2017 Round Up

[gallery ids="845,849,852"] After finishing well at Pau 4* with Zagreb in 2016 there was a bit more expectation on our shoulders for the 2017 season.  We were aiming for our first Badminton, the G... Read more

2017 Round Up 12th December 2017

After finishing well at Pau 4* with Zagreb in 2016 there was a bit more expectation on our shoulders for the 2017 season.  We were aiming for our first Badminton, the GB set up were beginning to show interest in us and we were hoping that we could spring board ourselves in to the top flight of eventing.  If you don’t know me very well this may seem quite ambitious but for those who do, this is my general mind set.  Aim for the top and at least you stand half a chance getting there.  We started off our training in the winter with a clear goal to make this happen, and with the hugely committed team of staff, owners and family around me we were going to give it a damn good shot!

I started 2017 with several exciting new horses.  This is always motivating as you need to keep the producing talented young prospects to strengthen your team of horses so to remain competitive at the top level long term.  With my established top horses feeling on great form and a band of enthusiastic owners and young horses our 2017 season was looking promising.  Now it was just my job to make it happen.

The season started well, all of the horses came out fresh and seemed to really enjoy having grass beneath their feet.  I find it’s important not to get to hooked up with everything being perfect on your first outing.  The horses are always very keen and a little reactive, mostly because they are thrilled with being out and their adrenalin is coursing through them.  I’m happy as long as they do their job and enjoy themselves, I can forgive the odd spook and rail down due to over exuberance, the main thing is that they are enthusiastic and forward thinking.  I know that they’ll settle down as they get into the season and it’s never a good time to pick a battle with a horse if it’s pumped up on adrenalin, so it’s best to role with it and stay relaxed.

 

BADMINTON

The weather began to warm up and before we knew it we were heading to Badminton with Zagreb.  It was an exciting day for everyone involved at Team Bragg but extra special for Zagreb’s owners Sally and Philip Ellicott.  It’s a long journey and a dream come true to get to Badminton, and we were going with intentions to win.

Once we were settled in I began working Zagreb as I usually would at any show and all seemed quite regular.  I decided not to walk the xc until after my dressage, I was 3rd to go, so very early on Thursday and I felt I’d do better if I concentrated this before worrying about anything else.  Zagreb was feeling fit and full of energy and when he entered the main arena he showed what a class horse he is becoming.  He gave me a super ride and produced a great test that left us top of the Brits and well within striking distance of top spot.

Then came the xc!!  I walked the course alone, as I do a lot on my first walk.  It was big with a lot of technical lines, many of which you couldn’t actually predict exactly how they were going to ride and what striding you would put in.  I felt at this stage that how ever much advice you asked for from experienced people it was actually going to come down to how well do you and your horse know each other, how strong is your partnership.  As a rider you would need to be confident with your approach to fences and be ready to keep the horse balanced and react to what you saw in front of you, and while you made these split second decisions within combinations your horse would have to trust you and jump what ever came in front of him.  This was not only going to be a test of good xc riding but a huge test of horsemanship.

Zagreb and I started right at the beginning and we have developed together as we travelled through the grades.  I knew when we left that start box on Saturday that he would be as committed as me and it was up to me not to let him down.  We were ready for the challenge and wow, what a feeling of anticipation and excitement it created.

Even the morning of the xc I felt very relaxed.  I did some media first thing before doing my final course walk and I was back to the lorry to get prepped.  I could see the flow of people entering Badminton but it still didn’t dawn on me the magnitude of the stage we were about to perform on, probably for the best really!

With our final preparations and warm up completed I trotted to the start box and we were off!  I remember feeling a rush of nerves as I pressed my stop watch to begin, but after we’d jumped fence 1, I gave a punch in the air as we left the main arena and that was that, this was it, we were going to give this everything!

Zagreb settled well into the course and jumped like a pro, he has heaps of scope and a heart of a lion, and I think he was relishing the challenge and actually having the time of his life.  We had a slightly sticky moment at the double of brush corners 2/3rds of the way around.  I lost a little balance on the turn and didn’t see the best stride to the first, this left the distance quite long, Zagreb showed his honesty and didn’t question our intention, he saw the flags, picked himself up and squeezed his way through, what a horse.  I felt he was tiring a little at this stage and I gave him a breather on the way up to Hunts Mans Close.  In hindsight I think he was just mentally fatigued after such an intense part of the course as when I opened him up towards the finish he responded well with loads of gallop.  This is all experience that we can use next time to minimise time penalties but I was just thrilled to be approaching the final fence and BOOM, we had completed our first Badminton xc round.  I felt every emotion as I crossed the finish line, I was immensely proud of my horse, relieved to have completed and pleased for all of our supporters..  I was smiling, crying, cheering all at the same time, as were most of Team Bragg.  It’s a feeling that will stay with me forever.

Sadly our celebrations were cut short when we returned to the stable to take Zagreb for an hand graze after his initial rest.  Although he finished well and trotted up fine after the xc, it became apparent that he was stiffening up on one hind leg.  He must have bumped his stifle on a fence and bruised it.  We began icing it and trying to keep him mobile and Zagreb did show signs of improvement when it came to presenting him to the grand jury for the trot up Sunday morning we didn’t feel it was fair to push him through if he wasn’t 100%.

Although it was disappointing that we weren’t going to contest for a prize, especially when we were lying in such a competitive position in the top 10 we knew it was the best for Zagreb.  He had given me such a great ride the day before and we felt he didn’t have anything more to prove and we should save him for another day.

Thankfully he made a swift recovery, and Monday morning he trotted up sound from the stable and I gave him a hack and stretch on the Tuesday and Wednesday before he went on a well deserved brake in the field.  We were good to fight another day.

 

After Badminton it was an opportunity to get all of the younger horses out.  Bonmahon Blue Mist and Bloomfield Tiger Two had made fabulous starts to the season and were raking in the rosettes at Novice level and they were having their final runs in the lead up to their first stay away International at Tattersalls at the end of May.

Dancing Ghareeb, Cooga Hat Trick and King of the Mill, all new horses to me this season were starting to grow in confidence and I felt that we were beginning to build good partnerships with each other.  They were all being placed at BE 100 level and were  gaining valuable experience before we hoped to step them up to Novice in June.

 

STREZGOM

The next exciting thing in the calendar was my first Nations Cup call up for team GB.  Redpath Ransom was selected to represent the team at the Strezgom leg in Poland.  It was a great opportunity for me to gain team experience and start to get to know all of the staff involved with team GB.

It is a very compact event site at Sytrezgom, The main arena is an impressive surface area with stands surrounding it.  The xc was situated in a fairly narrow strip of ground that would require you to twist and turn your way up and down, this was the only way they could get the necessary length course.  It would be quite different from riding at our 3* events at home where we are spoilt with beautiful park estates to gallop around.  We would all need to be very alert and keep our pedals to the metal to achieve the time.

I was picked to be path finder for the team and we were also drawn first to go.  Redpath Ransom can sometimes be a bit electric in his dressage but he performed an accurate test, maybe with a little tension in his neck but over all I was pleased to get a respectable score on the board of 54.  The main arena created a bit more atmosphere than we anticipated and our other team members suffered with their horses getting tense in parts and a few mistakes crept in.  I think people were maybe a bit disappointed with their performances but moral stayed high and we were happy to be heading into xc in third place.

If their was any horse in my yard that I would have picked for this xc track it definitely would have been Redpath Ransom.  The course was sizeable enough but the main challenge would be the fences coming up thick and fast as you turned corner after corner all of the way around the track.  Redpath Ransom is a very strong and confident jumper and doesn’t require too much setting up.  I trust him implicitly and I was relishing the challenge.  It was my job to head out of the start box with intention to take all of the straight routes, make the time and bring back any information from riding the course that might help the rest of the team.  Well it was CRUNCH time!

I headed to the start box and was given my 30 second warning.  I was feeling very relaxed as I usually am this close to the beginning of xc, walking my horse through the start box then the starter proceeded to count me down in Polish, now that was something I was NOT prepared for.  Desperately trying to interpret, which wasn’t working I tried to count with him and took an educated guess when I should go, it did make me smile as I left the start.  I knew I would need to keep to my minute markers that we’d set around the track so I began in a good gallop and Redpath Ransom settled into a great rhythm and he was simply eating up the course.  I think he gave me a foot perfect round, never faltering, never questioning, simple knuckling down and doing his job, and wow did he do it well.  We came in bang on the optimum time with a super clear, it was great start for the team and a huge relief for me.

The course caused plenty of trouble throughout the day and the time was proving to be extremely difficult to achieve.  Although Redpath Ransom made it look easy, I don’t think people realised the relentless gallop you needed to keep and that you couldn’t afford to let up at any point.  In fact it proved how amazing Redpath Ransom is that no one else achieved a clear xc round in side the time.  This shot us up the leader board and we were sat healthily inside the top 10 going into the final day of show jumping.  Team GB were sitting just in 2nd place but it was very close between us and the Netherlands in 3rd.  Germany had taken a commanding lead.

All of our horses trotted up well Sunday morning so it was down to us to try and hold on to 2nd spot.  The girls in the team, all jumped well and so it just came down to me.  As I was walking to the arena Richard Waygood (chef d’equipe) approached me and said, ‘the time is tight, you can afford one rail but no time penalties, good luck’.  I replied, ‘I’m planning on a clear round anyway, hopefully’, it was an odd moment but none the less quite motivating.  Redpath Ransom was jumping really well and started very confidently.  We were foot perfect clear until the treble one from last.  It was situated underneath a tree alongside the public stands.  As we approached, the shadow from the tree and the distraction from the crowd slightly took Redpath Ransoms eye off of the fence.  We needed to add a stride that we didn’t want which resulted in having the first element down, pretty nail biting.  He recovered and jumped the rest clear and flew the last oxer, well with in the time allowed.  As we exited the arena we were met by some very happy faces, the team had secured 2nd place on the podium and we were in individual 4th.  Happy days!

 

We returned from Poland and just had time to compete 3 of the young horses at Pontispool before the lorry was reloaded and on its way to Tattersalls, Ireland.  Richard and Lucy at Pontispool kindly support me with the use of their fantastic facilities.  They give me free rein to use the large surfaced arena for show jumping or arena xc training during the winter, the all weather gallop circuit and of course the grass xc park.  This has been hugely beneficial to prepare the horses for competitions and I think shows with impressive results we’ve been achieving.  It’s always lovely to represent Pontispool, especially at their home events and catch up and work with their friendly team.

The 3 horses competing, Dancing Ghareeb, Cooga Hat Trick and King of the Mill all jumped super double clears bringing home more rosettes.

 

TATTERSALLS

On return home we just had time to have a bit of dinner and we were back on the road to the ferry port on route to Ireland.  Bonmahon Blue Mist and Bloomfield Tiger Two were both in the 6&7 year olds CCI1* and Swang Crackers II was giving me my second appearance for GB in the CICO 3* Nations Cup.  This was a particularly special for Cracker’s owners, Mike and Naomi Roe.  They bred and raised her and to see her turning out with a British flag on her saddle cloth was a very proud moment.

It would be an understatement to say that the stable yard at Tattersalls is impressive.  There are hundreds of large block built boxes with parade walks separating each section and it’s kept immaculate.  The horses were definitely being spoiled in pent house equivalent facilities.  The xc courses were typically Irish.  Big ditches, lots of banks all built for you to ride positively and attack.  There were 4 water complexes with the main water having a large hanging log with a drop into the water for each class.  This was going to create some super photographic pictures and plenty of excitement for the crowds to watch.

All 3 horses performed good dressage tests for the experience levels that they’re at.  It was great to get Bonmahon Blue Mist in a championship style arena at such a young age of 6.  I feel this will help him be more prepared for when he’s at 3* as an 8 or 9 year old and competing in the atmospheric arenas at Bramham and Blenheim.  Crackers was doing a fab job in her 3 star test until she got a little excitable in her second counter canter loop after her first flying change.  She decided to add an impromptu extra change which we didn’t need. This was quite costly in her final mark, but none the less she posted a very respectable score for her of 55.  Little ‘Tiger’ did what he always does and performed a mistake free test  for a nice score of 51, we thought it deserved a bit better but against some of the larger more expressive horses the judges seemed a little reserved with their marks.

The xc is on fairly flat ground and the course is big and bold incorporating plenty of big timbers.  There were plenty of rider frighteners but it actually gave off an encouraging feel, if you set off and attacked it, it should ride well.

Both of the young horses seemed to have the time of their lives, they flew around the track clear and easily inside the time.  It’s a super feeling when you’ve produced horses from the beginning and they give you such a confident and trusting ride.  It’s a great sign that a strong partnership is forming between yourselves and this is vital for the future.

The show jumping was up to height and was in the main arena with a fair crowd.  This can be a bit intimidating for inexperienced horses and can make them a little anxious and tight in their jump.  Once again I reminded myself that we had brought the young horses here for experience and not to expect too much of them.  This helps you ease the pressure off even though you desperately want to do as well as you can.  They both jumped well but with this being the first time they’ve jumped the day after xc, they both felt they had lost a little bit of form in their jump and both had 2 fences down.  They’re both a little wiser to what will be expected of them in the future and will go away more prepared for their next big events.  The trip had gone well with them both finishing full of confidence.

Swang Crackers had a storming round the xc up to the last combination one fence from home.  The striding didn’t quite work for us and she had a glance off at the final element.  She cleared it 2nd time of asking and finished well.  This would have been the strongest course that she would ever had faced and she showed scope and determination beyond what we expected.  We were very proud of her even with the little blip.

Team GB finished 2nd on the podium and we enjoyed a few drinks to celebrate with everyone after the prize giving.  Not a bad trip to our first Tattersalls.

 

It was a quick visit to West Wilts next where King of the Mill and Cooga Hat Trick were contesting their final BE100 and Dancing Ghareeb was making his Novice debut.

King of the Mill and Cooga Hat Trick both jumped nice double clears inside the xc time to add to two solid dressage performances which gained them both top 10 placings.  Dancing Ghareeb had a good score of 30.5 in the dressage but unfortunately rolled one pole in the show jumping.  There was a related distance against the arena fence that bordered the xc course, as you approached this the horses could catch sight of the riders flying around the xc track and Dancing Ghareeb was a little distracted and tapped the front rail off of the jump.  He made up for this with a fantastic clear xc inside the time and finished 4th in his very first time at this level.

All of these horses were really starting to get the hang of things and were starting to give you an exciting feeling for the future.

 

LUHMUHLEN

It was Redpath Ransom’s (Reeko) turn next as we made the trip to Germany to compete in the 4* at Luhmuhlen.  Reeko had been in good form and after a solid performance in his first 4* last autumn at Burghley I intended on giving the course a real bash and try and make the time.

The hospitality at Luhmuhlen was fantastic.  They made you feel extremely welcome, plenty of great food, on the house and free drinks for the whole show.  It made us and our owners feel really important and it produced a super atmosphere throughout the show.  I should mention how great the Thursday night welcome party was.  Having completed our dressage test on Thursday we had a day off on Friday, this meant we could let our hair down a bit and enjoy the night and it was the same for many others.  The music was good and as I said, their was a great feeling amongst everyone and that made for a brilliant party.  There are a couple of hilarious stories I could tell but I may leave them until another day so not to name and shame the people involved, but all I can say is that it was very good fun ;-)

Back to the serious stuff.  Reeko went in to the arena and as what happens with him sometimes he got quite tense at the base of the neck.  This doesn’t allow me to ride him as I’d like and effects the softness of his outline.  Although his mark was much improved from Burghley I feel this is something we can still influence and get better but at least we are moving in the right direction.

The xc course had a nice flow to it even though they have a fairly small area in comparison to some of our events at home.  You passed through the water 4 times and there were several man made mounds and a couple of stretches that went through some wooded areas, this offered some character to the course which always makes it a bit more fun to ride.  I think the overall consensus was that it had a bit of a 3* feel rather than a 4* but xc is a bit of sensitive issue in Germany so they have to keep a positive image of the sport so they would rather have the course a little soft than to stiff.  Sitting on Redpath Ransom who is a brilliant xc horse I would have preferred the course be tougher but none the less I think it would shuffle the leader board around a bit.

It was perfect conditions on xc day, it was warm with a bit of cloud cover and there were a few people filtering in to watch which as you know, I do like a crowd.

Reeko felt great in the morning and warmed up well.  We set off from the start box and he took on the course in his usual confident style.  I kept top my minute markers and at every question he answered with ease.  I can’t express how amazing it is to sit on him while galloping xc.  The bigger the fences and the tougher the combination the more he comes alive.  He has the heart and bravery of a lion and ate up the track at Luhmuhlen as if it were nothing and we finished comfortably clear, inside the time.

It took him a short while to find his legs, and on returning to the stables he wanted to lie down.  He had an half hour power nap then got back up and stormed around munching on grass.  It was the first time I’ve really pushed him for the time around a course of that length and intensity and I think he needed time to rest his legs and mentally take it all in.  It’s always a busy evening icing the horses legs and helping them recover as best as possible for the following days show jumping but we had time to enjoy a lovely BBQ and a few drinks back at the lorry with everyone.  This was kindly hosted by the ‘Honey’ family with whom we had shared a lift across with, thank you to them for this.

Sunday morning has an apprehensive aura around it and the stables are a hive of activity.  People are walking and exercising their horses trying to loosen them off and relieve any stiffness from the xc.  Reeko felt well in himself and we were confident he would be fit for the show jumping in the afternoon.  This wasn’t the case for everyone and several horses were withdrawn and a couple didn’t make it through the trot up, the vigour’s of xc day had gotten the better of them and unfortunately they couldn’t continue.  Reeko trotted up fine so it was time to give him some rest before the show jumping commenced.

The show jumping is in the impressive main arena at Luhmuhlen on a beautiful sand surface.  The course was big and square and was going to take some jumping on fairly tired horses.  There were plenty of poles falling and the time allowed seemed very tight.  The pressure of the time being tight adds another challenge, it’s not just a case of riding around faster to get inside of it because that could cause your horse to jump in a flat profile which will result in knocking fences down.  It would be imperative that I rode around on the tightest lines so as not to waste precious time and so I didn’t feel that I needed to rush Reeko in to making a mistake.

We were lying just outside of the top 20 and it was my goal to finish inside.  I didn’t over jump in the warm up as Reeko was trying hard and I didn’t want to tire him.  Remember, you need to save your best jumps for in the ring and not leave them outside by doing too much.  The xc the day before ‘knock’s off the edge’ of most horses, this works in a positive way for Reeko and he entered the arena more relaxed and didn’t pay any attention to the bright decorations or the crowd.  He was jumping his heart out and it was only a slight loss of balance on the turn to the treble that resulted in him touching the front rail and having one down.  We did incur 2 time penalties also but as the show jumping was causing so many problems, only adding 6 penalties to our dressage score moved us to where we aimed to be, inside the top 20.

So pleased for Reeko and his owners, we had a fantastic week of competition and fun and Luhmulen is definitely somewhere I’d like to return to in the future.

 

SELECTION and AACHEN CHIO

 

The next exciting development for us was that we were long listed for the European Championships.  This allowed us access to the preparation training sessions and advice and help from team GBR staff.  I applied to be part of the Nations Cup team that was travelling to Aachen.  Aachen was one of the final runs that potential team members could have before the championships and it seemed a good opportunity for the selectors to see me in a very competitive environment with a huge atmosphere and see if I could handle the pressure.

We’d heard so many great things about Aachen and we were fortunate to be selected to go.

I can’t quite do it justice, but arriving at the show ground was overwhelming.  It’s more like a village than just a show centre, it has a large dressage stadium with numerous warm up areas including a huge indoor arena, grass warm up areas for the show jumping and countless permanent stables housing the best horses from every discipline.  As we were unloading the horses and getting our bearings you could hear this constant roar of people cheering and clapping.  I assumed this was coming from the football stadium that was close by in the town but I was wrong.  As we walked across the show ground passed all of the shops and hospitality marquee’s and buildings, there it was, Aachen’s main arena.  The most impressive riding arena I’ve ever seen.  It seats 40,000 people with a standing area for at least another 10,000.  You could barely see to the other side except for the huge seating stalls towering above you.  It would be like riding in a coliseum and I’m going to be honest, my heart began to race at that point and I was 2 days away from actually doing anything.  It was going to be a test of character for both horse and rider entering that arena on Saturday, you were either going to rise to the occasion or shrink and crumble, hopefully we would be the first.

I was not selected to be part of the 4 member Nation Cup team so I was competing as an individual.  It was a little disappointing but I was still very grateful to have been taken out there for the experience.  Zagreb felt supple and relaxed during our dressage preparation and seemed none the worse after the travelling.  All of our owners made the effort to come and support which included the owners of Redpath Ransom of whom I had brought along to compete in an invitation class on the Saturday night.  We’d promised them it wasn’t a show to miss and so far Aachen was definitely living up to its hype.

Zagreb’s dressage went well, he made a small mistake in one of his half passes where he lost a bit of rhythm but other than that his test was consistent throughout.  We scored a 45.4 which wasn’t our best but under the circumstances I was very pleased and it left us well with in striking distance of the top spots.

It’s quite something when you’re riding, walking around, having a drink in the riders bar and you are not only surrounded by the elite of eventing but also that of dressage and another of my favourite disciplines, show jumping.  I’ve watched these top riders on TV with such admiration and here I was shoulder to shoulder with them chatting and enjoying ourselves.  I did take a moment to shake Scott Brash’s hand and tell him he was a legend, and I think he said ‘you can’t be doing to bad yourself’.  Not bad coming from such a star of the horse world.

The British team all performed good tests so it was all to play for.  The show jumping track was, as expected big and wide with testing combinations and a lot of ground to cover between some of the fences.  It would be easy to pick up time penalties if you didn’t keep a good rhythm but jumping a clear round was first priority.  The warm up area had a buzz of nervous anticipation.  I shortly followed Ingrid Klimke, and as a star of German eventing I think she had every German coach, adviser and groom in the warm up area helping her prepare.  This was quite intimidating for my support crew of Simmone and Beth and we did struggle a bit to get the jumps we would have liked at the time but we bumbled are way through.  Zagreb is experienced and knows when he needs to perform so I remained confident in him even if it wasn’t the best preparation.

As we entered the arena I knew it was important to stay relaxed but to make sure I got my horse thinking forward and ready to take on the course in a big canter.  This is harder than it sounds if you are feeling a bit nervous, you don’t want to be galloping around like a banshee but you can’t afford to be dawdling either.  I cantered around the arena to get Zagreb settled and then we were off.  He was focussed and jumping well.  Clear rounds were thin on the ground but he managed it, we did incur one time penalty but most importantly all of the poles were up.  After this a quick clear round on the xc could put us comfortably in the top 10, the pressure was on!

Zagreb hadn’t had a competitive xc run since Badminton which in hind sight was probably a mistake seeing as this track was more like a CIC 4* than a 3*.  It was very technical and you would need to put the pedal to the floor to make the time.  There was no room for hesitation and it was going to take some brave riding.

We set off in a good rhythm and quickly built up to full speed.  Zagreb was jumping his heart out as usual and competently made his way around the course.  We entered the final couple of minutes of the track and there was a tricky combination of angled houses jumping in to water, Zagreb had a slight lapse of concentration and wavered on his line, I sat strong and rapped my legs around him to keep him straight and he responded positively and flew through the flags.  I put this moment down to not having an easy prep run prior to this competition so I wont let that happen again, but importantly we got away with it and we were still clear.  We continued onwards to the finish with only 0.8 time penalties which slotted us into 8th place and top of the Brits.  I was getting a taste for these prize giving’s at top flight events.  All was happy at the Team Bragg camp.

Still to come was Redpath Ransom’s appearance in the ride and drive that evening and I was full of confidence and ready to give it a blast.  It was a bit different riding at night under the flood lights, everything seemed heightened, the public moving, sounds of people chatting and cheering.  It felt more like a performance on stage rather than just a competition.  The arena was full with over 40,000 people watching, my adrenalin was rising through the roof, I was on cloud nine from my great result on Zagreb and I intended on milking this moment for everything I could.

The format of the event was that an event rider completes a course of xc fences, they are followed by two show jump riders who jump a short jump off track, while they’re jumping the event rider drops his horse off at the gate and stands on a podium in the centre of the arena.  When the second show jumper completes the event rider sprints to the edge of the stadium where they jump on the back of a xc horse and cart and help traverse a course of cones and gates  and through the finish.  Oh! and it’s all against the clock, fastest time wins.  Pretty exciting and something for the crowd to really get behind.

Our team was drawn first to go and I was buzzing to get in the stadium, I wanted to make sure we received the biggest cheers and try to get the German public to remember Team Bragg at Aachen.  They opened the gate and I was directly into canter around the edge of the arena.  I put my hand to my ear, pointed at the stands and waved my arm for them to cheer louder, and wow did it work.  The energy from the people screaming nearly knocks you off of your horse and as I went from tier to tier the cheering got louder, it was like the crowd began a competition between themselves.  I thought ‘This is what Robbie Williams must feel like when he’s on stage’ quite something.

The organisers were trying to get some order and a German steward came running across and said ‘This is great Alexander, but we do have to start in a minute’. I was loving every second and forgot about the competition.

The bell went and we were off, Redpath Ransom is a pro and these classes are made for him.  He flew around the course not wasting an second, we completed our section and it was time for our show jumpers turn.  I made my way on to the podium and the noise was immense, people chanting, the commentator shouting, it can only be described as Epic!  The final jumper finished and I was like a rabbit out of the blocks, I shot off the podium and sprinted onto the back of the cart and they were off.  I thought event riders were brave but these carriage drivers are wavering across the line from bravery to total insanity.  They go flat out!  They’re hollering, jeering at the same time as leaning out of the cart to try and keep it upright, it was an amazing adrenalin fuelled experience that will stay with me forever.  What was even better was that we won, Yeah!!  Another prize giving and another lap of honour.  The German spectators are so appreciating and it was such a pleasure being there.  This had turned out to be a very successful show and got 10 out of 10 in every way.  Aachen, we would love to come back again!

If you haven’t seen this class get on our face book at ‘Team Bragg Eventing’ and scroll back through, it is amazing.

 

SELECTION FOR THE EUROPEANS

Straight after Aachen the  British selection team met to decide who was to be picked for the forth coming European Championships.  At the beginning of 2017 it was said that this may be a building year for team GBR but many horse and rider combinations were hitting great form at the right time leading up to the championships and the pool of combinations to choose from was looking pretty strong.

We didn’t quite make the cut this time and were selected as reserve.  Considering our current form this was disappointing for all of us at Team Bragg but still an achievement to get so close.  I took a deep breath and began planning for our Autumn campaign and put this to the back of my mind.  Zagreb was in great form and was entered in the British Open/ERM class at Gatcombe so it seemed sensible to go and compete and prove that we were still a great partnership and keep ourselves in the selectors minds for next year.

 

In the meantime it was the chance for the young horses to get out and about and we headed to Wilton with a full lorry load.  This was a very successful show with Bloomfield Tiger Two and Bonmahon Blue Mist both finishing on their dressage scores coincidently of 25.8 in their respective sections for 2nd places and the other 3 horses, Dancing Ghareeb, Cooga Hat Trick and King of the Mill all picking up good placings.  It’s always great when everyone comes home with a rosette and big smiles on their faces.

I headed to Calmsden the following day with 2 horses making their affiliated debut with me.  Killahurler Connect performed a great dressage test and jumped a super double clear for 3rd and our very own Quindiva who was to enter into our Team Bragg syndicate also jumped a fantastic double clear with a dressage of  27 for a convincing win first time out.

Not a bad weekend of eventing for all of us!

 

THE FESTIVAL OF EVENTING (GATCOMBE)

I’d made my decision that Zagreb was not going to head to Burghley this year and that we would take him back top Pau for his Autumn 4*, because of this I’d relaxed a little with his fitness as it was quite a time from the beginning of August to the end of October and I didn’t want to burn him out before his final event.  I went to Gatcombe with mind set that I’d do the dressage and if we weren’t in the top 5 I may withdraw.  Well blow me down we only pulled of a fab test which placed us in 4th overnight.  I chatted with Simmone and said ‘Well, if he show jumps clear it can’t do any harm to give him a run around the xc’.  You’ve guessed it, Zagreb only went and jumped one of the best clear rounds, which were very few and far between over an exceptionally tough show jump track where the time was very tight.  This was an extremely influential phase and shuffled the placing’s around a lot.  We were fortunate to move up into 2nd spot and it became a ‘no brainer’, we were going xc.

The terrain at Gatcombe is gruelling.  You run across the hill to begin with, which in itself is draining on the horses.  Wherever the ground is undulating or on a camber the horses have to use more energy to balance themselves, this doesn’t seem apparent at the time but towards the end of the course it can start to tell.  Gatcombe also has a very steep hill 3/4’s of the way around.  You gallop across into what can only be described as a bowl, the main water is at the bottom in the middle, the crowd all sit on the steep banks to watch with the main house at the top of the bank the opposite side.  It’s a wonderful feature and great for spectators but it’s very tiring on the horses once they’ve galloped down the slope and back up the other side.  You can feel that you’re having a perfect round to this point and that your horse has unlimited petrol left in the tank but once you’re at the top of the hill it’s a totally different story.  They can feel jelly legged cantering down the hill and turning at the bottom and you’ve still got another loop of big fences to jump and the final water.  It’s a true test in all three phases and a clear cross country wasn’t going to be enough, time penalties were going to be very influential so a quick round would be highly rewarded.

Zagreb gave me a great ride, he feels like a total pro while galloping around these big events.  He’s not distracted or nervous by the crowd and the noise, he simply gets his head down and gets on with business.  We were doing well on the time up to the final bowl and I thought we had the win in the bag, BUT, as I said, it can all change when you get to the top of mini Mount Everest.  I tried to give him breather as he travelled across the top of the hill before out decent but it wasn’t enough to recharge his batteries.  He was tired and a bit leg weary and I felt it was best to take my foot off the gas and get him home safely.  He kept jumping right up to the finish and gave me his all and we were only 6 seconds adrift of the win but those precious seconds put us into 3rd.  I was ever so proud of him and it still meant we on the exciting ERM podium for the champagne prize giving.

After the wild prize giving with champagne flying everywhere it was time for a quick tidy up, show jacket on and back to the main arena for the official British Open prize giving presented by HRH Princess Anne.  There was a free bar while we waited for our turn which was nice for the riders and owners to have a drink and celebrate together and chat about the competition.

It’s a wonderful show and to top it off I won the prize for the highest placed first timer in the Open, Happy days!

 

The next big build up was the 6 year old championships at Osberton at the beginning of October.  The next 6 weeks was a good chance to focus on the younger horses and get a few preparation events in.

The horses were on for picking up several rosettes at Homme House and at Bicton.  A special shout out to Killahurler Connect on her win at Bicton and to Zagreb for winning the 2*.  Redpath Ransom finished double clear and 6th also in the 2* and this was his last run before Pau so a great final outing.

 

PONTISPOOL

We then headed to Pontispool which is our most local event and whom also generously sponsor Team Bragg with the use of their fantastic facilities.  I train all my horses form grass roots right the way through to my 4* star horses around the xc course here.  It has many great features, 3 water complexes and the variety of fences and combinations are endless and keep getting changed.  Used well it has all of the versatility you need in a training site and as you can see by the progression of all of our horses, it doesn’t do too bad of a job.

Dancing Ghareeb and Killahurler Connect both put in super performances for good placing’s but it was King of the Mill who was outstanding and jumped an impressive double clear with a great dressage score of 28.5 to come 2nd.  This horse started the season very anxious but he seemed to be maturing and growing with confidence and his true talent was starting to shine through.  A very satisfying moment for a rider and trainer.

 

BLENHEIM

We headed to Blenheim with Zagreb to compete in the final ERM of the season.  It was dry but very chilly and Zagreb was feeling fresh on arrival and had a playful bounce around when he got off of the lorry.  It was lovely to him still so excited and full of enthusiasm to be at a show so late on in the season, but it did mean I had my work cut out to try and settle him for our fairly early draw in the dressage the following morning.

I set to my task of working and relaxing Zagreb, he warmed up well but it was clear that he was eager to get on with the dressage and move on to the jumping phases.  I began my test and I think everyone was watching with anticipation, we have consistently improved all season and I think people were expecting us to pull off our best test yet.  This unfortunately wasn’t going to be that day, Zagreb  always scores very highly in his trot work but he made a mistake in both half passes where he misread the sideways aid as a canter aid and broke the rhythm both ways.  When this happens early on in a test it’s imperative that you keep your cool and not let the whole performance fall to pieces.  He settled as we continued, albeit I was a little cautious in our extended canters so as not to blow his mind and we pulled back some well needed marks.  We ended up with a respectful score of 48.2.  It wasn’t going to challenge the lead but at least we not to far out of contention.

The show jumping was big and twisty and the time, as seems to be the case in the ERM jumping, was tight.  Some of the early rounds didn’t look so good but as the class went on and the better combinations competed the course actually jumped well.  The tight turns actually sat the horses on their hocks, this allowed you to ride more forward through the rest of the course knowing the turns would prepare them to jump well.  Zagreb jumped another superb clear inside the time moving us up the leader board a bit leaving it all to play for on the xc.

The ground couldn’t have been better on the course.  I had come to Blenheim knowing that this might be our last run before Pau 4* but because conditions were so good I thought I would use the gallop as a bit of fitness.  I wasn’t going to go flat out but I would let Zagreb travel in a good rhythm that I knew he would jump well out of.  Sometimes to try and ride slowly over a biggish track is more effort for both horse and rider, the horse has to make more effort as he doesn’t have the natural momentum from the gallop to get across the wide fences and has to push more, and the rider has to fight with the horse to break the rhythm up so to go slower.  Taking this in to account I thought a smooth round would be the plan.

We set off from the start box and Zagreb was cruising in a super rhythm and jumping nicely out of his stride.  There was a tricky combination half way around the track jumping into the trees.  You popped an upright rail, one stride down a slope then over an open ditch, then two strides on a dog leg up the slope the other side over an awkwardly placed triple brush.  Many riders became a victim of penalties at this fence but Zagreb showed his experience and jumped through the combination as if it were an exercise at home in the arena.  After crossing the second time it was mainly a down hill run all the way to the finish.  I checked my watch and we were not that far off of the time.  The going was so good Zagreb had been galloping economically across the top of the ground at a deceptively fast pace.  I decided to give him an open up towards the end as he was feeling great and he finished well.

We spent a bit of time on the podium playing to the crowd but we weren’t good enough to stay there this time.  We had jumped another super double clear to finish 8th and I thrilled with how good Zagreb felt.  It was home now to do our final preparations for Pau the following month, but we would be going there feeling very confident.

 

Osberton Young Horse Championships

So we make the long trip from the west country up to Osberton with 3 talented 6 year olds.  Dancing Ghareeb, Cooga Hat Trick and Bonmahon Blue Mist have all enjoyed success this season and we were hoping that this would continue into these championships.  All of the owners were making the trip and were organised to stay on site.  This was definitely going to be a fun show no matter what happened.

Both dressage days went well with all o0f the horses putting in good performances.  The track of the arena became a little churned up, the ground crew had tried to lay stone down to firm it up which did help with the footing but also left patches of brightly coloured stone that the young horses found quite spooky.  This was the same for all of the later competitors but it probably cost me a couple of extra marks on Bonmahon Blue Mist and Dancing Ghareeb when they side stepped and jumped a patch in the top corner.  All in all we were all very pleased and were looking forward to the jumping phases.

Friday nights entertainment comprisesed of a game called ‘Equestrian of Sport’,  which was a take off from A Question of Sport on BBC 1.  It had Team GBR (Harry Meade, Gemma Tattersalls and ME) against The Rest Of The World (Jonty Evans, Aoife Clark and Alex Hua Tian)  This was in aid of charity, so it was our job to make it as entertaining as possible so people gave more money, and this is exactly what we did.  It comprised of many hilarious rounds of questions, charades, and guess who pictures, all with plenty of comical comments and actions.  It was a huge success and lots of fun so Bravo to the organisers.

The footing in the show jumping warm up is very loose and this makes it susceptible to cutting up and becoming very deep.  With the number of horses that compete at Osberton, with no fault of the organisers this exactly what happened.  However, I did ask before the 6 year old class started if we could extend the warm up on the large area adjacent where the ground was in perfect condition.  Unfortunately nothing came of this request because they were using a small portion of this area for the pony club 80cm competition in the second arena.  This was extremely disappointing for riders, we have talented young horses, but they are at the early stages of their careers and lack experience.  Asking them to jump out of terribly deep going can really effect horses confidence and I think this is unacceptable considering they had options to avoid this.  Had it not been a championship that costs a lot of money to attend I think many of us would have chosen to withdraw our horses.  Hopefully this can be addressed for future years.

My horses did suffer from the bad conditions and went very green and entered the main arena feeling a little anxious.  It’s always frustrating when you give your horses a less than good experience, especially when it’s out of your hands but we got through it.  The horses put themselves out of contention for top spots by having rails but it’s part of their learning curve towards their future and I’m sure we’ll find some positives from it.

The xc course looked fantastic and the conditions were just right for the horses to enjoy themselves galloping around what looked to be a challenging but very fair track.  Cooga Hat Trick was out first  and he set the standard for the others with a super clear round only 2 seconds over the time.  I had to work hard in a few places but that was only to keep his focus when his enthusiasm got the better of him and he wanted to jump everything in front of him instead of just his fences.  This horse has improve 10 fold throughout the season and is now showing huge potential for the future.  Bonmahon Blue Mist put in another clinical performance in this phase.  He has always had a willing and brave attitude and showed his class making the course feel very easy completing clear inside the time.  He’s such a natural across the country, he’s always 100% committed and I can ride him with such confidence which makes my job so much more enjoyable.  Dancing Ghareeb was last out of the blocks and set off well.  He was jumping brilliantly until we came to fence 7 on the course.  This fence was a straight forward table but the ground on landing steeply dropped away, you didn’t see this until the point of take off and it did surprise several horses.  Dancing Ghareeb approached well then as he went to take off he hesitated and seemed to pause in mid air, this left us short of power to make it across the wide table and he caught his hind feet on the back of the fence.  This pivoted his body forward and with the decline of the ground he landed very on the forhand.  I sat up hoping he would recover but his momentum took over and he crumpled in front resulting in us noise diving and sliding down the slope.  We both were fine and he immediately trotted up sound which was a relief.  It was really frustrating to have fallen but I’m sure he will learn from his mistake and speed up his decision making next time so we get to the other side.  We have to remember that these are young horses and this is just part of the journey to the top.

In conclusion we didn’t maybe come home from Osberton with the results we wanted but it was never the less an educational event for us and we all had a super time socially.  Cooga Hat Trick and Bonmahon Blue Mist will go on their well earned holidays now, I think we may try to find a nice Novice competition for Dancing Ghareeb before the end of the season so he can finish on a confidence giving run.

 

PAU 4* (France)

 

We headed to Pau for our second time straight after a successful day at Aldon horse trials.  We had Novice wins with King of the Mill and Killahurler Connect and a placing with Dancing Ghareeb, this completed their seasons positively leaving us very excited for 2018.  We were then home to immediately get the lorry changed and prepped for the long journey to the south of France.  It was going to be nice to leave a cold and stormy England and head to a warm and sunny Pau.  The bad weather in England did mean we had to travel to Dover to cross the Channel as the wind was too bad to cross from Portsmouth to Calne.  This is a little more driving for us but both Zagreb and Redpath Ransom are seasoned travellers so we knew they would cope fine.

The competition in Pau started on the Thursday but we wanted to arrive early so our horses had plenty of time to recover from the trip and settle in.  We drove into the showground late Monday evening with just enough time to get the horses sorted before it got dark.  All I would do the following day with the horses is hack  and hand graze them so we knew we would have plenty of time to set up camp properly then.  Pau is a very relaxing show, it’s right at the end of the season which means no one is thinking about getting home to prepare horses for other events.  The competition was held during our children’s half term school holiday so we and many others had their families there also, the sun was shining and it had a real holiday feel throughout the whole week.  Our owners arrived over the next couple of days and it felt lovely having everybody involved together to enjoy our final event of 2017, hopefully it would be a good one.

We have been training Redpath Ransom slightly differently and it paid off at Pau.  He performed a much more relaxed dressage test for a vastly improved score and we were so pleased with him.  This is never going to be his strongest phase but all we need is him to put us close enough to the top pack of horses so we’re in striking distance going into the jumping phases and this is exactly what he did.

Zagreb had a great draw being 2nd to last to go.  He felt in fantastic form and seems to love the amazing sand surface in the main arena to compete on.  He started his test really well and his score was trending in the lead for the first 2/3rds of the test.  My aim was to get our first sub 40 score, Zagreb felt great and I was feeling brave, maybe a little to brave.  Everything was going so well and as we accelerated into our extended canter I wanted it to really count.  Why ride for a 7 when you think you could get an 8 or 9.  I rode confidently out of the corner and kept thinking, ‘ride forward all the way to the marker before the flying change, ALL the way’.  Zagreb lengthened well and all was good until, I went to collect him and he thought, I know this bit and anticipated the flying change.  Arghhh, how frustrating, I continued through the final few movements of the test to complete with a very competitive score of 43, but in the back of mind I knew how costly that error had been.  This is dressage, I wanted to try and go into the lead and I wasn’t going to do that by playing safe, Zagreb performed well and I was very pleased with him and next time with a mistake free test we may be at the top of the leader board after this phase.

The cross country seemed tougher than last year.  There were some very awkward distances in some combinations which if you got wrong were going to be punishing.  I did get the feel that the course might not suit my very brave forward thinking horses but never the less we were here to be competitive and that is always our intention.  Redpath Ransom left the start box full of enthusiasm, his last run was in August and he seemed to very happy to back on course.  It’s a long way around a 4* and the horses need to be very fit so they reach the end still jumping well.  When you have a very keen horse like Redpath Ransom who jumps in a very committed and almost aggressive style it can be hard during the first few minutes to control their enthusiasm.  As a rider you want them and need them to believe that they can jump anything but you really want them to engage their minds and think about how to jump things also.  Redpath Ransom felt fantastic and was jumping with both speed and power at the beginning of the course.  He jumped the initial combinations well then we approached the first water complex.  I got to see the first few riders go through this before I started and it looked like it rode better than it walked, as the day went on this wasn’t actually the case.  Redpath Ransom jumped in well over the hanging log and as we tried to ride our curved line on what I was hoping to be 4 strides to the middle element he had other ideas.  He had lined up the middle fence and was still running on adrenalin and had no intention of adding a little stride before take off.  I was left in a predicament, do I sit tight and fight the horses instincts, it might work and we get away with it or he’ll run a high risk of a run out, or, I go with his idea and commit to the jump.  Well, if you know me at all you’ll realise that the reason my horses are so committed is probably because that’s driven by me and I didn’t think twice about backing his decision and go for it, and WOW he nearly made it.  Redpath Ransom put in an almighty jump but his one front toe caught on the back of the triple brush and prevented him from getting his landing gear out and that was that, SPLASH, we were down.  We both got to our feet immediately and apart from a few scrapes and scratches we were both fine.  It’s so disappointing that his competition was over but I’d rather go out fighting like that than I would retire myself to having 20 penalties and I’m so proud of my horse for his attitude and commitment.  He will come out next year at Badminton over a track that will suit him better and his style better none the worse for wear.

It can be daunting when you have a second horse still to go around after you’ve encountered a problem on the first.  I feel you have to put each horse into a different box and approach your next ride with a clean sheet.  I would take my experience from my previous ride in a positive fashion so it improves my next and for it not to cause me to think negatively.  You can’t afford to have any doubt in yourself on the xc course, jumping requires confidence.  I did look at the alternative routes at the fence where I fell off but with this philosophy in mind I still wanted to attack the straight route so I gave myself the best chance of getting close to the optimum time and remaining competitive on the final day.

The leader board had shuffled around with many of the top placed riders having issues on course.  I took one final deep breathe and left the start box on board Zagreb ready to give it pour best shot.  He settled well in to the track and as we were galloping to fence 4 a mobile camera crew on the back of a truck were following our progress and I could tell I was feeling relaxed as I looked sideways and gave them the thumbs up.  This is a good thing for me, if I’m feeling happy and in an exuberant mood I always seem to ride better, maybe it takes my mind off of over thinking things and helps me to ride with natural instinct.  As I approached the water complex where I’d previously fallen I knew I would have to keep a strong hold on Zagreb so to not have the same thing happen twice.  I held for the extra stride to the to the middle element and Zagreb was very clever then to add a stride coming out over the last fence, we were through and we were still clear.  I let out a punch to the air, I’m not sure whether it was in celebration or relief but the crowd responded with a huge cheer.

The course rode much how I thought it would from then on, we didn’t encounter any scary moments and Zagreb jumped well to the end.  We didn’t quite make the time but we were well positioned with in the top 10 going into the show jumping on Sunday.

Zagreb felt good in the morning and flew through the trot up.  The show jumping track was big but not over technical.  It was causing a few problems but overall it jumped well.  Zagreb warmed up nicely and was leaving the ground well.  You can always tell how the horse is really feeling energy wise and how well they have recovered from the xc when you jump your first cross pole.  If they flop over it you know you’ll have to work very hard to get round but if they punch the ground feeling fresh you can smile and feel a little more relaxed.  Zagreb was feeling the latter and I entered the main arena ready for business.  He didn’t go near a rail and it felt as if the fences could have been a foot bigger and he would have jumped clear.  He produced another double clear at 4* and in turn put the pressure on the leaders.  It wasn’t enough to win but we finished 5th, which coincidently was the same as last year.  I enjoyed our lap of honour and everybody celebrated with a lovely night out in Pau.  What a great way to end the 2017 season.

 

I can’t thank my team and my owners enough for all of their efforts and the huge amount of support that I receive from them.  I have the most amazing family and the most dedicated wife a man could wish for.  I am immensely proud of my horses and more so of Team Bragg.  Team Bragg is everybody, it’s the essence and core to my success.  Thank you all for being part of the journey and here’s to an even better season in 2018

 

A special thank you to all of my sponsors, we hope we done you proud!

 

Signing off for 2017, see you next season.

 

Alex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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