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AEJC - Hickstead
AEJC - Hickstead

The AEJC at Hickstead in September is usually my end of the summer show. It's a show with a good feel to it - lots of opportunities to qualify for the main ring - or not in this case this year - and it's always a great time for catching up with friends before we all go our separate ways for the winter. This year I just had Billy Arietta to jump, as BE Khalissy and Askeaton are already on their holidays. As I am a little short of horse-power at the moment I did go and look at some of the horses in the Breen Equestrian Auction on the Monday before the show, one of whom I liked very much, and on the Tuesday I went to the Billy Stud to look at some horses there. I no longer want to ride four year olds, so this makes my search a little more difficult and expensive. I did love one of the mares I tried at Breen Equestrian, but I just loved Billy Breakdance quite a lot more when I tried him. He's very inexperienced for a six year old, but he has a lovely attitude and is a brave and scopey jumper. I agreed a price with William and organised to have him vetted.

I had a good first day at the show with Arietta who jumped a lovely double clear in the 1.20. We then had a fabulous evening at the Breen Equestrian Auction. What a fantastic show they put on right in the garden at Hickstead, with fabulous food and drink and the horses looking wonderful. Hopefully this will be a regular event as it was so good. The two horses I had ridden went for a little bit more than I had to spend, one to America and one staying in the UK, with the new owners looking so thrilled to get her.

On the Thursday I had Arietta in the 1.30. She warmed up really well, and I was lucky that Gemma and Gary Stevens helped me as Ellie was off taking her HGV. Unfortunately, although Arietta jumped the first fence beautifully she never took off at the second fence, leaving me to sail over on my own. I've no idea why she stopped as she is the boldest, most honest horse ever, but these things happen. My air jacket going off scared me half to death, but actually it did prevent me hurting my back and minimalised the whip lash that I would have got falling from such a height at considerable speed. I just jumped her in the Newcomers on Friday, and she jumped a lovely round. Luckily Ellie passed her HGV and so she drove us home - what luxury! Billy Breakdance passed the vet with flying colours on Thursday afternoon, so that was an exciting bit of news.

After my fall William Funnell suggested that I give Arietta a jump with them on Monday to make sure we were both feeling confident, and I had a lesson on Breakdance and collected him as well. Arietta felt her normal keen and clever self, so a great relief all round.

The weather forecast for Wednesday of week 2 was dreadful, so I decided to give myself an extra day to get to know Breakdance, and give Arietta an extra day of not jumping, and we set off to Hickstead again on the Thursday. Weather forecasting is definitely not a precise science - the weather on Wednesday was pretty OK, and the weather on Thursday was beyond belief. Luckily Arietta jumped a lovely round in the 1.20 while it was just raining lightly - sadly no video as Ellie was stopping Breakdance from breakdancing all over the lorry! I worked Breakdance in, and he was super, and was very patient waiting for his turn, but two before my turn the heavenly taps were turned full on - I turned into a bar of soap and Breakdance turned his bottom to the rain. I decided that he had been a pretty good boy and we would be sensible and go home and try to dry out for Friday. We got home to hear that the Queen had died, a very sad day indeed!

On Friday I jumped Arietta in the 1.20 again - it was a pretty strong course in Ring 3, where I had my fall, and she went beautifully, just getting very tired in the jump-off. She's had a very long year, and been such a star, so I decided to start her holiday early and not jump her on Saturday. Breakdance jumped a nice round in the 1m in ring four. He made the fences feel tiny which was very satisfactory and I decided to jump him in the Newcomers on Saturday. When I walked the course I thought it was quite strong, but he actually was a very good boy, he was a bit green and I wasn't really used to him at the beginning, but he settled and jumped the last few fences beautifully. Lots to work on, but exciting to get to grips with it all.

It was nice to go back to Hickstead to watch the Grand Prix and 1.30 Championship on Sunday, and I slipped over to see Emma and Tom, who look so well and happy out at Pookbourne Stud. In fact Mark and I have been to see them again today, and wandered over to see Colin as well, who is growing into a lovely horse. I am so grateful to Shane and Greg le Gear for making it all so easy for me, and looking after them all so beautifully.

We've had a nice quiet week at home. Arietta and Khalissy are now out together in a big field. They have settled really quickly and are the very best of friends. I am so happy that they are so relaxed together and having a proper holiday. Askeaton is coming slowly back into work - she will have about 7/8 weeks walking now, to make sure we give her the very best chance to completely recover from the very slight injury that she has had. She's been a perfect companion for Breakdance who is learning all about hacking, and it's been great for me to have plenty of time to get to know him. Hopefully I will get him to a show at the end of next week, having been schooling first.

I have been really enjoying some of the coaching I have been doing this year, and it was a real thrill to see Karen Rees and Renkum Knopfler go so well in the main ring at Hickstead. I've been helping Karen for a while now, and nobody deserves to have success as much as she does. It's been great seeing Lianne March, and Beth Hancock going really well too.

As always many thanks to Ellie and Mark for all their help, and for the fantastic support I get from my sponsors, Saracen Horse Feeds, Protexin Equine, Just Equine, MacWet Gloves and NDS Equine.


We have spent another two Thursday afternoons at Coombelands. It is really hard to beat their facilities, which such good going in the arena, and a large warm-up, breath taking views and shady parking under the trees.

On 11th August, I took Khalissy for the Newcomers and Arietta for the 1.30. After her loss of form at Hickstead it was good to have Khalissy feeling really good and happy, if a little fresh. She had the first fence through freshness, and then I made a very bad decision on the striding to the last fence. I have decided that she is overdue for a holiday, and so she is now being roughed off ready for six weeks in the field. Her five and six year old years have been during COVID and so this year has been a big step up in the number of shows done. She has established herself as super careful and competitive at 1.20 level, with spectacular results, especially at Chard and Keysoe, so I think she has more than deserved a proper rest.

Arietta jumped in the 1.30, and jumped round beautifully, she did have two poles down, but she is still green at this level, and it was a very long hot day. I was pleased with the fact that she is so much easier to ride now, and jumps more and more consistently.

On 18th August I just had Arietta for the 1.30. It is a long day waiting to jump a fairly substantial track at 6pm! Arietta warmed up well, but definitely wasn't quite her lively self. She jumped another good round, I had the second fence all by myself, and she had a big vertical at the end of the course. A new course builder and a track that was definitely more than up to height by the jump-off, it definitely felt very big. Arietta will now have a very quiet week to help her gather up her energy for two weeks of jumping at the Hickstead September Tour. After Hickstead she will also have four to six weeks off to recharge her batteries, and for her mind and body to consolidate the huge learning curve she has been on in the past twelve months.

Many thanks to Ellie Collins for a very long day, and I'm looking forward to Hickstead.

Royal International Horse Show - Hickstead
Royal International Horse Show - Hickstead

It was exciting heading to Hickstead with two horses who seem to be improving over the summer season, and especially Billy Arietta who seems to be stepping up to 1.30 with relative ease. The RIHS has it's own special atmosphere, with a 5* nations cup drawing some of the world's greatest riders, and the championships of many showing classes in addition to the national jumping.

However, all this excitement has two little downsides: a week of 4.30 starts, and some serious walking! The number of horseboxes to be parked is bonkers! You learn to appreciate the toll that working on the hard ground takes on the horses' legs! But on the upside, you can definitely eat as many cakes, ice-creams and sweets as you like during RIHS week - 24,000 steps a day is fab for your fitness!

Unfortunately, despite the very early start, I had underestimated the time it would take to get parked on Tuesday, resulting in a cross country run, and a very speedy, and rather inadequate, course walk for Areitta's 1.30 class. She jumped the first half absolutely beautifully, but in my efforts to find a bit of space to the water tray in the jump-off I managed to find half an extra stride with not nearly enough impulsion. Even lovely Arietta couldn't perform the task asked! However, she was very good, and came again and finished the rest of the course clear. Definitely not a moment to be proud of, but it's important to learn from mistakes and move on. I should have walked the distance better, and ridden that turn and distance more smoothly with more conviction. As you go up the levels the course walk becomes more important. Although on paper the 1.30 is only 10 cm bigger than the Foxhunter, it is not a novice horse class, and asks questions requiring more technical expertise.

Next up was BE Khalissy in the Winter Novice Qualifier on the grass in Ring Two. She jumped absolutely beautifully, just to get a little bit quick and have the last fence in the first round. I think if I had known that 11 horses would go through to the main ring I might have been a little bit more "dot the i's and cross the t's" about this, but I thought only two would go through, and that there was no hope of me being fast enough in the jump-off. Actually she's so careful and quick that even with me as pilot she probably could have qualified herself.

Wednesday started with Khalissy in the Foxhunter in Ring Two. She jumped the first part of the course very easily, and appeared to take off perfectly into the combination and then literally fall through it. Very, very unlike her and very disappointing.

Arietta also jumped in Ring Two in the 1.25. She not only found the show ponies utterly terrifying, but also took extreme terror at the fun fair next to ring two. The bell went, and she just galloped off, and had three fences in the first half. She's pretty naive at life, and the atmosphere was a pretty steep learning curve for her.

We had a day at home on Thursday. I gave Khalissy a jump over a small combination, and took Arietta for a hack, and they had a nice couple of hours stretching their limbs in the field. In the afternoon I went to Hickstead to watch the Eventers Challenge. It is always nice to catch up with some old eventing friends, and it was a great competition, won by Gemma Stevens (Tattersall) with a scorching round.

Friday Arietta was in the 1.30 in Ring Three again. She jumped a great first round, and just had two slightly green poles in the jump-off: a dog-leg to a double that she didn't quite understand and the front pole on the turn-back to the water tray.

Khalissy jumped the Newcomers in Ring Four, but definitely wasn't happy through the double or the combination, so we decided to give her a few days off. The horses had a chiropractic treatment from Caitlin McCaffery yesterday, and Khalissy seemed very sore, which may have affected her ability to stretch out in combinations. So we will go gently with her for a few weeks to regain her confidence, and make sure she is comfortable in her jumping. I find chiropractic treatment a very useful health check/therapy for the horses. Caitlin treats them once a month from when they first go into work here. Not only do the horses really benefit, but also Caitlin can take an objective view of anything that has changed during the month.

I just had Arietta for Saturday, another 1.30 in Ring Four. We both felt a bit tired and she had an early fence, but she and I had a very constructive show, jumping some bigger, more technical courses, for just a few unimportant mistakes. It is wonderful to have such a lovely horse with such amazing ability. Especially while Askeaton is having a little time off, it's very good to get my eye back in over bigger courses, and makes less pressure to get Askeaton back. I am a little bit upset that Khalissy was less than her usual self. But hopefully after a few days off, some chiropractic and general tlc and a gentle return to work, she will be back to her super competitive ways.

We got Arietta home as soon as we could, turned her and Khalissy out for the afternoon and rushed back to Hickstead to watch the Queen's Cup. In true Hickstead style it was a fantastic competition, and it was very exciting to see Shane win with the wonderful Haya.

We were back again on Sunday for the King's Cup. What an amazing competition, with the most electrifying jump-off. The top four horses were absolutely beautiful - it's great to see what it really takes to be world class, and the riding is truly something to aspire to.

Ellie, the horses and I are all very tired after a very busy week, with a fair amount of socialising too. We will have a very quiet week this week, and then back to training and jumping next week, moving towards the Hickstead September show to see how far we've all come on.

Congratulations to the team at Hickstead. A fantastic show of world class jumping, showing, shopping and socialising. We have all missed it so much.

Many thanks to Ellie, who has been fantastic, and to Saracen Horse Feeds, Protexin Premium Equine, NDS Equine, MacWet Gloves and Just Equine, I really couldn't do without you.