Having a ball at Badminton and team selection

Badminton was an amazing experience with Zagreb. I don’t think I have ever had so much fun across country. When we completed everyone who had come up to support us was crying, cheering, laughing, and there were a few bubbles mixed in too. Between us we felt every emotion. It was frustrating on the Sunday that we couldn’t show jump as he’d bumped his stifle and we decided to save him for another day.

The build up involved three months of intense preparation for Zagreb so that he was able to peak at the show and the hard work paid off as after the cross country he recovered well and his heart rate returned to normal after a short time.

By Monday he was sound and on the Wednesday I rode him and gave him a good stretch. Since then he’s had three weeks of light hacking and time out in the field giving his muscles plenty of time to relax and recover and now he’s gradually coming back into full work as preparation begins for the European Championships in August, where I am hopeful of selection. He proved himself to be one of the best horses in the world as that was one of the toughest courses seen for a very long time. He was best of the British after the dressage and cross country phases and we have both gained so much experience, despite not going showjumping.

With these big horses you aim for two big shows a year – one in the spring and one in the autumn, and the rest of the time is spent in preparation.

You have to build up fitness levels so that you get that all important one hundred per cent out of your horse at that show. If Badminton had been two weeks earlier he might not have been quite ready, two weeks later and I might have over-cooked him.

Redpath Ransom didn’t get into Badminton but I was asked to be a part of the Nations Cup team competing at Strzegom in Poland, the same venue as where the Europeans will be which gave me a really great opportunity to get to know the event ahead of possible team selection. It was also the first time I’ve worn the British flag which was a great feeling.

We were first to go for the team – I am not sure if they wanted to test my mettle and see if my character could take the pressure!

Going first means you need to be able to come back and give some constructive feedback to the other team members. It really got my adrenalin going! I loved it. On the final day I showjumped last for the team, and while we weren’t going to win, we finished second on the podium as a team, and I was best of the British, fourth individually, which was great.

It was a very good performance for me, and I hope it proved to the selectors that I have got championship ability.

On the technical side, I am still playing catch up as a lot of riders have been competing for so many more years than me, but at least I know I can turn up on the day, not let the side down, cope with the pressure and put in a strong performance for the team. Hopefully it will stand me in good stead.

I’ve not come up through the normal channels where selectors get to know you through the Junior and Young Rider programmes, and everything has happened so quickly – last September I rode in my first four star at Burghley. The selectors don’t really know much about me, so going to Poland was a good fact finding mission for them. Now I just have to have good enough form during July when Zagreb will go to Barbury International and hopefully we’ll get picked.

If it doesn’t happen, it’s not the be all and end all, as we can still target the big shows with Badminton the focus. I think both my top horses are more Badminton than Burghley types which suits more thoroughbred types.

With Luhmuhlen on the agenda for Redpath Ransom next week, I will have experienced all four of Europe’s four star tracks having ridden at Pau and Burghley last year.

This weekend I went to Tattersalls with two young horses and the lovely mare Swang Crackers who ran in the CICO3*. We were asked to go on the Nations Cup team but unfortunately we had a run out one fence from home but I was really pleased with her. It’s a very strong three star track so I was proud with how she coped and she jumped round really well. The two young horses both went clear across country and jumped well on the final day, with two rails down each, as their bodies don’t quite work as quick as they needed to, but that will come. Tattersalls itself is such an amazing venue. Everything about it is immaculate. It was a great experience.

I’ve had a re-think about the way I compete the horses, as previously I didn’t compete in internationals until they got to two star which meant their first experience of a big show with all the atmosphere was when they were seven or eight. Now I will compete them younger in one star classes so that they can get used to competing in that type of environment. Big young horses do take time to mature, but they coped so well with the atmosphere. You are always making minor adjustments to your system to improve it, and only experience can help you do that.

Pontispool’s gallops have been fantastic in my horses’ preparation. All the young horses have been going there regularly for schooling too and it plays an integral part in their training. Zagreb will go there for a play before he runs at Barbury Castle as its nice for the older horses to go out with no pressure and have a pop around. There’s every type of fence you need to see, and it’s so beautifully presented. I cannot big it up enough, and we’re lucky to have it on our doorstep.