I’ve just made it back to the hotel after the first day at Blair and I really couldn’t be happier. It’s never easy to get the judges to give you the marks when you’re in so early (I was as 4th to go this morning), as they’re not yet warmed up and they tend to start off a little more conservative! So I’m over the moon to have scored a 36.9 and to lie in 5th after the first day.
Percy was such a good boy and went really well. He was very ‘on side’ as he’s been a bit tricky recently and he’s so fit in preparation for Saturday’s cross country day that I thought containing him may be an issue. But he couldn’t have tried harder. Having Tracey on the ground this morning was fantastic – she helped to get him at his best and we’re all absolutely delighted with how he went.
I’ve walked the cross country course a couple of times now and while it’s not as big as Bramham, the tricky terrain at Blair will make it quite a test. We have to gallop up hills quite a lot towards the beginning of the course, with some straightforward fences on the hill with some quite technical questions then towards the end of the course. The difficulty of these questions will increased as the horses will be tired at this stage and you won’t have a fresh horse under you. It’ll all be a question of feel, knowing your horse and how to ride and get the best result through all the tricky combinations over such energy-sapping terrain.
There are quite a few fences that could cause problems (though hopefully not for Team GBR!). There’s a big double of corners in main arena, but the flat terrain here will be welcomed. There’s a tricky arrowhead which on its own wouldn’t be a big question at this level, but it’s built in a dip with a testing approach – it will be difficult to judge how your horse will go up and down the terrain and whether they’ll lose balance and straightness.
The water fence is very strong and should cause a ducking or two, which would keep the crowds happy! There’s quite a big jump in, a tight turn to left before you have to go up a steep mound which has a Trakhaner at top. Once you’ve jumped that you run down a steep slope to an upright fence in the water before turning right to tough brush corner. It’s a really tricky combination. There’s also a real proper old fashioned coffin close to home, so there is plenty to be jumped!
The success of any cross country round on Saturday will come down to how well the horse and rider cope with the terrain. It will be very easy for a horse to start to run on its head which will make the combinations quite testing – Ian Stark, the course designer, has used the terrain very cleverly! There’s a lot of turns and uphill galloping – I plan to keep flowing through turns, to keep the gallop up and use Percy’s power and momentum to our advantage.
It’s a really superb track, but you have got to keep focused, with the brain in gear and thinking all the way around. At every fence we will need to think about what we have underneath us and make smart decisions on that basis. There are long routes, so riders will have options and I don’t know yet what people will do. It depends what horses are like under you on the day and obviously ground conditions may come into it. I haven’t yet made my final decisions…
Unfortunately although the weather has been great so far and the ground currently is excellent and will take a bit of rain, it’s meant to be wet on Saturday. Lucky for us, Percy and I will get best of ground as we’re 4th to go.
Being asked to ride first for the team is nerve wracking, but a huge honour to be trusted with this crucial team position. It’s really exciting and all GBR riders have done fantastically well today – I’m so proud to be a part of it. Everything crossed that we’re all still as happy come Sunday evening!