How to sum up the ups and downs of Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials... It has been a dream for many years to compete here, and the event didn't disappoint in the slightest, but we fell just short of the line.
I still know this horse has a mid-40s test in him at this level, but we had a difficult preparation for this week, and given the circumstances I wasn't disappointed with a 55. We lost vital marks in the second change, and while his work was calm and pleasing, it lacked the power to get the big marks. But if we can put a bit more power into his work we can increase each mark a fraction and really start to move up the ranks. Losing my hat mid-test didn't help either I guess, after saving it the second trot half-pass, the second time I decided to let it go! Though the commentator did say that I deserved an extra mark for holding the half-pass with one hand while dropping a rein and catching my hat!!
There was still a lot to play for after dressage, a difference of 5 marks would have moved me up 30 places, and the new design on the course made it look like the time would be tight. The course walked big and bold. There was plenty to jump, you needed to be tight on your lines and be careful how you and when you pushed with the hilly terrain.
Teldon came out of the blocks like Usain Bolt (as usual!) and I was surprised to see the minute markers tick by relatively easily, despite having to set up for some tricky combinations early on. The sixth minute of the course was always going to slow riders down, a tricky turn back, downhill into the trees to a choice of upright rails (fence 12), which needed to be taken on the right line to get you out of the trees high enough on the hill to turn back down to the water fence (fences 13 and 14). Then there was the first of two long runs through the lake, which really drags and slows the horses down, before you set up for the two corners (fence 15 A+B) on the exit, and then pushed up the steep hill away from the water. Teldon was super bold in the lake over a big brush fence. We opted for the bold two strides off the angled brush and stood off the huge drop into the water. I had planned to play safe and take the long route at the corners coming out of the lake, (which was relatively easy, but time consuming) but he jumped in so well I took a last minute decision to take the direct route through the two corners on three strides. He breezed over them and up the hill, but we were already down on the clock after the busy water section.
We didn't push on after the top of the hill as I wanted to let him recover and was aware that having not tackled a course of this length, we would be expecting to finish around the 6-7 minute mark, the length of most shorter CIC3* tracks. Sure enough, though he was still full of running and jumping out of his skin, he was no longer dragging me, and seemed to be wonder where the finish was! So we forgot about the watch and settled into a nice rhythm to take us home.
We jumped through the next few minutes at our east really. He soared over the log drop at fence 21 and was surprisingly balanced down the hill back into the lake. I expected the water to slow him down but he cruised through it like it wasn't there. We had a slight miscommunication at the flower boxes at fence 23 where he reacted quicker than I expected and we ended up sticking an extra stride into a distance that should have been tight already!
At this stage I was struggling to contain my excitement and couldn't believe how full of running he was. We had definitely done the right thing taking him home easy, and had just two fence to jump. I set him up for the turn to the penultimate, a hanging log on top of a steep mound, and again he came back a bit quicker than I expected, meaning I turned in a fraction tight and pushed for the jump up the mound. Perhaps we set up a bit early, meaning he had flattened again by the base of the mound, maybe I was thinking too much about the B element at the bottom of the mound, but whatever happened we reached the top of the mound in a bit of a head and Teldon said I was one too many times to save my ass. I shot up his neck and my air jacked popped. I struggled to stay on, clinging to his neck for what seemed like 20 or 30 seconds (though looking back at the video was more like 5 seconds!), I was desperately trying to salvage the situation. But it didn't seem fair to swing out of poor Teldon's neck after all he had done for me, so I gave in to the inevitable and gracefully dismounted, on my ass!
He had jumped out of his skin all the way around, helping me out, getting me out of trouble and never hesitating. I think he will be a lot stronger for having galloped over that distance now, he came very strong out of the start and jumped himself out in the first half. I know that if the fence had been on the flat, not matter how tricky it was, he would have done it for me. Perhaps if my air jacket hadn't gone off I could have climbed back into the saddle. Was I thinking too much about the B element before I jumped part A? Could I have been fitter after 11 minutes of galloping? What if...? What if...? What if...? It is such small margin at this level, one lapse of concentration, one missed line or detail and you pay the price.
I am so proud of Teldon. In my mind he completed. He did the tough questions, he made the distance and another day would have run a competitive time. He is likely the best horse I will ever ride, if I could clone him I'd never buy another horse again.. He deserves to finish a CCI3*, hopefully even a CCI4*, and hopefully next season I can do him proud. For now I am just glad to have him home safe and most importantly sound. Now he can have his well deserved holiday and we will be out to prove a point next season!!