ve had to go back to the drawing board a little bit with the show jumping. I had an interesting show jumping session with Nick Edwards who has given me some ideas to try and correct the mistakes I’m making – Cicero is so capable of jumping clear rounds so it’s a little bit embarrassing that we’ve had an endless run of 4 faults. It feels like it will be so worth it if we can sort it out. We’ve also entered South of England which is another new event for Cicero. Fingers crossed and looking forward to putting together an end of season analysis before we crack on with British Showjumping over the winter! We have a second round 1.10 qualifier to look forward to in October and if the bank manager (me) allows we’ll register with British Dressage and get our dancing shoes on.
I think keeping Cicero in tip top condition all season is no mean feat so hats off to Sarah for all her hard work as well as my wonderful and long-suffering farrier Marc Taylor and Cicero’s number one servant, loyal fan and treat giver, my mother.
Having Sarah on board has helped me work out where and when to run Cicero in a fairly topsy turvy season and has helped me squeeze those extra marks out of him in the dressage using different pole exercises! I’m so happy with his fitness this year and Sarah has really supported bringing out the best in my very special horse. If we can crack the show jumping, watch out world, we’ll be going intermediate (and I’ll be off to rob a bank to pay the entry fees).