By Olivia Wilmot
I’m writing this while on my two week road trip to Burghley with then onto Blenheim with Zebedee for 8/9 year class.
I didn’t have the ideal build up to Burghley as Cool Dancer (Axil) had a minor set back with a slight muscle tweak. This meant he missed his run at Gatcombe in the British Open Championships which was not ideal but unfortunately these things happen. So it was a busy few weeks trying to make sure Axil was all sorted for Burghley. We gave him as much time off proper exercise as we could. He had many visits from the Physio ( Rachael Rowe Ayrshire canine and equine veterinary physiotherapy) and luckily I have a great back- up team at home as we were doing several walks in hand and over poles a few times per day. Fortunately when I started to work him again he was feeling great.
I arrived at Burghley a day early to make sure Axil had enough time to recover from the journey, which took us almost seven hours. I like to give him a short walk in hand after the journey and I rode him before we left, I like to give him a jump down his bounces before any big events but I don’t like to work him too hard before a journey. I know he is a good traveller but I felt given he had had this slight tweak in a muscle it was best to give him an extra day before having to start work. I think he remembered where he was from last year! I took Zebedee with me as well so I could keep him fit and have some lessons with Ian. Axil was on great form all week. I spent the Tuesday just hacking him out so he was soft and supple.
On the Wednesday I hacked him then did some light schooling. There’s a lovely all weather arena at Burghley so I worked Axil in there. After the briefing I did my first of 5 XC course walks! The course looked pretty huge, I deliberately don’t read the course previews or watch the online course walk as I prefer to get there and see it for myself. One course walk myself was enough though, I waited for my trainer Ian Stark to arrive before walking again. It was time for the trot up and Axil was feeling his usual laid back self until we had trotted up and he suddenly woke up and had a little buck! Ian arrived on the Thursday so I managed a walk round the course which helped me sort all my lines! And then had a dressage lesson and Axil was feeling good, I think his short break did him some good! In the evening we went to ERA dinner which was good.
Friday was a particularly busy day -I started by hacking Axil at 7.30am and I think eventually got back to the lorry at 8pm! After my morning hack I had a dressage lesson then had to get myself ready for my test. He did his best test yet at this level and i was delighted with him. I felt he tried really hard, I could have ridden some parts better but overall I was happy, especially as I was feeling confident it wasn’t going to be a dressage competition! I gave Axil a jump after his test which he loved! He knows the routine now at three days so he was very happy! I then had a dressage lesson on Zebedee, he was good, I was not! I got a small telling off! No rest though as I was whisked straight off Zebedee to the celebrity talk area where Ian and I were on the stage talking with Jonty Evans. Then it was straight round for another course walk which turned into a run when we realised we were running late! Burghley was definitely a weight loss week! I think had another short dressage lesson on Zebedee which went much better than the morning one! And then it was straight off for another course walk! The good news was that after such a busy day I didn’t have too many problems sleeping which is good as sometimes the night before the big day it can be tricky to get a good nights sleep! I was wide awake from 5.30am which makes it a long day when my XC time wasn’t until 14.22! I took Axil for a nice hack round the park in the morning which was really nice and quite relaxing! Then it was time for the final course walk, this one is a quiet one not much talking at all (which when I’m nervous I manage easily!). I walk ahead and Ian follows to check my lines are ok. He actually walks the course more times with me than he did when he competed!
Luckily I had Zebedee with me as it helped pass some time as I took him out for a canter up the gallop track.
I have to say I was more nervous than normal, probably because Axil has only run once since Badminton. I trust him XC and know him so well but I was anxious in case I messed up a line. Once I was on him I felt better. He was a little cheeky feeling at the start and not quite as focused as I had hoped but he jumped well and got better and better further round the course. I ended up taking two long routes. One at the maltings corner fence 17 when I just felt I was going to be a way off part C and didn’t want to risk anything and then again at the dairy mound where I felt I just hadn’t jumped the first part as well as I hoped. That’s the first long routes I’ve ever taken on Axil at 3 & 4 star level but a clear round was more important. I lost time with those long routes that I couldn’t make up but he really was superb and makes it feel easy which is an incredibly nice feeling! When I had finished I was back over to the celebrity talk area with Jonty and had a couple of other people to speak to. Axil seemed a ok after his XC. Fortunately my Physio was at Burghley so Axil had a good work through and a massage before he had a big sleep! On Sunday morning he was good and trotted up well. I walked the SJ and felt it was a good track for Axil particularly as the distances were good which suits him. He felt great in the warm up and he was feeling quite focused. I find him easier SJ at 3 days. He jumped really well and was clear so I was delighted. I was very happy to find out he was one of only five double clears! We ended up in 25th place. So onwards and upwards! Time to reflect and think about the good bits and the bits needing worked on for next year and how we’re going to get there.