Our trip to Belgium didn’t quite go as well as expected. Ollie did not travel too badly, despite losing quite a bit of weight, he was eating and drinking much better this time right from the beginning. He did, however, manage to twist his shoe again on the lorry, but we decided that as we did not know the farrier out there we were better off to leave it and hope it lasted to the end of the week. Our vet had to take out a few nails, but the shoe didn’t twist any more so we made do.

There was a lot of confusion as to where and when we would be competing and it wasn’t until the last minute that we had it confirmed. Unfortunately, for me, this affects me quite badly, not knowing where I am going means that I don’t get the time I need to orientate. Whether I am riding with or without my glasses, I need to go and familiarise myself with an arena before I ride in it as I work a lot by visualisation. As there was so much confusion, I never had chance to do this on the first day and although it was only a training day I got very badly disorientated.

The arena that I ended up riding in, not only had I not seen it before, but it was white sand with white boards. As there is no contrast it is very difficult for me to make out the edges. There were also shady parts all down one side and the sun kept going in and out. All in all the conditions were not exactly perfect and my poor little brain had an information overload, which is what causes the severe disorientation. Not something I recommend for anyone to experience! When I am struggling to that degree, Ollie can obviously feel that something is wrong and starts to get really nervous. He started spooking at things, mainly flags, that he would never normally pass a second glance at and I wasn’t able to reassure him in the way I usually would. In the end I had to dismount as I knew things were not going to get any better.

That afternoon it was organised for me to ride in the arena that I would compete in. Whilst I was very grateful for this opportunity, it was unfortunately a little too late. My confidence had been shattered in the morning and I just couldn’t seem to get it back. I knew that I only had a short time to regain composure, so Gary and I had an evening of discussions of how best we could manage the following competition days.

I put my trust in Gary for the first day of competing and whilst we managed to complete our test without disgracing ourselves, it was not the performance I had in mind. All I could think about is where I was in the arena and whether I was on the track, this meant there was not really any other room for my brain to think about what Ollie and I were doing. We ended up with 65% and in sixth place which I suppose in the circumstances wasn’t too bad.

The following day I knew things had to improve. I decided to ride for a mistake free and safe test to try and build on the confidence we had gained from the day before. The result was much better and I managed 69.9% and came second. I was much happier being the other end of the line up for the prize giving!

The third day was a bit of a shame. Ollie warmed up beautifully and I thought it might be our day as we seem to excel in the music. Little did Iknow that a hurricane was about to happen! When I entered the arena the wind was so strong there were test sheets flying around the judges boxes, all the flowers were being blown over and the flags which were head height right on the side of the arena were flapping like you wouldn’t believe… Ollie is normally brilliant in the wind, but he had also lost confidence on the first day and this would have been a lot even for a police horse to have put up with… It was the most unpleasant music test we have ever done, he was spooking everywhere and was so tense that I struggled to complete it, let alone in time with the music. We ended up with 69% again and this time in third. Not a horrendous score, but we have never got lower than 70% in any music we have done.

Never mind, we are now home all safe and sound and whilst we have not the successes I had hoped it has been a massive learning curve and we will learn from it. I will now go and do some able bodied competitions to regain our confidence and lets hope next time will be a little more enjoyable!!