The Sheepgate National under 25’s championship is an event I have been competing at for many years now and was the first event to give me a taste of a team atmosphere. The first time I attended, I felt as many people would, incredibly nervous and not sure if I deserved to be there. However, after you have been going for many years you come to realise, no matter what stage you are at in your competitive journey, if you have qualified (and or been selected for a team) you deserve to be there. On reflection I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy worrying about it. There will always be people who look down on you and always be people who look up to you and think that you are doing an amazing job, there isn’t anything you can do about that. However, you can choose to enjoy yourself and chose to be around people who make you feel positive. That is something that urged myself to keep in mind during my most recent visit to Sheepgate, with a new horse, a soon to be broken down lorry and some amazing friends who got me there in spite of that.
For those of you who don’t know I took my Irish sport horse, Terry, to the Under 25’s national championship for the first-time last month. We were selected at Novice level, which I was slightly nervous about, as we had only just started to compete at this level. That being said, I was glad because I have set myself the goal of competing him at Novice and working at Elementary during the Autumn/Winter season. So, the more I can reach out of my comfort zone this summer, I thought, the better.
So, mum and I set off on our 3 and a half-hour journey across the country. We were optimistic and looking forward to the friendly team atmosphere that North West BD youth have always provided us with. The BD youth representative, Sue, goes out of her way to make sure that everyone gets to know one another and supports each other from the side lines. Our aim as a squad is that no one goes in the arena unsupported. There is always someone to talk to afterwards, whether it is cause for celebration or cause for support if you felt it didn’t go well (which we all feel from time to time, even when we do get a good score).
However, little did we know that we almost missed out on the team festivities altogether! Less than one hour into the journey, the horsebox started to make some strange sounds. Very clunky and like something had damaged our wheel. It was frightening not knowing what had gone wrong but luckily, we managed to slow down to a crawling pace, put our hazard lights on and get off the main road. If we hadn’t been so close to an exit, the police would have had to close the motorway. So, whilst we thanked our lucky stars that we were all relatively safe, I was still determined to get to Sheepgate to do my part for the team. As soon as we were off the main road, I sent a message to one of my team mates Rebecca about what happened, and she said she would be heading our way soon if we wanted a lift. I felt huge relief when I saw her horse box appear. Rebecca and her family were incredibly welcoming, and as we drove on, I clung onto the excitement of still being able to go the U25 championships.
On arrival to the show, excitement washed over me. The journey was long, but so worth it. I was overwhelmed by the amount offers I had from the team, with many people asking me whether I had somewhere to stay and whether I had food, hay or bedding. That’s the sort of team experience that hits you in times of adversity. After a long journey I thought Terry might enjoy a hack with Rebecca’s horse Ebony, which was nice for them to get settled in their surroundings even if we did get a little lost! In the evening I was welcomed into another fellow North West horse box, by my friend Emily and her mum Jo. Waking up the next morning to feed Terry and get him ready for his first class was a bit alien as I am so used to mum and I working together. Although with my team mates around me, I didn’t feel on my own.
My mum arrived safely in the morning and was there in time to help me finish getting Terry ready and warm up. First off was the Prelim 17 individual class. Terry warmed up well but when going into the arena I felt him lose engagement and drop behind my leg, which happens in a lot of our tests at the moment, some more than others. As a result, I felt it went really badly. Fortunately, mum was there straight away to support me, I don’t know what I would do without her sometimes. On reflection it wasn’t that bad, it was my expectations that made me upset because I know how well he can go. Which is quite similar to how I felt in both of my team tests (the first one, N23 on the Friday and the second one on Saturday, N38). However, we managed to get 66% and 6th place in the Prelim which I was thrilled with. The Novices were more challenging for us, we gave them our best shot, leaving us on just over 61% both days with my lovely team coming 5th. I knew in a championship environment that mistakes would be expensive, but I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated at the time. The thoughts I was having were ones I’m sure many people can relate to. “I’m not good enough for this horse” and “I am letting the horse down”. However, after having a chat with my mum I had an honest talk about what our strengths and weaknesses are (of which I am going to write another blog on). As a result, I feel super prepared and motivated for training over the winter season. For me, whatever my score is, it is the bigger shows that keep me motivated to work hard over the winter. Especially when bigger shows mean meeting up with such good friends, it truly is something to look forwards to.
The main take away from this years’ experience for me was to appreciate every ride and every show you have. The horse doesn’t know where he is, how much the class means to you or what personal things you have going on. It your responsibility give them the clearest riding you can without letting your emotions and expectations get in the way. In addition to that, I have felt the true meaning of team spirit, not just in how everyone was willing to help me out but also in watching everyone else helping each other out. “Good luck” and “Well done” were the most frequently uttered words from the North West team. This is what us riders work towards all year round and what our training sessions (ridden and non -ridden team building) prepare us for. Making us all stronger competitors (and stronger friends!) in the process. I feel proud to be a part of their competitions as I believe it plays a big role in making me a more ambitious rider. Whilst at the same time, inspiring me to be a supportive person through the good times and the bad.