04 October 2010

Dauntsey Park Horse Trials – The last of the season for Bear

So, our eventing season is over. There are a few three days left in the season and just a few more horse trials, but Bear's season has gone mostly to plan and he finished this past weekend at a mucky Dauntsey Park Horse Trials with a win!

As an eventer, we all know that it is not necessarily the end result on the scoreboard that drives us to invest our hearts, souls, and bank accounts in this sport of our affliction; but it is the journey and the relationship that develops between ourselves and our horses that keeps us going. It is that thrilling cross country round, that foot perfect show jumping trip, and the ever elusive submissive and expressive dressage test that keeps us trekking miles upon miles across states and countries near and far. This weekend was the pinnacle of those things and was such a fabulous event in so many ways for Bear and me.

The lorry park mud!
The morning dawned cold and wet (welcome to England in autumn, folks!). There had fallen nearly 4 inches of rain over the preceding 36 hours, and the ground reflected every drop of it. Like the US, there are certain venues here that can take the rain, and others that do not drain nearly as quickly. Dauntsey Park is situated in Wiltshire, south of the Cotswolds (the Cotswolds area, known for their stone walls made of, funnily enough, cotswold stone, drains exceptionally well because all of the rock in the soil creates a percolating effect and the topsoil dries out quickly even after torrential rain) along the River Avon. Consequently, it's essentially flood plain along which the cross country course runs and traverses the River Avon twice.

Another lorry being towed in for the day.

Back to the point, though. We slid into the lorry park, quite literally in a foot of pea soup mud, as the sun rose and the fog thickened. There were parked tractors, but no one to drive them, and no one about; but in time, a cheerful farmer from the neighboring farm arrived, coffee in hand, to start the long day of towing lorries into and out of the lorry park! It's never a good sign when you are being towed in!

Regardless, we quickly walked round the cross country as Emma had an early dressage time with no time between phases to walk courses, and my goodness, it was a proper track! Mud withstanding, this course proved to be up to size in every way, and every bit as technical. As Dauntsey Park is owned by the Sturgises, an old and proper hunting family, its course incorporates many of the old style and huge hunting-type fences and questions that we so rarely see in the US. The first four were relatively straightforward, save the muddy take offs and landings, and then the fun really began as the fifth was a proper coffin with the ditch wide, imposing, and incorporating a decent drop on the front side! Then the sixth, a maximum brush in the fenceline, turning ninety degrees in a field to the seventh a narrow scalloped brush in the fence line with a ninety degree turning to the eigth, another big brush, and another ninety degree turning on 4 strides to a massive ditch and hedge! No rest for the weary as their was a bit of a gallop to the tenth, a large log with a steep landing downhill, sharp turning and up hill to the second element, a hanging log. Finally a let up fence at the eleventh which was a straightforward open oxer shared with the novice, to a big table at the twelfth, and then a sharp turning to a maximum up bank, a ninety degree left turning three strides on top to a maximum height down bank and a right turning and 3 strides to a chunky narrow brush. Whew! Onto the latter half where there was a river crossing that was belly deep for the horses (my boot filled with water!), up a hill and 2 ½ strides to a table, then onward to another hedge turning to a maximum table in the hedgeline, and then to the nineteenth, a house 3 strides before the second river crossing, up the hill and a sharp right turning to a hanging log type vertical ridden on a 45 degree angle and galloping onward to the last, a straightforward steeplechase fence! Whew!

Yes, that's a 6" round stud dish that those bad boys are occupying!
After walking the course, I was undecided on whether the going was good enough to take my young, and relatively inexperienced little red head as the track was massive and technical and the footing very deep and slippery on the fence take offs and landings. However, I put in HUGE studs and took it one phase at a time. Similar to the 4 year old championships at Fair Hill last fall, Bear seemed unphased by the muck. In the dressage, he slipped around a bit and was a tad cheeky in his canters, but brought home a very good score of 23.5, his second lowest of the season here (and his best at the BE 100 level). He rolled 2 poles in the show jumping, but was jumping well off the ground in front, throwing a great shape in the air, but just made some green errors in technique resulting in cheap rails down behind. As the day went on, the sun continued to shine, the breeze picked up, and the ground became acceptable in my mind. Since Bear wasn't negatively affected by the going, and I spoke with many riders who had successfully negotiated the course, I pulled on my big girl panties, swallowed the lump in my throat and went for it.

And, my goodness, am I glad I did?! The little red head showed heart and try like I've never felt in him before! The bigger the fences, the harder the lines, the tighter his jump and the sharper his turns. He was a phenom! As we finished, I had tears streaming down my face from the shear excitement that Bear had arrived! He has grown up, stepped up to the plate, and when the going got tough, he dug deep and made it happen! Feeling this happen beneath me fence by fence stirred such emotion, and I know this wasn't a big three day (like the WEGs that are running concurrently), but I think when you've brought one along, been a part of every moment of its life and showed it the ropes trying ever so hard to give them only positive experiences, when they take over and start to give it back to you, especially in adverse conditions, it's the reward that no one can bestow upon you, no matter the level, and no matter the end result. It's the beauty of the horse and their grace to allow us to share in that partnership and in their pureness of spirit.

My savior! He pulled me out of the mud after the prize giving so that I
could race home to see the WEGs cross country live on BBC!

In the end, we added only 2 seconds of time, 0.8 penalties to his combined dressage and show jumping score of 31.5 to finish on a 32.3. I will add proper show pics of the Bear as soon as they are available :), but here's one from Moreton Morrell last weekend for good measure!

For the moment, I will enjoy this finish to our consistent season on this side of the pond and look to some winter dressage and show jumping shows to sharpen our weak phase and continue to progress in the small rectangle.

However, I do promise you a season wrap up of each event, with the gift of hindsight, their ups and downs, and more reflection on eventing on this side of the pond (in light of the British domination of the team three day at the WEGs, William's individual siler, Pippa's individual 5th place finish, etc, I have to admit, I think they are doing a lot right over here!).

Until then, kick on as your fall season is in full swing and starting to crescendo with the fall three days and of course, the ever popular Thanksgiving Pine Top!