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Wow, what an amazing few months! At the beginning of the year I could only have dreamed to be ranked 21st in the world and 11th in Britain by the end of the season, with Mrs Sally B. Ellicott’s Zagreb ranked 20th in Britain. I’m totally blown away by it all.
It’s been an incredibly busy and rewarding season, and due to its non-stop nature it’s quite nice to come to the end of it so we can have some family time and a long chill out. We’ve got a holiday booked, because we realised when we were in France, that family time was long overdue and necessary after we’d completed Boekelo.
We had a wonderful week there in the Netherlands and with just one horse to focus on it was a mellower week than the usual ones spent on the circuit. Shannondale Percy is a relative youngster at eight-years-old and fortunately our fairly new partnership has gelled really well this year. Being on a team adds an extra dimension and possibly a bit more pressure. You’re all truly in it together and digging in to get your best results. You obviously need to focus on your own performance as an individual but you also want your score to be counted in the team, so you’re absolutely giving it your best.
Being part of the Nations Cup team that sealed a series victory was pretty spectacular. Ending the season with Team GBR as 2018 champions called for a lot of celebrations, followed by some late night lorry driving, and especially some singing. Well there is a new Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic out…
At this level, you have to keep your eye on the prize, and the Olympics are something that every event rider strives towards. We have a lot of great horses in our yard that should all be hitting the prime of their careers for Tokyo. Young, vibrant, championship teams are a huge goal of ours. And they need to be! If we weren’t focusing on that there’d be something wrong. We’ll be pushing hard in the spring to catch the eye of the selectors for the Europeans next year. Don’t get me wrong, everyone realises the Olympics are a tough gig to get into, especially now there are only three riders picked for the team, with the fourth as a substitute member under the new Olympic regulations, so there’s additional pressure. But that’s what we have to focus on and prepare for. The quality of combinations in GB made it a tough decision for the selectors to pick five riders for WEG and now they can only take three for the Olympics. Whilst other championships are hugely relevant they don’t have the same impact on funding for our sport. To do well at the Olympics is vital. We have a huge amount of training and support depending on it and it would be a tragedy to lose that.
We’re ending the season on a massive high; it’s been absolutely great, with our new horses having proven themselves especially well since first coming onto the yard. The second half has been much stronger, mainly due to having had six months to get used to them. We’ll keep the momentum going with lots of training through the winter, and aim to come out with ‘all guns blazing’ in the spring.
By next summer we should have seven or eight horses at 3* level. I’m very proud to look along the stables at the quality of horsepower we have and it’ll be a wonderful team to play with next year. We’re off to look at some new horses through the winter to hopefully join our ranks. It’s vital to always be on the look out for the next superstars. The championships run on a 4-year cycle so each horse may only get one of these cycles in its prime to compete, and as it takes so long to produce horses to this level you need to keep the process of horses coming through the ranks continuously.
We’re very close to all our owners and try and spend a lot of time with them. When you finish cross-country your first concern is with the horse, cooling them down, washing them off, and usually the owners are with the team on the spot. But if they can’t be there either because they’re based abroad or due to work commitments, then it’s crucial to be in touch with them on the phone as soon as possible after you’ve finished to give them an update on how their horses have gone. We’re constantly trying to improve on how best to communicate with owners if they can’t be there, through time management, planning, whatever it takes. We value our owners and we want them to feel cherished.
We definitely finished the season better than we started. It’s been totally relentless – as well as a lot of fun. When you go to an event, there are so many commitments with horses, owners, sponsors, press, organisers and so forth. Now, even in winter there are the same sorts of demands.
We all do the sport for the love of the horses and competition but it’s important to realise that the business side is crucial. Without support and money the job wouldn’t remain sustainable; you can’t win medals on baked beans.
Happily the feedback that we get from our owners and future owners is that they want to join us because of the overall package. Everyone here is smiling and happy, and to us that is massively important. Having everyone on board sharing in the journey and experiencing it together makes it much more enjoyable. We’re always looking to the future and taking the positives from every situation is as important as highlighting the negatives. That is the ethos we want to express.
We spend so much time on the yard it’s literally in our blood. Sometimes things happen that will rock our world and there are bound to be occasional off-days. The children are a great distraction at times like that, and when all else fails – red wine helps!
I don’t consider this a job; it’s a lifestyle – one that I wouldn’t swap for anything.