I woke up to some very uplifting positive tunes from the speaker and the 5 of us sung our way around the house, the energy was buzzing. There was even more excitement as we were responsible for Racesafe’s Instagram account that day, showing their followers what goes on at European Championships! When we arrived at the marquee at the event , the atmosphere was something else. The tent was completely packed with all the supporters who had come out to help on XC day and support over the weekend, it was so exciting.
The supporters were all given different jobs. Most of the older siblings were put on wash off duties with most of the parents being given a jump to monitor and video through the day as well as a careful system set up so that information from the XC was fed back only to Caroline so that it was just her briefing us if the course wasn’t riding as expected! We then took our horses for a walk in hand, and went on one final course walk as a squad to make sure that nothing else had been adjusted.
Then it was just a waiting game.
I was lucky enough to have been able to watch a couple of horses go on the big screen before getting ready. However, out of the 3 first combinations I watched, only 1 got round. At this point I decided to walk away and stop watching as I could feel my nerves growing inside me.
Thanks to our preparation run at Jardy, where I watched 5 horses through a particular combination and not a single one made it out on their feet, I managed to control these nerves. Whilst getting ready the sun was getting hotter and hotter. Before I was even on my horse I was sweating all over, it was a boiling day, this just added to the tension as horses tire much more easily in this heat. Luckily, I did not have this problem as my horse never tires. With a few deep breaths and a run through of the course, I headed off to see my horse. My nerves calmed down a lot as I arrived at the stables to hear through the radio that Elicia was clear and inside the time. 1 down, 4 to go!
Finally, it was my time to get on. Smarty gets very excited in XC warm ups. He is a XC machine and struggles to contain himself so I took him for a long walk, all kitted up. This is when the nerves really built, with no distractions, boiling hot, and hearing all the problems on the tannoy, I just wanted to get out onto the course, but there had been a hold. A victim of Pierre Michelet’s course building was removed from the course and taken to hospital. The nerves rose again as I questioned my ability.
Finally, I was allowed into the warm-up, but Smarty must have been feeling my tension, he decided that he was too excited to jump a warm-up jump and I didn’t feel I had enough control to guide him over one safely. Myself and Caroline made the decision not jump him in the warm up. This terrified me, my first jump in about a week was one of the 22 jumps that really mattered. Due to this decision, we also made a last minute plan to go a long route and just kick on for the time in the rest of the course as my horse is very quick and was clearly full of energy. More changes made my nerves rocket.
Just before I went, the German girl who was in the lead had a very unfortunate run-out, although gutting for her, this gave me a lot of hope as I knew that our team were very good at show jumping. I had to give it my all. Setting out from the start box I was only focussed on the job in hand. Smarty was also focussed on the job in hand. However, he would have much preferred to be doing it at 4* speed rather than 1* speed. BE described him as “feisty” and I think that really is the best description. I have never worked so hard on a XC course. I knew I needed to let him gallop to get the time, but I also knew that I needed full control for the course which was designed to test control throughout. This led to an utterly exhausting round, riding through the main arena with everyone cheering before the last minute of the course. I took a second to catch my breath and realised just how exhausted and overheated I was.
The next minute was the hardest of the course, I had to push through that barrier and although many horses were coming in tired, Smarty felt like he could have gone round again. Three fences from home I had the biggest scare. Smarty flew through the skinny combination in the water, taking out a stride and being as straight as a die, but a stride after landing he lost his footing and almost went down. My hat slid down over my eyes and I could barely see. I had a moment of panic as I knew that the second last fence was only 3 strides away in the water, and I could not see. Knowing that I could not afford a stop nor time faults, I turned in the direction of the fence and just kicked. The relief I felt as he lifted off was that like I have never felt before. Smarty may not have given me the easiest round but because he is so keen, he was still looking for the flags even when I couldn’t see them. We flew into the main arena and made it over the last fence. Greeted by a loud cheer not just from the eventer’s but also the GB dressage and SJ squads. After trotting Smarty off, I got off and my legs went to jelly, meaning I almost feel straight on the floor. After taking a moment to catch my breath and check the horse was okay, I had time to enjoy the moment, and appreciate the exhilaration.
Whilst washing off, the team began the intense level of care to bring his body and limb temperature down as quickly as possible. With his temperature being carefully monitored by Spike, the team vet, and the first of many cycles of ice being put on his legs. Finally cooled off, and Smarty having been washed off by the amazing team of siblings, I headed back to the stables, full of pride and full of confidence that the rest of the team would fly round. Soon after Smarty was settled back in his stable, I had gained enough energy to run to the wash off bay and greet Leilia who had just finished. Although she, unfortunately, had a run out, she was still over the moon about having tackled such an influential track. After also supporting Georgia through the finish clear in the time, the tension was building for Heidi. She was second last to go and we all knew that if she was clear she would be in bronze position overnight and our team would also be in bronze. Hearts racing we watched Heidi fly around the course clear and inside the time. The atmosphere was absolutely buzzing. Everyone was over the moon and we had a bit of breathing space between us and the team in 4th.
We supported the Young Riders tackling their XC course that afternoon. Although they did not all have an amazing day, it was still very inspiring watching, knowing that Heidi and I would be aiming for that next year. With all competition over for the day, we took our horses for a walk, gave them an unofficial trot up and headed back to the tent. There we were met with a pile of dominos pizza to enjoy as we all sat, exhausted but so proud of each other, not ready for our final proper night together. When we arrived back at the house there was even more positivity as we started to see glimpses of possibly winning a team or individual medal between the 5 of us. Music was played loudly, songs were sung badly, and we had some more card games which became even more competitive. This was followed by the packing of our bags in preparation of saying goodbye to the house the next morning. It was a very bitter sweet evening.