Science Supplements Cup

Tuesday 4th May - Wednesday 5th May, 2021 #SSCup

Natalie Ireland: “when he’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid!”

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Introducing Natalie Ireland and Cherokee Brave

With only three months left to go until we travel to the Mitsubishi Motors Cup at Badminton(!!), preparations for the big event are well and truly underway. This will be our first time competing at the Mitsubishi Motors Cup, and what an amazing experience it will be. First off, let me introduce myself and my pint size pony to you all, before we start out on the journey to the Mitsubishi Motors Cup 2017.

I’ll start with the most important part of the team, my pony, Cherokee Brave (aka Oscar). He is the grand old age of 21 and is an all-round superstar. I’ll have had him 14 years this year and we have competed in just about everything together from The Pony Club and Riding Club, British Dressage and British Eventing, where he has taken me to almost every championship going; we even did the The British Eventing Grassroots Festival [now the Mitsubishi Motors Cup] back in 2008, when they were held at Aston-le-Walls.

I think he’s likely to be one of the oldest at the Mitsubishi Motors Cup, and maybe one of the smallest too, at just 14hh; but he makes up with what he lacks in size with bags of character and personality. Obviously, with his age has come wisdom, or so he thinks, so what Oscar wants he gets. My mum always says like the nursery rhyme: “when he’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid!” Regardless, Oscar definitely rules the roost and he knows it. He probably causes the most trouble out of any horse I’ve ever known and we could have written a book with all of the adventures Oscar has taken us on (both good and bad), but we wouldn’t want him any other way!

I am a product development scientist for an animal nutraceutical company in the North-west, having graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2016 with an MSci in Veterinary Biosciences. University was brilliant and I met some of my best friends, but the most amazing experience was spending a year in the USA doing an internship with Kentucky Equine Research. Despite that, riding has always been my passion, and for me it is a real family affair; everyone pitches in with the horses, with show preparations and the day to day jobs. My sister and I both ride and between us we have two four year olds, Oscar, and a lovely 14.2 mare called Lady, who my sister bought as a project 2 years ago and she still hasn’t left! My mum also rides on occasion; I’m convinced she waiting for the day Oscar retires from competing so she can have him all to herself.

A very long drive to qualification

I’m not sure that retirement is in Oscar’s life plan just yet, as he is feeling great this year. Considering he hadn’t evented since 2011 when we started out last year, we had a fantastic season. My goal was to get at least one qualifying result for a Regional Final (RF). We did that at our first event! One down show jumping (which is an achievement for us) meant we finished third, and time to set a new goal for the season. All in all, we achieved three qualifying results, so there was less pressure on us. Looking at the calendar, the first RF and the nearest was BE Skipton Horse Trials, but we had the British Riding Clubs Horse Trials Championships that weekend. Next was the BE Aswanley Horse Trials in Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

Now, that was a seven hour drive from us, but if we didn’t go and then the others didn’t go well then we’d have wasted a chance to qualify, so I entered. We planned our journey and set off from the yard at 10.30am on the Friday morning to give us plenty of time to arrive in daylight, settle Oscar in, walk the course and get prepared for the big day on Saturday. That plan was not to be. Our wagon broke down about three hours into our journey; luckily my Dad was home and could bring the trailer to us. So three hours later, recovery had taken us off the motorway and we switched Oscar from the wagon to the trailer (I’m sure he thinks we are mad at this point). We set off again and after another four and a half hours or so, we arrive – at 9pm at night. Poor Oscar has been on a box for 11 hours, and he is definitely glad to see a stable, but he really is a pro at travelling and staying away now, so we know if he’s fed and watered he is happy. We managed to get some food, then a little sleep, as much as you can in a car with two dogs to keep you company!

Then the big day arrived. Mum and I were up bright and early with lots to organise and a course to walk before an early dressage. The event was only 10 minutes or so from the stabling, so we popped along there first of all to walk the course, before coming back to plait up and prep. Once everything was ready, we loaded up, with a little persuasion that we were going to do something fun. At the event site, everything ran fairly smoothly, although Oscar spotted the cross country jumps whilst working in for dressage, so it took a little convincing to get his dressage head on. He managed, and pulled out a great test, despite my not helping all that much. Next…. The dreaded jumping. Show jumping is definitely not our strongest phase and I knew we would need clear to be in with a shout. Fortunately for us, the ground was just how Oscar likes it and he pulled it out the bag, CLEAR! Sheer relief, and now onto the fun part. Oscar loves cross country. It is his favourite thing ever and he gets very excited about everything. When we got to the working in, there was a massive backlog of competitors; this is a problem for Oscar. He likes to get going. So we spent a lot of time dancing and eccentrically showing off his dressage skills in protest! His time did come, and after displaying some more half pass to the starter we were on our way. The course was fantastic, with lots of little questions and intricacies making it a really fun and interesting course to ride. Of course Oscar just sailed round and thought nothing of it, but nonetheless, we both had a ball. I was certainly glad to see the finish line; not because the course was finished but because I knew we had done everything we possibly could on the day.

The waiting game

Now it was a waiting game. Mum and I took care of Oscar, gave him lots of treats and put him back on the trailer to go and check scores. It was looking good, but not everyone’s score was up. We watched some cross country and took the dogs for a walk in the meantime, making sure to never be too far away. I remember we were outside by the seating overlooking the water when they called out the results; we had WON!! What an achievement for my little old boy, after the lead up to the day we’d had. I always knew he had it in him, but there were some great combinations in the class that I had no idea which way it would go. Luckily for me, my superstar pulled it out the bag, and we are on our way to the Mitsubishi Motors Cup at Badminton!