Tuesday 10th July
Mum, William and I were invited to Samantha Birch’s property for a BBQ just after Barbury. It was a great night catching up with Sammi and meeting her husband Ed. The BBQ had a very Aussie feel with Rob Palm joining us. Rob has based at Sammi’s for his UK campaign. Catching up with Sammi’s long term Head Girl Hels who I don’t think has changed a bit. More Aussies as Sammi’s working pupil is also from Australia Hannah Lewindon. Sammi and Ed have recently purchased a great equestrian property near Cirencester. The property has a huge house which is currently undergoing renovations. There are lots of stables, accommodation and an indoor and outdoor arena. There’s lots of work to be done but it’s a great property with so much potential. Apparently Rob has been put to work doing lots of handyman jobs.
Thursday 12th July
Our first team training in preparation for Aachen was a two day Nelson Pessoa Clinic held at the Wellington Riding Club. The Wellington Riding Club is a huge Riding and Livery Centre with multiple outdoor and indoor arenas. We were lucky enough to have the new outdoor arena which was huge and had a fantastic surface.
Day one of the clinic focused on how we warm our horses up before competition. The main focus was riding our horses in a way to really get them to use their body and back. Make them have to work and think at the same time. We had a couple of simple exercises where we varied the strides before and after the fence and the exercise was jumped from both directions. Once the horse was waiting, listening and using themselves we then moved to a square oxer again jumping from both sides and the height increased and the oxer became wider. We finished our warm up with a tall vertical. We used the vertical as our last fence as the first fence we were about to go and jump started with a vertical.
Due to Adelaide being spooky and I’d had the added bonus of watching the previous lessons I warmed Adelaide up a little earlier for my lesson so I could ride through the exercise with the poles on the ground. Once he had the idea he settled into the exercise well. As always he jumped the oxer and vertical super. We then moved outside to the big arena where the recent 4* Luhmuhlen showjumping course had been replicated. The results showed that rails coming down and time faults were very influential. The main difference I could tell was the course was set at about 1.40m – 1.45m. Adelaide started his round well until I had the vertical going into the treble at fence 6A. This did fire him up a little and he became a little harder to ride and I had another vertical down at fence 11. I was still pleased as Adelaide had only done one round of showjumping since April at Barbury in the CIC2*. After a quick chat with Nelson we decided to jump the whole course again. Adelaide felt super and was really rideable and much more focused and on the job. I certainly finished the lesson ready to tackle Aachen.
Friday 13th July
The second day of the Nelson Clinic was again about exercises and grids and then going and jumping around another course. Was very interesting watching the change and improvement in each horse when they came to jump the course. The Aachen squad horses didn’t jump again and most riders bought their other horses for the second day. Adelaide had a fairly easy day hacking out in the woods.
Saturday 14th July
Saturday was a dressage session at home and to start organising horse and human gear for Aachen. Normally this isn’t such a big deal but when you are travelling in someone else’s lorry it’s easy to forget things as you are so used to all the gear and equipment just living in your truck/gooseneck. Packing is also hard for me as I have a terrible habit of over packing especially when it comes to rugs. Meanwhile super groom Izzy Dunne had the weekend off to go and catch up with her mum and family up in leeds. Mum got onto organising things like tickets on the Eurorail and accommodation in Brussels and more train tickets from Brussels to Aachen and return.
Sunday 15th July
Sunday I had Stuart Tinney come and visit Adelaide and I at Westwood Stud. Stuart gave me a hand jumping Adelaide as I wanted to set up a few things like a corner and a bounce in preparation for Aachen. Adelaide jumped super and I could certainly feel the benefits from the clinic with Nelson.
Monday 16th July
Monday we drove to Gareth Hughes property for dressage lessons. The drive was about 1hr and 45 mins and I must say I’m getting more confident with driving on the English roads and the many narrow lanes and roundabouts. I’ve trained a fair bit with Gareth in Australia but not since 2016. Gareth certainly felt that Adelaide had improved and was now more supple and definitely softer. We mainly worked on the movements and lines of the test and trying to pick up those extra marks. We then headed back home. One of the frustrating things of driving lorries in the UK is the maximum speed is 90kph. It makes driving very boring and I was struggling to stay awake. 90kph seemed mind numbingly slow.
Tuesday 17th July
I gave Adelaide a fairly easy day with just 10 minutes stretching and then a hack out in the woods as Sammi Had planned to leave for Aachen in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The drive from the UK to Aachen is approx. 12 hours but can be longer depending on the queues for the ferry. Meanwhile mum drove to Swindon Train Station to collect Matthew who had finally arrived in the UK. Izzy, William and I finished loading the lorry with Adelaide and all of his gear to deliver him to Sammi’s, ready for departure to Aachen. Matt and mum met us at Sammi’s. It was great to finally see my husband, chatting daily on the phone is just not the same. We left Adelaide in the capable hands of Hels.
It was then time for everyone to get their own bags ready for the journey to Aachen. We were driving from Marlborough to Heathrow Airport to drop the hire car off. It was then a taxi ride to St Pancras International Station. We had a 2 hour super fast train ride from London to Brussels. We arrived in Brussels at about 11pm and while looking for a our hotel room nearly got ourselves in the middle of a brawl just outside the train station. There was lots of screaming and yelling and people running everywhere. We high tailed it out of there and found the hotel pretty smartly. The cops finally turned up and the chaos ended. We were all ready for bed.
Wednesday 18th July
Next morning we all had a lovely breakfast and a little bit of relaxation time. It was then another hours train ride to Aachen. Once in Aachen we found Mum, William and Matthews hotel and dropped their bags off. We then all headed to Aachen. Wow it’s just out of this world. We managed to find the accreditation office and then it was onto finding mine and Izzy’s hotel. It was then time to find the shuttle buses that regularly go to the hotels. This took a while and it wasn’t much fun lugging our suitcases around the horse park. But eventually we found both and it was a relief to dump the bags. It was straight back to Aachen to check out the lay of the land.
Aachen is a very large complex especially if you’ve not been there before. It did take us a while to find the stables as the eventer barn is not near the main stable complex where the dressage and jumpers are located. It was a great sight to walk down the aisle and see all our stables decked out with Aussie flags and our names on the doors. We then checked out all the arenas and the trade stands as we waited for the horses to arrive.
Once the horses arrived it was pretty hectic to get horses unloaded and gear sorted. We also needed more shavings for the stables but the only person I could find was a young boy driving a tractor that didn’t speak much English. Eventually we sorted shavings and the ponies were happy with their extra fluffy beds. I then had a lesson booked with Gareth Hughes. Adelaide went very well and we only worked for about 25 mins. Gareth thought he was going better since our Monday lesson. Just shows you how good Gareth is as a coach. Once we had all finished working our horses it was then a quick team meeting to organise our ride times, briefing times, course walk and trot up times for the following day.
Thursday 19th July
I opted to give Adelaide an early morning jump session. This was done out on a large grass arena shared with the showjumpers. There are plenty of fences to choose from and the grass footing was excellent. Adelaide jumped very well and we didn’t jump too big. I just wanted to make sure that he was rideable and not spooky. We had the competitors briefing at 1.00pm where they do the draw for the Nations Cup Teams. It came down to position 2 and 11 between Aus and the UK and we drew number 2 out. Long story short, this made me first rider out and first rider for the Australian Team. It was then onto xc course walking. It always amazes me how different a venue can look on TV compared to real life. The XC course and going was superb. It was a tough three star track and there was a lot of decisions to make. Time was always going to be tough to make.
At 5pm we had the official horse inspection. Adelaide was the first of the Aussie horses to trot and he trotted well and was accepted. All the Aussie horses passed the first inspection. It was then time to get back in the saddle for arena familiarisation. The teams were split in half. We then had approx. ½ an hour to play in the arena. It was very interesting that we were allowed to ride in the arena and there were no limitations on what you could do in the arena. You did have to watch what you were doing at all times as there is so many in the arena at once. I really can’t understand why in Australia we are not allowed to do this at our major events. Especially events that have all weather surfaces. If the best show in the world will allow this to happen why are we making it even harder for our aussie based riders to do their best come dressage day. We need to get with the times and follow the rest of the world.
It had been a long and busy day and we were all hungry so the riders and our supporters crashed the Grooms BBQ which is put on by the organising committee. The food was fantastic and it was great to catch up with our family and friends after a busy first day. Izzy and I then caught the shuttle back to our hotel, showered and went to bed. It’s extremely hard of an evening to work out what time it is due to the sun setting so late. Before you know it it’s 11pm at night.
Friday 20th July
Friday was an early start as I needed to pre ride Adelaide at 6.30am ready for his test time at 8.30am. We left the hotel at 5.30am by taxi. Luckily we had a great taxi driver as I informed him, I had no cash and he didn’t take credit card. So he found me an atm on our way to the horse park. Adelaide had a quick bite to eat, Izzy mucked him out and I found coffee. I was on Adelaide bt 6.30am and just did a lot of long and low with lots of stretching. We were back in the stables by 6.50am. Izzy worked her magic and I went and got competition ready. I was back on Adelaide at 7.55am for my 8.30am test. He felt really good in the warm up and the officials moved me into the final warm-up. I thought I only had 8 mins to my test but apparently the officials were a little too eager and I still had 12 mins to my test. This was slightly bad timing as I could feel that Adelaide was starting to get tired so I had no option but to give him a walk break. This was not ideal but out of my control really. I then picked him back up and did a couple of minutes and then we were in that main arena. Adelaide as always gave me everything he had. We were a little lacking in the first medium trot and my timing was a little out in the flying changes. But overall I thought our test was relaxed and accurate. I was a little disappointed with our score but it was always going to be hard going first out at your first international competition. I was probably on of the luckier riders that had pretty consistent marks from all three judges as this was not the case for many riders that followed. I was also grateful to be on early as the day proceeded to get quite warm which is not ideal with a horse that still has his winter coat.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent watching and supporting my fellow teammates. Unfortunately Rob’s horse Koko Story was belled during his test by the judges and eliminated. We were all shocked and extremely heartbroken for Rob. Andrew did a great test on a fairly inexperienced horse. He definitely looked like he’s only going to get better. Sammi had an almost perfect test with just a couple of annoying glitches. Burto did a lovely test on his beautiful mare but did have a few moments of tension which probably cost them the lead. Overall it was a good day for the Aussies.
I had organised a XC course walk with Sam Lyle who was at Aachen as part of the High Performance Elite coaching program. I wanted to make the most of having my regular coach Sam and his words of wisdom. It was great being able to really makes plans about the lines I would be taking to try and have a fast clear round. You really had to know at every fence if you were taking an inside line or an outside line. It’s easy to see why Chris Burton is the fastest XC rider in the world. It’s all about covering the shortest amount of ground among other things. As this was Adelaide’s first big international event I felt I had to take into consideration that the crowds could be a factor in the approach to some fences. Overall I was very confident that Adelaide and I would do well around the XC course.
Unlike some events, Aachen runs on time, all the time. I started Adelaide’s show jumping warm up in the big grass jumping arena with the assistance of the legend Nelson Pessoa and Stuart Tinney. As I had been warned that I would need to be at the gate to walk the course quickly to get back on Adelaide for my final warm up. I raced around the course with Nelson. Made a plan and was very aware of how large this arena is and that I would need to watch my time on course. While I was walking the course I had Stuart putting Adelaide’s hind boots back on in front of the stewards. I only planned to jump a few fences in the warm up as Adelaide felt so good. I was then given the call to go to the arena spot on time. I was extremely grateful of the advise from Sam Griffiths and Chris Burton. You really can’t appreciate just how big that arena is until you’re riding in it.
From the moment Adelaide and I entered that arena I was extremely confident that he was going to jump amazing, and he delivered. There is no better feeling than making a plan and then being able to execute that plan. We were extremely unlucky to have 4 faults at the second last, the C element of the treble. Adelaide felt like he tried his heart out and you can’t ask any more than that. Pretty sure you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for a good few hours.
Saturday 21st July
Saturday morning was not what I was expecting with Adelaide trotting up lame. I had to make the heartbreaking decision to withraw him from the cross country. To come so far and to be performing so well just made it all that bit harder. As it wasn’t just the personal disappointment but the disappointment of letting my teammates down and Australia no longer having a team in the Nations Cup at the biggest show in the world. Its was extremely difficult as well for all my family, friends and supporters that had flown from Australia to watch us compete.
Once XC started I went and supported our three remaining Aussie riders and watched them all put in amazing performances and helped them all in the cool down. As far as I was concerned I was still a member of the team and that’s the Aussie thing to do. I truly believe that Adelaide and I would have stormed around the cross country but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Sunday 22nd July
We headed home to the UK with a lot of disappointment in our hearts. It was also hard with knowing that Izzy, Mum, Matthew and William were all heading back to Australia and Adelaide and I would be on our own again.
Adelaide is now back at the Nicholson’s Westwood Stud and he’s enjoying having a few days off and loving being able to go out in his field. Today we go and see Australian Team Vet Graham Potts. I know Adelaide very well and unfortunately it doesn’t look good and our campaign has come to an end. I’ve spoken with Chris Webb and Adelaide and I will not be named in the final 8 horses still in contention for the World Equestrian Games. After the most amazing start to our campaign it has all ended suddenly and as you can imagine it’s extremely sad. Adelaide and I have had a dream run over the last 8 months and our time in the UK has also been a truly life changing experience. But for whatever reason it’s just not meant to be. I would have loved Adelaide to have had the fairytale ending he so deserved. I will always be truly grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me by my supporters, the Australian Eventing community, friends and family and the support given by Equestrian Australia.. It was so close to being perfect.