Pumbaa vs the Hills of Blair

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Hello ladies and gents, I hope you’ve all been keeping well. I’m currently 230 miles into the 457 mile journey home from Blair Castle, and having done my first 4 hour shift of driving I have nothing better to do than twiddle my thumbs – or put said thumbs to use and try to string enough coherent sentences together to form a blog post, so here goes…
 
If you saw ‘475 miles’ and just though ‘madness’ I can confirm you are entirely correct. This is the third year we’ve made this Scottish pilgrimage and every time, in a caffeine fuelled haze, I question why on earth I thought it would be a good idea to click ‘confirm payment’ on the entry page. But, the simple fact is that Blair Castle is, if not thebest, then one of the best events in the world. Undoubtedly. The scenery is jaw dropping, the people charming and the courses built to perfection. They have everything…wait, actually that’s a lie – weather consistency is considerably lacking, I might even go so far as to say it’s verging on hormonal given its tendency to change quicker than you can say ‘umbrella please.’


 
With Sooty in the CIC*** and Ellie in the CCI* I knew I’d have my fair share of walking for the week seeing as Blair’s courses, fully equipped with a the small cliff face they claim to be a ‘hill’ are usually maximum length. True to form the 1* was a 9 minute track and the 3* 7 minutes. With my mathematician hat on, I can tell you that that equates to around 8,390 (British translation: 5.2 miles). Well, after walking, or even running (I’ve never claimed sanity to be my strong suit) 5 miles 3 days consecutively, as well as exercising 2 horses twice daily, while my relationship with my legs deteriorated rapidly (I think they were giving me a little more back-chat than necessary really, not even a hot bath managed to shut them up), my relationship with sleep improved 10 fold.
 
Our week properly kicked off with Ellie’s dressage on Thursday. I love the mare dearly, but she has an uncanny ability to do the minimum possible in whatever work she turns her hoof to – unless she sees it as a challenge and then she goes in all guns blazing. Well, whether she trotted into the main arena, saw the enormous castle and thought ‘show time!’ or whether she just felt that actually a little effort wouldn’t go amiss that day, I don’t know. But either way she really pulled it out the bag. We’ve been working really hard on getting her more uphill and into the bridle, so for it to come off in a test environment was brilliant – particularly with it earning her a score of 32.


 
Her jumping, as can often be the case in eventing, showed the two extremes of her attitude. She felt absolutely epic around the cross country course; every time I put my foot down and asked for a bit more, she gave it to me. It’s taken time, but now that she’s really starting to muscle up she felt so incredibly powerful – a Ferrari might boast 789 horse power (yes, I did have to Google that), but fuelled on sass alone I’m pretty sure Ellie would leave one of those red monstrosities in the dust. Unfortunately her enthusiasm for the coloured poles doesn’t quite match her attitude toward solid wooden fences. I sometimes think the mare is too intelligent for her own good, so under the premise that a show jump has 50% chance of falling over, I don’t think she really sees the point in jumping it…I mean, really it’s not a stupid approach to the issue, but it doesn’t exactly work wonders for the score board situation.
 
And as for Sooty, once again he proved himself to be the most brilliant horse I will ever have the pleasure of riding – even if his sanity is even more questionable than my own. When we dropped the ramp on Tuesday evening, as soon as he caught sight of the hills I swear he knew exactly where he was. He’s been super chilled, almost uncharacteristically so, all year but when I worked him for the first time on Wednesday it was like he’d just swallowed a few liters of rocket fuel. The same can be said, unfortunately, for his dressage test. His trot work was stunning, but when I asked him to walk I knew I was snookered – it was like being sat on an unexploded bomb. So we went from solid 7’s to 3’s, and coupled with the standard 1’s we get for our non-existent flying changes, what could have been a very smart mark rapidly became a very average one.


 
Thankfully he made up for his misdemeanors over the fences…the bloody enormous fences. In the past when I’ve gone up a level I’ve grown accustomed to the larger height of the fences until the eventually become normal. While admittedly this is probably true for the show jumping at 3*, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the cross country courses.
 
Walking the 3* at Blair for the first time is not an experience I’ll forget in a hurry. Have you ever thought to yourself ‘well at least it can’t get any worse’ and then the universe literally slaps you in the face and it pelts it down with rain/your car breaks down/your horse uses your foot as a hoof cushion etc. etc. Well I had that. At fence 8. By fence 19 I actually started laughing as I stared down at a hanging log that sat happily above a ditch as deep as I am tall, on top of a steep bank down to a water jump. Fortunately, the second time I walked it, it looked a little friendlier, and on the third look I managed to really get my head in the game…as well as locating my brave pants ready for the following day.
 
Needless to say, Soots showed ‘em how it’s done. He rolled 2 poles show jumping, which of course is irritating but he was jumping so well I couldn’t be anything other than pleased. I’d say I had butterflies before I went cross country, but that would be a severe understatement – they were more like squirrels, really angry squirrels. Sure enough, as soon as I got out of that start box calm descended and Sooty and I set sail. He gave me the most phenomenal ride, even when I quite literally landed on his ears after the aforementioned hanging log atop of the bank he scooped me up as I re-gathered my knitting (and dignity) and he finished the course in serious style. What a hero.


 
Yet again, I’ve had the most brilliant time at Blair. It’s true that not everything went to plan, but I have long since resigned myself to the fact that it rarely does in eventing. Either way, we made the 11 hour trek home with two healthy, happy horses and another 3* firmly under our belt. It’s such a privilege to be able to ride round these big tracks, even if I do sometimes wonder what I’ve signed myself up for. I can’t quite believe that this will be my last big international for the year…the season, as always does, has gone so quickly but I’ve had an absolute ball – ups, downs and all! I just have Gatcombe with Ellie left now, as Sooty kicks back with a Pina Colada in hoof on his well-earned holiday!
 
Until next time,
Pumbaa

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