So we did it, we are here!
Seven horses, two grooms, two riders, three children and the nanny and of course Sally the Jack Russell are all safely stationed in Calgary, spruce meadows for six weeks of hard core jumping action on beautiful grass arenas; each with its own personality and quirks...
Five weeks in has it been hard?!
Has it been worth it?!
We left on the first of June with the mammoth task of getting all our equipment and horses to the show which in itself is a challenge, with lots of paperwork, bloods etc.
The last week at sycamore before departure was very stressful, especially as two days before we were to leave I got a new horse to take, a very cute nine year old mare by beach ball x clover hill called HHS mastermind. This was both exciting and also a bit daunting for me as our first class together would be in the ring at spruce, but I’m working on the basis that we have six weeks to get to know each other so what could possibly go wrong!
I was also bringing Vera, my 13 year old chestnut mare for the big classes and my other relatively new horse townhead casita, a very pretty 10 year old whom I’ve been slowly getting to know.
Sam had the legendary suma’s Zorro for the Grand Prix and international classes, and then our very exciting eight year old chestnut mare WKD diva who we are just moving up to top international level.
He also brought his new horse WKD St. Louis, a nine year old gelding we just acquired in May, whom the plan is for Sam to get to know throughout the tour and to build him up slowly, Sam also had our big baby, the seven year old WKD mojito. This huge horse is one of our homebreds out of my ex international Irish mare by laughtons flight, and by the international stallion lupicor. He is a big gentleman and we are hoping that six weeks on big jumping tracks with perfect grass footing will be a super education for him, as we truly believe he has all the makings of a championship horse... Time will tell!
So when we arrived, there was no time to take a breath as first day jumping was Wednesday, and things were to be full on until Sunday.
With at least five rings in action and seven horses jumping you can imagine we did not have much time for jet lag.
But the horses really pleased us, with all of them winning rosette’s; I was particularly pleased with my new mare mastermind (or minx as I’ve named her) as she was placed straight away every day and never touched a pole all week. Vera and cassie were also super with third and fourth placing’s, and my groom Mila was very happy to be able to decorate the stable doors with colourful rosettes.
The boys however were not going to be easily beaten, and Sam’s team fought back with Zorro nearly winning the jump off class the first day, with the fastest time but the last fence fell moving her down the line but still got a very acceptable ninth place in her first international appearance at spruce.
The next week started again really quickly and all horses were back in the ring.
Diva quickly lived up to her name and produced a fantastic result in the 145m class to take fourth place, this gave Sam a real boost and with Zorro seeming to shake off her jet lag it was a jubilant team who celebrated this week as she brought home the goods to take seventh place in the huge 160m Grand Prix won by McClain Ward for the USA with Rothschild.
WKD mojito was also getting into his stride and was jumping some lovely clears in the other rings, and with poor mastermind getting an abscess in her foot I relied on Vera and casita to help me out, which they promptly did making sure I had a few more trips in the prize giving ceremonies, which are a performance in themselves!!, You never know what will be accompanying you into the arena as there are various soldiers in full uniform, troops, and various characters in western costume appearing in the prize givings, much to our horses amusement.
And as prize givings are compulsory, both Sam and I have had some near misses with both of us having to cling on at various stages as our over excited horses tried to bolt for home!
After the first two weeks nearly constant showing there is a nice breather week were there are no shows and a chance to regroup and give the horses a much needed break, not to mention Sam and I who by this stage were pretty near collapse!
However Spruce time is like no other, we may be seven hours behind Europe but it feels like we actually lost time each day, as it seemed like only a few days break before the third show started up again!
Diva kicked off Sam’s tournament with a nice eleventh placing, and his other horses gained some nice ribbons in the other rings, as did my super mares I’m proud to say.
But all focus this week was on our Zorro for the Grand Prix, after having a nice break and acclimatised now to the time difference etc. with a nice fifth placing in her first class this week, we were really quietly expecting a strong result from her this week, and with a huge 126k dollars prize fund there was all to play for!
It was a strong course and as Sam entered the ring near the end to go, there were only seven riders who had found the secret to the tough and technical track. Zorro and Sam however quickly got in their stride and to the roars of our two grooms Jack, Mila and myself they left all the fences up and crossed the finish in time to be qualified for the jump off....
Things just got very interesting!
Sam was to be last to go and with seven very fast riders ahead of him in the jump off it was decided that I would stay down and watch the jump off to work out the tactics, with big galloping horses like Royce and Margie Engels, not to mention former World Cup winners and World Equestrian Games finalist Beezie madden and Simon in the jump off every piece of information I could provide was essential.
There was a line from the double to an Oxer where the current leader had made up the time, and whilst he had taken ten strides to the next fence, as he had landed out of the double to the right, I knew that with Zorro being so careful and clever if Sam could land to the left he could do nine strides easily and shave valuable fractions of time from them.
The only other place he could win was to the last fence which was a huge gallop across the arena to a massive Rolex Oxer, basically if he was clear at the second last he had to throw caution to the wind and believe in himself and his horse!
All information given, there was no more I could do but wait and pray as they entered the ring last to go, the crowds held their collective breath and fell silent as our little Zorro sought to take on the giant horses who were in the lead ahead of her, you could see those around wondering how such a small mare could possibly beat the bigger horses with their huge strides....
But I believe scope is in the heart and blood is in the mind, and no horse has a stronger heart or mind than our Zorro.
The two of them came together like one and flew the fences, Sam asked and Zorro responded, taking inside lines and even whilst slipping on the bend this plucky little mare still managed to jump the huge vertical in front of her almost from two legs, they headed to the double , landed as planned to the inside and made the nine strides easy to the Oxer, landed, rolled back to a tall vertical, then another fierce turn to the next vertical and finally the approach to the last Oxer, Sam leant forward into the mares neck and pushed to the Oxer, Zorro flattened her ears and truly seemed to almost physically grow....
They galloped fearlessly to the last and with a brave kick off the ground Zorro rose to the front rail, cleared the back with an amazing stretch and they pushed clear though the finish to take the class!!
What a feeling, what a pair, for us all it was the moment we had worked towards and the biggest win so far of Sam’s career. As he proudly held aloft the huge gold trophy in the presentation it made all the work, the bruises and the sweat worthwhile, it proved that the harder you work the luckier you get and that if we can come from our small yard in Northern Ireland with our Irish horses and compete and beat the world’s best at the toughest arena and tracks then anyone with enough hard work and faith can do the same.
This is what this sport should be about, working hard to become the best, to beat the best. It was a proud day for Sam and us all at WKD show jumping team.
We still have two more weeks to go, and with mountain trips, a run in with a bear and the last weeks all important Grand Prix to come I’m sure my next blog will prove to be as exciting as this one so to catch up keep following HORSE TIMES and sycamore stables on Facebook!!
So we did it, we are here!