Eventing in March can be a cold and wet affair but in these strangest of times we were blessed with a day that would not be out of place in July! The hottest couple of days in March for some 68 years and I think only Kerryn was organised enough to pack shorts!
With 11 horses from Mere Farm competing in the Advanced and OI classes it was yet another 3.30am departure time but life is so much easier when the sun shines! Jonelle had a test on Grovine de Reve under her belt by 8am and he was cheeky enough to show he was more than ready for his first outing. Grappa Nera (Grape) is pretty buzzy at one days as she simply wants to crack on with the jumping but she still wasn’t last in her section! It is quite distracting once the cross country starts running and no one can blame horses that are happy to be out at the start of the year and there were plenty of fresh horses around. Classic Moet (Molly) had just 2 OI starts last year and even she had a ‘moment’ in her test which genuinely must have come from Faerie Dianimo (Maggie May) as it was a classic Maggie May strop and a move not previously deployed by Molly!
Meanwhile Tim was having his own bouncy horses to contend with as well as some tight times but they were generally all on side. Xavier Faer (Hugo) showed some very impressive trot work, Bango (Uno) was keeping a lid on his emotions and Falco tried his hardest to look like a proper advanced horse which he is these days.
The showjumping warm up was plenty big enough but slightly compromised by having six jumps in it which meant several near misses as it wasn’t really clear which fence a rider might be aiming at! Reve jumped his socks off, Grape showed off her considerable talent and Molly jumped one of the best rounds of her life, even nailing the treble which is sometimes her weak spot. Tim jumped the usual copybook round on Falco, had a lovely clear on Uno and Hugo impressed us all with his newfound “I can do this without spooking violently at anything blue or fence 1 in particular” and in fact was so relaxed he had a pole when Tim turned up to the double. For the start of the past 10 seasons Hugo has usually gawped at fence 1 before smashing it out, had a last minute hesitation and helicopter jump over anything blue and a proper long look at any water trays including whilst actually in the air. This is progress indeed.
The ground looked perfect for the cross country but there were actually plenty of tacky spots as Aston’s clay soil takes more than a couple of days of sunshine to dry out. Nigel Taylor had done a superb job of rolling and mowing and set out a track which was pretty much the usual Aston advanced with a couple of questions added in. The combinations were on straight lines which is encouraging at the start of the season and perhaps the only thing missing for the Kentucky bound horses was a decent drop into water. Nigel had also given over half of one of the schooling paddocks as a cross country warm up which was a nice touch and appreciated by the riders.
Jonelle had a cracking ride on Reve who bounded round the track showing all the enthusiasm he had at Pau 5 star last year which is encouraging for Kentucky! Grape was slick and keen and virtually had a smile on her face and Molly was so keen to prove she is at her best that she jumped the 2nd brush off the top of a mound from top to bottom which was quite some drop and took Jonelle slightly by surprise! These three Kentucky bound horses are really on flying form.
Tim had a super pro ride on Hugo who effortlessly popped around before Uno took a bit more piloting as a twisty switchback track like Aston isn’t really what the Burghley loving Uno likes! Scope is never in doubt and it was a useful schooling exercise for him. Falco didn’t run as he has missed a couple of gallops so he got to sunbathe instead which was much to his liking.
Jonelle then just had the one OI ride and as she strolled back to the truck after her test she remarked that “geldings
are SO much easier than mares!”. McClaren (Mac) could then be identified in the showjumping warm up from half a mile away by his incredible technique and he dutifully wowed the few onlookers as always. He then had a fun spin around the course finding it much to his liking and Jonelle could finally take a breath. Tim still had two OI rides and he was flying from horse to horse to fit the dressage times in. Ascona M (Ava) surprised everyone by being an angel both in the test and the warm up which proves she is feeling 100% after a year out and new ride Vitali was classy for the best score of the day with a 25. Vitali rolled a pole before thoroughly enjoying his cross country whilst Ava produced a steady double clear and looked delighted to be back out again.
Tayla Mason had late times but she and her own Centennial (Chase) added another double clear to the days tally and it was a tired but happy crew who finally left Aston at the end of the day. Full marks for Aston and the team there for going the extra mile to run under restrictions as it has been so good to get the horses out before Kentucky and Saumur are suddenly upon us.