Playtime at Brand Hall Championships

I somehow managed to completely bypass Pony Trials, probably because I moved onto a 16.3hh when I was 13…

The u18 Championships 2015

When I was 15, Brian and I won the BE100u18 Championships at Frickley Park. Caroline Moore was there and I was convinced that we’d be “spotted” and be on the path towards Junior development training. Sadly I later discovered that BE100 form counts for nothing!

Planning for the 2016 season

It was only when we bought Smarty that I discovered the concept of season planning. Caron Roberts was my trainer at the time. My parents and I spent an evening with her and her assistant Tammy after the end of the season, eating Chinese takeaway and putting a plan in place for next year.

Working out just how far I needed to progress in the next 12 months

Tammy had printed off and highlighted the relevant BE results of all the riders they had identified as potentials for the Junior squad the following year. They showed me how they were all competing in a particular pattern and had already demonstrated consistent results in the autumn to position themselves for selection the following season. I’d only just stepped up to Novice and they were winning at Intermediate. That’s where we needed to aim, ready for this time next year. It seemed a long way off but I was ready for the challenge.

Getting on the “radar”

Brian had been competing consistently at Novice and hadn’t been out of the top 5 all season. He was on the right trajectory for some good Intermediate results that autumn and in the meantime I was planning on getting noticed on Smarty. I knew that he wasn’t sufficiently careful showjumping for the double clears needed to be considered for Juniors, but at least might get my name known at last.

You always need a Plan B in eventing. We moved on to ours early in the season after Brian over-stretched himself flying clear round his first Intermediate cross country. He wasn’t lame, but wasn’t quite right and we knew that running him repeatedly at this level would risk his long term future.

I thought my chances of Juniors the following year were over.

Switching to Plan B

I switched all my energy to Smarty and we headed to Rockingham for the Junior Trial. To get to the dressage arenas you have to go past the show jumping and that was too much for Smarty. It was my first experience of his ginger tendencies and I hadn’t learnt how to help him with his nerves. We did a disappointing dressage test and had 3 poles in the showjumping. I knew we could redeem ourselves in the cross country but at the 4th fence a loose dog attacked him as we approached a solid combination and he slid to a halt into the jump. We jumped twelve more fences but he wasn’t attacking the course as he usually does so I pulled him up. My only consolation was that the selectors still had no idea who I was so wouldn’t have noticed our disappointing debut.

When it all goes wrong. A dog gets loose and attacks Playtime during our first Junior Trial.

Two weeks later we were on a 2 day training course with Caroline Moore, then on to our first 1* under her watchful eye.

The Brand Hall Junior Championships

On Day 1 of the the event, Caroline warmed us up for dressage. It was the first time I’d had this level of help from a trainer at an event. As she watched me do my dressage test in my skull cap and borrowed tail coat she told my mum it was time to invest in the right kit to look the part. We did the test of our lives and went in to 2nd place.

Dressage at Brand Hall. Competing in my first 1* in a skull cap and borrowed tailcoat.
That feeling when you know you both performed to your best ability.

That evening I met some of the riders whose names had been carefully highlighted by Tammy as this season’s Juniors, in our pre-season planning. One of them asked “Who even are you?” It seems they hadn’t highlighted me on their own pre-season planning sheets….

The Brand Hall Junior Championships Day 2

On Day 2 Smarty flew round the cross country course a minute inside the time. That evening everyone knew my name. I was sandwiched between Bubby Upton and Richard Coney on the leaderboard going into the final phase.

The Brand Hall Junior Championships Day 3

We’d averaged 8 showjumping faults at each of our last 4 events so we didn’t have great expectations for Day 3. I was just hoping to keep it to no more than 8 faults to stay in the top 12. I’ve since learnt that I perform at my best when there are no expectations.

Playtime Brand Hall Junior Championships
Total concentration as we clear the final fence.

We jumped a clear round.

Bubby Upton was unlucky enough to drop a pole.

We were the Junior National Champions.

Playtime Brand Hall Junior Championships
The new GB Junior Champions

Suddenly we were being quizzed by selectors, Smarty was being poked and prodded by vets and physios. I didn’t quite know what had hit me.

From that moment Smarty and I were swept up into the BE Youth Eventing system and suddenly I felt I had a whole support team behind me. A few days later a press release was sent out. We were on the Junior European long list.