This was ‘The Big One’! The prestigious National Championships is the pinnacle of the horse driving trials year. As first timers to this event, we were ‘new kids on the block’ – and with the smallest pony (possibly ever?) at just 10hh and the youngest driver at 14, we had a tough task ahead. Undaunted, we arrived in sunshine which fortunately was to stay with us for the rest of the week, ready to give our all in a class of full size ponies with drivers of any age, mostly seniors.
We were anxiously awaiting a special delivery and were heartily relieved when the package arrived on Thursday morning. It contained a set of boots for Brownie which had been specially altered for us by Equilibrium. They fitted perfectly and gave that extra protection needed on the marathon – thanks to all at Equilibrium for making this happen!
Day One of the competition was the dressage phase, preceded by a Standing Presentation where pony, harness, carriage and crew are scrutinised for correctness and cleanliness. The day was off to a great start as we attained our best mark yet for Presentation, with one judge awarding us all 10s. We were very pleased to score around 0.2, thnaks to Louise’s scrubbing and polishing! The Presentation started 30 minutes before our test time and lasted 15 minutes, which inevitably gave us less of our precious warming up time (under the auspices of trainer Emily Bennett) than we would ideally like so Brownie entered at A with a little more gusto than was desirable. At this level, there is no margin for error so a few valuable points were lost due to tension. The three judges definitely had differing opinions on a Shetland doing dressage – 2nd, 6th and 9th. Averaged out, this put us in sixth place after the dressage.
Marathon day dawned and we were out early while it was still cool. Flat Windsor suddenly surprised us with two or three fairly serious hills on Section A which were quite taxing for Brownie, whose preparation had been slightly affected by a virus some weeks earlier. Careful handling by Mike and close attention to the stopwatch by Linda helped the team get to the end of the section just a whisker outside the time to incur 0.2 penalties. Shock, horror in the walk section – an enormous tractor thundered down the Long Walk towards us and it sent Brownie scuttling onto the ‘forbidden’ verge. Put quickly back on track by Mike but somewhat unnerved, Brownie just couldn’t make the walk time which even some of the 14.2hh ponies failed to do. The judges considerately made an allowance for the tractor incident which had been in their full view but still an expensive 12 penalties were incurred. Firing on all cylinders in Section E, Mike steered Brownie through all six obstacles at top speed only slightly misjudging a turn in the Spider’s Web that was obstacle 4 causing 2 balls to hit the deck. The finish line came all too soon with Brownie was still full of steam, but there was plenty of time to relive the whole thing with everyone whilst cooling down equine and humans! With his breath back inside 10 minutes, Brownie enjoyed his usual chocolate digestives!
Sunday morning was a very early start, with competitors going in reverse order meaning we were third in the arena. Cones have always been a strong phase for our duo and Windsor was to be no exception. Producing the first double clear of the day and one of only seven from over 100 competitors, it was a great way to end our Windsor adventure and the reward was was a move up to 7th place. Had we been competing under different rules where a small pony allowance is given, this would have given Mike and Brownie 4th place. However, some consolation was found when we were awarded the Best Shod in the class – well done Nigel Morris, super-farrier!
It didn’t take long for Mike to spot a new carriage on the Bennington stand – the Spirit, specially developed for the small pony, a super 3-phase vehicle. Of course we had to try it out, well who wouldn’t? Wow, was it good! Put it on the ‘wish list’ Mike!
Seventh place in Novice Pony class
Paces & Precision 54.76, Cones double clear, Marathon 77.91