After pretty much an entire week of cleaning and organising we set off for Badminton on Monday. We arrived early afternoon and left Mango in his stable to mow the grass whilst we (mum, Paige and I) went off to walk the course with Tom McEwen. It’s a long time since I have walked a course with a professional and it was very interesting to hear some tips not just on the fences but on general technique. Back to the stables and we got Mango settled in properly and everything unpacked before heading off for a little hack around the village.
Tuesday morning we took Mango for a little hand walk before Paige and I went to have a more thorough look at the course. I wanted to make sure I knew all my lines and which option I was taking whilst I had time to think it through. That mostly went ok but after I’d walked at least 10 different lines through number 16 the Careers in Racing Brushes I wasn’t much further forward so picked two of my options and decided to make my mind up after the show jumping. Back to the box for an early lunch then plaiting and grooming before a quick sit down in the box to go over my test whilst getting changed. I knew our biggest problem would be if we got tense to I tried to stick to my normal warm up routine that I would use at home, he felt great. I’ve been getting a lot of comments about instability of the contact and lack of suppleness that I think come in part from me trying too hard in the arena. In my last lesson we really concentrated on how I was riding and trying to make it look easy so I decided to enjoy it, look like I knew what I was doing and leave him alone a bit more. Somehow I managed not to tense up and he did a lovely little test achieving 33.9 which left us about halfway down the order at the end of the day. Having qualified on the worst score of anyone I was very pleased with that result!
Wednesday we got up early and I went to do a final course walk with my fiancé Craig and the dogs. I wanted to walk my exact line and get my minute markers using the CrossCountry App, I walked the straight route at number 16 but still wasn’t totally convinced it was sensible. Having walked a generous line giving myself plenty of room to set up I was surprised when my measured distance was only a metre longer then the official distance, in theory meaning the time was quite generous but with all the spooky areas in the latter stages I didn’t want to risk losing time with nowhere to make it up.
The show jumping course was not quite as tough as I had built myself up for so I began to change my target of two down to a clear round.
I got on Mango about 50 minutes before the jumping as he had been very fresh first thing and we had struggled to take him for a proper walk. We walked around the field and watched a few rounds before schooling in the field as we hadn’t done dressage that morning. He felt fresh and we had a few little moments but I like him a bit like that for the show jumping so with the collecting ring being rather busy I waited until four before us to go in. He was a totally different horse once he saw the jumps, very bouncy and plenty of leaping around to keep me concentrating! I promptly took my spurs off which made very little difference. I was finding it quite easy to jump him like that, totally different from how I would normally ride him but he was so powerful I could just sit and hold and he flew everything. Into the ring and he didn’t seem bothered by the crowd at all, the first couple went well but I was finding it very difficult to maintain a rhythm, he was still very powerful but not quite as bold as he had been in the warm up the rest of the course was a bit hairy and probably quite lucky just to have two down. I was a bit cross with myself as I was sure I could have ridden it better but still managed my original target and there was a lot to look at with the wind in the flags and loads of spectators.
Over to the cross country and we had a bit of a wait so we just walked around for a while. When I started my warm up I found I was still riding backwards a bit after the jumping but he was being much more sensible, after a little pep talk with my legs we got it together and jumped well, he’s often a little sticky in the cross country warm up but none of that today. I sent Paige to talk to the starter as Mango will not walk sensibly around the start box and they kindly counted me down from the collecting ring which worked well and we got into and out of the start box with no drama for once.
Galloping out of the box into Badminton park was fantastic, I had a little word with myself approaching the first fence to concentrate but I didn’t need to, Mango had it totally in hand. He was amazing, jumping out of his stride and galloping like we were doing the four star. We were a little concerned about the drop at 4a as he hasn’t seen anything like that before but as I half halted on approach to give him time to look he just took the bridle and leapt off it actually making the distance to 4b a bit short! We were enjoying ourselves so much I missed my line a bit to number seven, the log, but realised a way before it and was ready to correct it on landing. I brought him back to prepare for the turn into the Shogun Hollow which caught him out a bit and he had a good look at the first element but was just trying to understand the question and as soon as I pointed out the last element and kicked he flew through it, again making the distance rather short, sure this pony was having to put extra strides in only last season?
Number nine the hanging long was a similar question with a tight turn into it and quite a drop, Mango just popped in a trot stride off the corner whilst he assessed it then popped it nicely and back into a rhythm. I was a bit worried about the overhanging tree at 10 and that worry translated into seeing a horrible short stride which Mango decided was totally inappropriate and took the long one instead. By the time I brought him back for another tight right handed turn into 11abc he’d learned to look before he jumped and again just popped a trot stride in off the corner to get his bearings before popping through it on exactly the right line and striding.
After that it was a long enjoyable gallop through the park, we were about 30 seconds too fast at minute three (oops) so we couldn’t enjoy it too much but it gave us time to appreciate our surroundings and not have to push up the hill. 12, 13 and 14 rode brilliantly, by this point he had really got the hang of locking onto the line and reading the question, I couldn’t have been more proud of him. Unfortunately we hadn’t managed to lose any time by the 4th minute marker so I had to slow down considerably which meant we ended up chipping in some uncomfortable strides at the more straightforward fences from there on.
We went the long route at number 16 which wasn’t totally comfortable but looks a lot better on the video then it felt riding it. Coming around the corner to the lake was quite an experience, you see the crowd from way back as the course loops around them then as you come off the corner you see the marquees and flags across the lake, it’s quite a feeling and I expected him to back off but he just saw the fence and locked on without a second look. I needed a bit of leg on take-off as he spotted the water behind and he dropped back to trot to go into the lake as he likes to when he hasn’t been in a particular water jump before but he was confident and forward so we just turned in trot and picked up canter into the brush out. Still trying to lose time we had a very casual canter around the rest of the course, with the exception of the last which was the only fence he really did not like and had to have a few good kicks, he made it look easy and finished looking like he could have done it all again. Paige kindly ran to the finish to walk him back for me whilst I got my breath back and met up with all our supporters who had been banished out of the way for the sake of my nerves until then.
We finished 50th out of 107 starters and just 1.9 penalties over my target of 40. Mango, who used to nap and spook at everything took the whole experience in his stride and was back being ridden the next day fresh and supple if I touch less excitable thank god. We spent the rest of the week shopping and catching up with friends before leaving Sunday morning exhausted but very satisfied.
As usual check out Mango’s blog for video links and his take on everything http://ivebeenmangoed.blogspot.co.uk/
It only really remains to thank the amazing team at Badminton for hosting us, our trainers Tim Heappey and Nic Knowles for dragging us up to standard, the support and encouragement from the Rockley Rehab gang, my long suffering fiancée Craig, his parents for the loan of the caravan, Verity, Nadine and Shane for holding the fort at home, my wonderful parents and Steve for his assistance that keeps the show on the road, and last but certainly not least, super-groom Paige Hodgkinson.
Images credit: Goldeneye