Nero’s and my preparation for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup really began back in Australia. As soon as I had made the decision to return to the UK, it was on the bucket list, although I wasn’t certain it was a realistic goal.
With both of us coming from polo, I initially found the dressage daunting and a huge challenge. Nero had only ever neck reined and was not used to working in a frame, but I was very fortunate in being able to school on the perfect, level surface of the polo fields, an environment he was comfortable in.
I bought an instructional DVD entitled, ‘Enjoying Dressage’ which, at the time, struck me as an oxymoron, and we made slow progress. A real breakthrough came, however, when we started having lessons with grand prix dressage rider and coach to a number of top eventers, Caroline Hooper. Using brilliant analogies, Caroline helped me to gain an understanding of what we were trying to achieve (and why) and it wasn’t long before I stopped referring to the ‘stressage’ phase and started to almost enjoy my 4.5 minutes in front of a judge!
Here in the UK, we continued our flatwork training with supercoach, Natalie Hobday, who comes across from Germany once a month and provides invaluable homework to make good use of the time in between. I am very much looking forward to her next visit in a couple of weeks.
Thanks to Natalie, Nero and I achieved a dressage personal best at the Firle Place Mitsubishi Motors Cup Regional Final, which I had specifically targeted, having hunter trialled there as a child. Unfortunately, this was not to be our qualifying venue, however, as I hadn’t realised that there was a specific ‘RF’ class I should have entered and our 2nd place in a regular BE100 didn’t count!
In addition to lots of hacking on the Marlborough downs and suppling exercises on the flat, our winter work has included some extremely useful tune-ups with show jumper, Andy Austin. In an attempt to banish the anxiety that can creep up on me in that phase and put to the test Andy’s pearls of wisdom—for improving both riding and mindset—we have also been out to a few affiliated shows and plan to factor in one or two more before the spring eventing season gets underway.
As the golfers say, the more we practise, the luckier we get, but had we not benefited from the right training in between, Nero and I would not be on our way to Badminton Estate. Having access to such great coaches is something I never take for granted.