If you follow #teamkeen at all on social media you’ll know that we were all unbelievably excited to be selected to represent Team GB in Strzegom for the Nations Cup with Alice Dunsdon, Wills Oakden and James Somerville.
Last week the team, myself and Derby embarked on the long trip to Poland with a quick overnight stop in Germany. Thankfully this trip was a lot less eventful than the dreaded saga of Renswoude 2018, and we managed to get Derby there safe and sound with no hiccups, or more specifically no lorry melt downs!
Derby travelled perfectly as always, this happy horse doesn’t have it in him to be anything but totally cool with whatever we throw at him. The rest of us however were in dire need of some rest when we arrived, which luckily as we left plenty of time to travel, we had ample of and were quickly back raring to go before we knew it.
As with all major competitions we began with the trot up on the Thursday, which Derby passed with flying colours, and then it was straight on to arena familiarisation and course walking with the rest of the team.
We were last to go for the Brits in the dressage, which always adds a little pressure, but we didn’t want to dwell on that as we needed to think about the job in hand. Derby was a little more lit up than normal with all the cameras and the general lively atmosphere. He warmed up perfectly, but got a little tense going in, which annoyingly threw away silly marks. We came out with a score 38.4, which although not our best gave us plenty to work with going into the cross-country phase.
Earlier in the week we walked the course with the rest of the team and by ourselves. I felt confident about the course, although there were lots areas that were designed to make you think, going in on my cross-country machine I had every faith (you kind of have to) that we could smash it. Derby was a King! He completely conned me when I rode him in the morning, feeling a little sleepy and tired, which keeps me on my toes as I was a little nervous that it was a tough course and he needed all his energy to complete, but how wrong I was! He was strong to say the least, which is probably what cost me the couple of time penalties that we picked up, but I couldn’t fault him. He was bang on every line, staying straight and focused between all the flags and gave me the ride of my life. I finished with the most unbelievable feeling of how lucky I am to be able to ride such a superstar, the adrenaline going around the course is completely indescribable.
The CIC courses are so quick, particularly the European competitions where the tracks are so twisty. Every minute marker I was behind by a couple of seconds, and on the way home I had to let him run and remind myself not to take a pull to try and get inside the time. I was holding my breath the whole way around but Derby was having the time of his life!
His fab round helped secure the team into second spot overnight, which meant that we were going into show jumping with less than one pole between us and France who currently held top spot, so it was very much all to play for.
Throughout the night the super #teamkeen were up icing at regular intervals and making sure that he was in as good a shape as possible, ready for the morning. Sadly, even after trying everything we could, Derby was too lame to present at the trot up come the final day. It’s always a horrible decision to have to pull from a competition especially when it is going so well but we have to get prospective and make sure that all the correct decisions are made for our horses. While Derby will be absolutely fine, and it appears to be just a sore foot, we all want to end the competition in one piece and knowing him as well as we do it was a decision we had to make. It is an old injury for him, that we just couldn’t quite get him right in time, but a couple of days rest at home and he’ll be fine. It is worth everything to me to make sure I am taking a fit and happy horse home.
For the team, under the new Olympic format, James was substituted in as the third rider which meant we had to forfeit 20 penalties for Derby and I not jumping, which did open the gap between us and first place quite significantly, and sadly meant we weren’t able to claim the victory. But we were all so proud to be standing on the podium in second place. The rest of the team did beautifully and were so lovely and understanding about our situation which impacts us all, not just us, and for that I am hugely grateful.
As for Derby, we think moving forwards he will be a short format horse as it suits his body a lot better. Although this is disappointing, 18 months ago I didn’t think I’d ever get him back, let alone to this level so I’m really lucky to have one of my favourite horses back in action.
Huge thanks as always to my #teamkeen who were amazing the entire time and made sure Derby (and I!) looked smart at every stage.