Munstead BE…Its not the size of the dog in the fight…

The hour of the hero has finally dawned.

The long, dark hours of winter steals from us all joy, and forces us instead to suffer through sapping mud, extortionate feed bills, and – a new attempt at soul-destruction for 2018 – week long artic snow storms. If there is one battle that we cannot win, it is that which we fight against Mother Nature herself. So, whilst she launches her rampage, we retreat, admit our loss, and sink into a crushing depression.

But then, it happens. We have a day without rain. We hear birdsong after 4pm. We see sunlight. And suddenly, the ground is drying up. The grass is starting to grow. The horses are coming back into work. We are reminded that the sadness that we have become so accustomed to isn’t just part of our personality, and with that, it begins to lift. The BE Event Calendar is released, the clocks change, and the weather improves. We are given a glimmer of hope. And so, like newborn fawns stepping out, blinded, blinking into the sunlight, we start to plan, to train, to dream. Until, finally, it arrives – the first BE Event of the season.

For us, this came in the form of Munstead Horse Trials. After weeks of unrelenting rain causing countless events to be abandoned and cancelled, we were all apprehensive as to whether or not we would actually get to run. But, thankfully, the team at Munstead had worked tirelessly for months to ensure that the ground was at its best, and in the early hours of Sunday morning, we began our crusade.  My confederate for this event was Trojan Odyssey, a plucky little gelding who, when standing on a hill with platforms on, just about brushed 16hh. But, to quote (kind of) Shakespeare…though he be but little, he is fierce!

After our arrival at Munstead, a breakfast of champions (sausage and bacon rolls!) and a tack up, we headed over to the dressage. Now, Trojan Odyssey has spent the past 2 years of his life being owned and produced by a dressage rider, so this gave him a strong foundation to provide a good test. But, we had to take into consideration the fact that he has had a 4 month break over winter, and hadn’t been to a busy BE event since 2016. But, he managed to surpass all our expectations and floated around the dressage ring (bar a couple of wobbly moments) to score a 33.

And then, it was time to do battle. The only positive about the absence of eventing is the absence of the showjumping beast too, and, having avoided it all winter, it was finally time to face it head-on. All morning, we had heard it mock competitors as it claimed clear round after clear round. The going was sticky, the course was tricky, and every single jump had a brightly coloured filler underneath it. This particular beast was taking absolutely no prisoners, and was causing carnage to say the least. So, with a tack change into our beloved clear-round saddle from Voltaire, we headed over to the warm-up. After going for a few circuits around the arena, carefully avoiding eye contact with the beast, it was finally time to get the show on the road. The warm-up arena is often an awful place that allows the beast to not only intimidate and dishearten us, but this is also its best opportunity to size us up, and remind us of all our flaws and idiosyncrasies. I firmly believe that the quality of your warm-up can make or break your round, and at Munstead, this was no different. But, we had entered the event, committed to doing it, slogged through winter for it, and put in hours of training for it. The beast was not going to defeat us now! It began with a cross-pole. The take-off and landing had taken a battering, because, despite the ground crews best efforts, there is no making-up for the English weather, and it was deep. But, Troy is a scrawny little creature, so used his size and slight frame to his advantage, skipping across the top of the mud and not sinking in too far. He too knew that the beast was going to try its hardest to drag us down, and he was fighting back. He flew over the cross-pole on each rein perfectly, and then headed towards the upright, and upright it stayed! Round again on the other rein, and….down it went. The beast sniggered. Troy took offence to this, and came round again for another attempt….down it went. After the third attempt achieved the same outcome, we admitted defeat – the beast well and truly had us in its grasp, and we were only damaging our armour more with each attempt. Round to the oxer, which Troy flew beautifully, and it was time to go into the ring.

The buzzer went, and battle began. The beast sniggered as we made our way round to the first, knowing full well that it well and truly had us at its mercy. Troy, still offended from his earlier beast battering, decided it was time to take it down once and for all….and suddenly, we were heading into battle together as a team. Over the first he flew, picking up his feet high enough to not only leave the poles firmly in place, but to actively mock to beast. Round to the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth, all done in exactly the same fashion. The most unassuming little horse had suddenly decided he was going to join me in my beast taming quest! Round to the sixth, where he stumbled on a mud clump round the corner, and became disunited about 7 strides out from the jump. Decision time…do I risk asking him to take the jump on a unbalanced, incorrect canter, and potentially ruin our lovely clear-so-far-round, or do I attempt to bring him back to trot 7 strides out and ruin the rhythm completely? A snap decision to rebalance him to give him the best chance possible, and he cleared the jump with ease. Suddenly, realisation hit that we may actually be able to do this. Next up was the double, and he hit the first stride bang on, giving it plenty of space, but got stuck in the mud on landing, meaning that the distance to the next part either had to be very short or very long. ‘Its cool’, he said, ‘I got this’, and all of a sudden his spindly little legs had grown several inches and he was covering the ground with ease, popping out over the second part with no trouble. Round to the last…and he soared it. Oh my god. We had just gone clear! A couple of pesky time penalties, but for our first event back, I was thrilled. What a little horse!!!!!!!

Onto the Cross Country…this little horse was made for this phase. He may only be little, but he eats up the course as if its 10cm high. He is mainly thoroughbred, after all, and he was born to run and jump. He leapt out of the start box like a creature possessed, and that pretty much set the theme for the rest of the course! It was almost boring…he didnt look at a single thing, and hit every single stride bang on. We came home clear inside the time, meaning that for the first time in 18 months, LBE got a double clear at a BE event!!!!!! What a start….bring on the rest of the season.

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