Dorothy Harris & Acorn Fine N Dandy
BE 80(T) Treborough Hill
I expect this is overlong but here goes! It all started last September when a fellow TREC competitor and friend asked me if I was going to do the Wobbleberries Challenge. Frankly, I was completely ignorant and hadn’t a clue what she was talking about so, when I got home, I did a bit of research and learned all about it. Once I had done my homework about what was involved and about the wonderful cause I decided to give it a go. I really had no idea what would be involved and what I would be letting myself in for. Suffice it to say that I was completely naïve. As a woman in her middle fifties with no significant jumping or dressage experience and no formal training whatsoever, I was well qualified to be a Wobbleberry. Fortunately I am blessed in having lovely Quarter horse mare, Suki. Her registered name is Acorn Fine N Dandy and she is homebred, being by my own Tinsel King and out of Gunners Blue Dandy. Suki was shown in halter classes as a young mare, bred a foal and was finally started aged six. Now aged eleven we have competed quite widely and reasonably successfully at TREC and also dabbled with very low level dressage, show jumping and cross country. There have also been odds and ends of Western in the mix. We have worked a lot with Lisa Bruin using her ideals of lightness to further our relationship. I have always assumed that proper affiliated eventing would be way above us. It wasn’t ever on the radar. The more I thought about it all and realised the enormity of the Challenge the more I realised we had to do and the more daunted I felt. Fortunately help was at hand. A small number of other Wobbleberries emerged in our area (South West Wales) and, after some initial confusion about training opportunities we managed to come together and form a little group. Initially, during the winter months we met once a month and trained for a day at a time, the motivational Andrea Philipps being our long suffering trainer. We are a diverse bunch in terms of age, ability, horses and experience but somehow it works and we all try our best to support and encourage each other. We have even formed a MyQuest dressage team to give us practice in that particular discipline. It has been one of the joys of the journey to meet these wonderful women and share their ups and downs. Initially, Suki and I had a very discouraging start. Early in 2017 I succumbed to a bad bout of sciatica, something I had never had before. It really affected my riding and I found it very hard to maintain my core strength, something I had always secretly prided myself on. Pride, literally, came before a fall on more than one occasion. There was the time I completely misjudged Suki’s stride. I flew over the jump and Suki didn’t. I literally “ate dirt” and not only did I fall off but so did Suki’s bridle! Fortunately, only my pride was damaged! Eventually I stopped trying to jump as I felt my insecurity in the saddle was adversely affecting Suki’s confidence, not to mention my own. I was literally a Wobbleberry! It was extremely frustrating to say the least. Suki and I already had a lot to learn about all the elements of eventing and this didn’t help at all! Happily, with careful exercise and treatment and lots of patience the sciatica disappeared and we were able to start practising in earnest in May. Gradually our confidence has grown. Our dressage is still pretty inconsistent but, thanks to some intensive tuition with Lisa Bruin in Norfolk and local lessons with the ever encouraging Andrea Phillips it is gradually improving and at least we are a little more clued up on what we are striving for. I know it’s not an overnight process and hope we will gradually go forward with practice and hard work. I have been very afraid of forgetting the test but decided that if that happened I would simply stop, take a deep breath and regroup before carrying on. Suki is an able jumper but I had no real sense of what was involved and the various styles of jumping we would have to learn. It is a steep learning curve. We were happy bombing around 60 cm show jumping courses and usually got round more by luck than judgement. The same applied to our limited cross country experience. I soon learned that jumping solid fences allowed far less margin for error and our accuracy had to improved dramatically to be in with a chance of completion. Still, Suki proved to be a willing pupil and has cottoned on to the jumping much more readily than I have! It is quite hard to find suitable cross country training venues here in West Wales but gradually we have increased our experience and confidence. I find some of the jumps pretty scary but somehow we seem to get over them. Suki really enjoys it and I think we had a real epiphany when our group went to do some schooling at Pontispool and jumped proper BE fences for the first time. The mysteries of jumping roll tops, hanging logs, combinations and ditches were gradually revealed and that was before we even thought of cantering through water, jumping corners and skinnies and going over the dreaded ditches. When Suki has her TREC hat on she must negotiate water at the walk in a calm manner. Now she was being asked to trot and canter through it. Once she got the idea there was no holding her (literally!) and we ended up managing to jump down a step into it and cantering away. It was fabulous! We also learned how to string together various fences and about taking correct lines into fences. Steps have never phased Suki much as it is a common TREC obstacle but Andrea, our trainer, hoodwinked me into jumping a step up and down with a ditch on either side of each step. I thought Suki and I were going into orbit! We have also largely conquered her deep suspicion of ditches. Frustratingly competition practice had also been scarce. We can compete at unaffiliated events before attempting the challenge but unfortunately some have been cancelled because of poor ground conditions or insufficient entries. However, in July Suki and I travelled to Mendip Plains EC and took part in the inaugural Hannah Francis ODE. Hannah herself had been involved in the early planning of this event and it was very special as a result. There were quite a lot of other Wobbleberries competing but Suki and I were on our own as none of the other West Wales Wobbleberries were able to compete that day. I was completely terrified. I had entered the 70 cm class, 10 cm lower than our eventual target height but wanted a good confidence boost and more experience. It all looked pretty challenging but I gave myself a stiff pep talk, thought about Hannah and her fight, and went for it. Our dressage was very average I have to say. It is a completely different experience on grass, without the security of a rail and Suki was far more interested in gawping at the cross country phase in the next field and I think suspected the white boarding of being a jump in disguise, Anyway, we got through with a score of 43 penalties. I know (at least I hope!) I can improve on that so I wasn’t too disappointed. At least I had remembered the test! Next, on to the show jumping. There were lots of fillers in the jumps, something we have very limited experience of. I needn’t have worried. Suki was a complete star and we jumped a clear round! I was delighted and it gave me a much needed boost before embarking on our cross country round. I tried hard to focus whilst we were in the starting box and then we were off. It is all a bit of a blur now. I know there were a few fences I thought may cause us grief as they were things we hadn’t encountered before but, once again, I just trusted Suki and she flew around with her jockey managing to steer and stay on board! We were clear but gained 1.2 time penalties which didn’t bother me in the least. We had completed, that was the main thing! The icing on the cake was that we ended up placed third in our section. I was absolutely thrilled! It also gave us invaluable experience especially as, although an unaffiliated competition, it was run under BE rules so at least gave us a flavour of how things work. It was also wonderful and so inspiring to see the Wobbleberries carrying their Berry Pony mascots. Mine is called Dandyberry and now accompanies us for all competitions. Another aspect of our journey has been improving our fitness. I am a regular attendee at various exercise classes, run a bit and have a routine of home exercise all of which has helped my strength, endurance and stamina. Likewise, Suki has done a variety of things including trail riding, various training sessions and bits of schooling, regular groundwork and some TREC competitions. We have both had treatment on our backs. Suki has also been visited by the vet (vaccinations), dentist, saddle fitter and farrier all of whom I must thank for their professionalism and support. Ok, on to the main event. In early August with I made up my mind that I could attempt my Challenge and duly entered for the Treborough Hill ODE. I didn’t tell anyone except my husband and a couple of friends with whom we planned on staying. I am better at dealing with things largely on my own and certainly didn’t want to make a prat of myself! In the run up to it I studied pictures of previous courses there. It is very hard to see the scale of obstacles however so I was still largely in the dark. As the day grew nearer I told myself to treat it as a training outing. This definitely did help a bit. I had never been to a BE event before. As we had elected to stay in the area we were able to go and see the lie of the land on the Saturday, the day before my class was to be run. When I saw the cross country jumps I think I must have visibly paled. They looked enormous to me and far bigger and more diverse than I had attempted before. My poor husband also thought they looked quite large and solid. I really had very serious doubts at that point. The nerves had kicked in big time. To cap it all Suki had come into season with a vengeance so I was wondering if that would affect her performance. A lot of stern pep talks to self and thinking about Hannah’s bravery ensued. Finally the big day dawned. It was very hot and sunny and not a breath of wind. Our times were in the afternoon so there was plenty of time to get ourselves ready and get to the venue. The course walks given by Sarah Thorne were very helpful and boosted my confidence a bit. With her expert advice the jumps started to look very slightly less scary and she emphasised the need to be positive which I took on board. It is such a brilliant idea to have a trainer available to BE80 competitors. I also reckoned that if the show jumping went well I had a better chance of getting round the cross country course. Dressage for us is quite hard and Suki was in a bit of a stroppy madam mode. Sarah helped to warm us up and we wound up with a score of 39 penalties for that, not my best but certainly not my worst either. There was then quite a long wait before the show jumping but eventually we found ourselves in the ring. Suki was a good girl and took it in her stride but unluckily dropped a pole due to the ineptitude of her jockey in not heeding Sarah’s sensible advice about the correct line. A quick change and no time to brood found us quickly into the warm up area for the cross country. There were several different types of warm up jumps available which was great and I was emboldened by the fact that Suki couldn’t wait to get at them. In no time we were in the start box and on our way to the first. With Sarah’s words ringing in my ears we went for it! A bit sticky over the first but, after that, Suki absolutely flew! It was wonderful. The going was perfect, no fear of slipping (Suki is unshod) and we remembered the lines we needed to take. There was a tricky bit fairly near the beginning where a jump took you into a quarry step with a sharp right turn immediately afterwards. I had thought that if I could get as far as that I had a chance of getting round. Suki tackled it with great aplomb and it seemed only a hop and a skip before we were going through the water and on the home run to the finish. We were clear, incurring just 3.2 time penalties which didn’t bother me in the least! We finished on a total of 46.2. To say I was elated was an understatement and I was so proud that we had managed to raise a tidy sum in Hannah’s memory. I have been on cloud nine ever since and, to cap it all, managed to complete again at Sapey the weekend after! I do intend keeping on going and improving our performance is the next challenge. And I will keep my JustGiving page open for a while longer yet.