Susy Stark and Otis back from their first event of the season at Aston Le Walls

The washing machine is in overdrive, the freshly washed whites are hanging up already and the cross country gear is spinning round now. In the sink are the damp brushing boots, and my leather boots are awaiting their turn.
It`s time for a tea break I think, and to update you all on our first event of the season, at Aston Le Walls.

Susy and Otis

This week has been difficult in terms of preparation to say the least. On Tuesday Otis had the vet because he was having difficulty breathing. A couple of times over the last fortnight he`s taken a long time to recover from his exercise. Initially I thought it was the change in atmosphere, but when it took twenty minutes for him to stop panting like a dog after a lunge session I became worried. Coincidently, the vet was already at the yard, so she got to see him first hand. His lungs were quiet but she suggested a blood test; however, it couldn`t be done until Wednesday when he was rested.
It was an anxious forty eight hours, but at half four on Thursday the vet rang to announce that Otis was very healthy, with plenty of red blood cells, and they could only suggest that he was adversely affected by the high pollution levels. I had to pull my socks up now! I schooled him, and practiced my dressage test (it always helps to know where you`re going). He seemed much better then, but was quite tense and resistant on the flat, as he has been for a week or so.
On Friday I changed his bit and he worked quite nicely in it, so I made a note to pack both snaffles just in case.

Roll forwards to this morning, as I`m sure this is boring you.

Our times were very considerate really; 12.25 for dressage, 13.35 for showjumping, and 14.05 for cross country. Otis didn`t faff going onto the trailer, and travelled reasonably well. Some days he sweats, others he doesn`t, and today was a sweaty day so it was a good job we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

I picked up my number and paid my starting fee before walking the course. It was quite straightforward, and I was pleased that none of the jumps phased me. I had a cheeky look at the pre-novice and felt that they were manageable too so watch out pre-novicers, here we come! After our gentle stroll we unloaded and dressed ourselves.

I was without grooms today, with the exception of my chauffeur, so had to organise both myself and Otis. That isn`t to say that usually I just sit in the car, but you save so much time when you can delegate removing boots or brushing off while you tie your tie. I gave the loose ring snaffle to the chauffeur/camera man and headed over to the crowded warm up.

This winter Aston has invested in an all weather cross country arena, and now the showumping takes place on the upper level, with the dressage and dressage warm up on the lower level. This is great if your horses prefers the arena, but it was very hectic in the small warm up. Otis still wasn`t in the flatwork frame of mind, and had half an eye on the showjumping and another half eye on the cross country. He was tense and bouncy. I got tense and stressed. For some reason I kept thinking that there weren`t many unplaited natives around, and I was feeling a bit self conscious. Like the poor country mouse. After a bit of a warm up I changed the bit from the fillet boucher into the loose-ring lozenge and he relaxed somewhat. We were called and went forwards to ride our test. Our average test. He wasn`t really listening to me and I had to ride conservatively to keep it loosely together. Funnily enough, on both centre lines he wobbled slightly. I put my leg on, but instead of moving forwards and straightening himself, he wobbled even more. I wasn`t particularly pleased with our test and felt a bit grumpy after, but after wandering back to the trailer, changing outfits, and having a buttered hot cross bun, I was ready for round two.

If I thought the dressage warm up was busy, then I had no idea what I was letting myself in for going to the showjumping warm up.

It was chaos! One poor guy jumped the cross pole three times and each time got cut up on landing! I think at competitions everyone forgets “pass left to left” rule and “walk on an inner track” rule. At least the flags were up clearly so there were no airborne collisions. I managed to have a canter and popped over the cross and upright. My mind was still on the dressage and we had a few awkward jumps. He cleared them all, but we were out of sync. After I did the oxer I let him chill for a moment while I gathered myself together. Positive thoughts!

There were only a couple to go before me, so I collected him up and went for the upright. But I got cut up. And again. It was a dodgy leap after which he jumped the oxer beautifully so I took my chances and went out for jump my round. Otis is more than capable, but is affected by me, so I had to focus – don`t let him rush but at the same time let him do his job. It was a fairly simple course, and he sailed over the uprights and the related distances suited him really well. Often he finds himself between strides. After the first oxer I was worried he`s clip the uprights, as he tends to get too onwards, but he responded to my “wait”s. Though the second related distance and over the double to finish clear. Excellent!

While I think about it; someone found half a shoe in the warm up. Has anyone ever had an experience of losing half a shoe? How does this affect their balance, and more to the point, did the competitor notice they only had three and a half wheels?

Feeling much better about our abilities, we had a quick turnaround for the cross country. Feeling the time pressure, I jumped on board, only to remember I didn`t have my medical armband. Thank God for my chauffeur.

If I`d have been on my own it would have been such a faff and blind panic. The warm up was quiet so I walked past the steward, clearly showing my number, before starting my quick warm up. A lap or two later she suddenly shouted “Do you want me to write down your number or not?” Well of course I do … I thought as I nodded to her. She huffed a bit, but soon became too busy telling someone else off for the same thing! When the warm up is busy I like to show myself to the steward so I don`t get overlooked, but when it`s quiet I tend to assume they will see me. Otis was very keen for this phase so I only popped a couple of logs before letting him catch his breath. He`s not really the horse I need to have fired up, he fires himself up going through the starting box.

Our bossy steward shouted me over, telling me to hurry, which I dutifully do. Only to be told by the lady with the Go-button that I didn`t need to be so quick… I just smiled and said I was doing what I was told to. “I think she was a headteacher in a past life” joke the Go-button lady.

Aston Le Walls

Various XC jumps at Aston Le Walls – click on image to see many fences from several events in the last few years over many different classes

Amazingly, I managed to time myself so we went through the gate at the correct time, and without the “wait – go” that usually occurs. Over the first first brush and we were away up the hill. Taking a stride out, over the tabletop then up to the ship. Otis isn`t the greatest at galloping uphill but we made it; and then had to squelch through the track between jumps three and four. Obviously yesterdays rain had pooled there. Down the hill, over another jump before we came to the corner. This was the first more technical fence and I was prepared with the whip in my right hand. I aimed towards the right flag, but Otis had other ideas and went dead centre. It was a flier, but on to the water. Here you jumped a log then a stride into the water before a sharp turn left and over a log a couple of strides out. This is were we had a navigational error. Otis thought we were following the yellow numbers. No Otis, the yellow is the Novice course! A quick swerve round the humungous log, and we were out of danger. Next was a long gallopy stretch before a narrow related distance, then a large tiger trap, round a slalom bend into another field, over a couple of pheasant feeders and through another slalom before a step up and over some brush fences to finish. We were home safe and sound!

As it was a long walk back to the trailer I headed straight back; once we were out of the course vicinity I hopped off and loosened his girth and flash. We walked leisurely back and he was reasonably recovered to wash him down at the car.

We took our time washing him off and then let him graze while we packed the car. I like to put everything back in a logical order, and ready to unload in stages. Yard equipment at the front; dirty washing in a bin liner, etc etc. Call me OCD but I can then rest easy on the way home. We loaded Otis up before mooching off to see how the results were looking. I had no idea what my dressage score was, and was not particularly hopeful.

For dressage I had 37, which was expected; but we were clear showjumping, and clear inside the time cross country. Otis must be fitter, as we had 15 seconds spare! This holds us in great stead for moving up a level.

I haven`t a clue on the final results, and eagerly await to see how we faired in the grand scheme of thing. It wasn`t a bad start to the season, but I know I need to get my act together and concentrate for the dressage phase. Next week I`m having a flatwork lesson to get us back on track, and then in a fortnight I`m showjumping, to get my eye in for the bigger courses. Eventing wise, I`m on course for Mattingley on May 4th, and then looking at Aston Le Walls on the 17th/18th to try our hand at a BE100.

2 thoughts on “Susy Stark and Otis back from their first event of the season at Aston Le Walls

  1. Congratulations to you, Susy! Sounds like you had a good day. My favorite line was about having the hot cross bun after dressage. I haven’t shown in years but you brought back to life for me how crazy the warm up area can be. Riding an actual course is way better than having to navigate the sea of myriad riders and trainers shouting and everyone going in different directions over a few practice fences.

    This was a fun post to read and I hope you share more after your upcoming events.

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