After the wettest March since 1981 ( yes really!) events all over the country were struggling this weekend to even contemplate starting: Goring Heath cancelled some days out and next weeks Portman and South of England pulled the plug (although that would have been nice to do literally!) over the weekend.
Tim and Jonelle went cross country schooling at Pontispool on Thursday en route to Thorseby which is a long drive north to the edge of Sherwood Forest in real Robin Hood country. Anyone who knows Jonelle is aware that she is a self declared ‘fair weather Princess’ eventer and hates mud, wind, rain and cold! Tim wouldn’t be the biggest fan either but he has two horses heading for Badminton that have just had one start each so he was keen to get a big run at Thorseby in and Jonelle has LEB Lias Jewel heading for Luhmuhlen and needs a couple of MERS at 4*S to be qualified.
Speculation was rife all week over whether Stuart Buntine would stick to his plan of running come what may and to be fair to him he did everything in his power to get the competition underway. There was a queue to get towed into the truck park by Friday and the dressage warm ups were nothing short of absolutely hideous! Jonelle was down to three rides by Friday morning when the decision was made to cancel all the National classes below Open Intermediate. That put Fernhill Kankan straight onto a mini break as she was in one of the cancelled intermediate sections. McClaren (Mac) was the next one to be heading down the weekend mini break route as if Jonelle is a Princess then he is definitely a Queen! He is the cutest of horses and is a perfect package but he has little feet to match his small frame and Jonelle said he struggled to even trot in the bottomless squelchy warm up and I can only imagine his little ears flat back as he struggled to keep his balance. Mac has nothing to prove and doesn’t need a run so he joined Kankan and was presumably looking up spa options whilst Full Monty de Lasence (FM) went off to do his test in the 3*S.
It would be fair to say that FM has been trying to tick the MER box at 3*S for most of last year. He has had an unfortunate set of circumstances (admittedly all caused by himself!) and dressage conditions were not ideal for his latest attempt. Jonelle donned her top hat and tails and FM squinted through the rain and despite being pretty scared that he might actually fall over scraped in just under the cut off point with a 44.5.
LEB Lias Jewel (L J) was bred in the purple in Ireland and she took one look at the Somme like conditions and deemed them perfectly acceptable. She has the advantage of age and experience over FM and has the type of paces that can cope with anything….a huge flashy trot is not what you need in the bog! She scored a credible 33.1 in her 4*S section and was rewarded with a day off before she finished her jumping phases on Sunday.
Tim had just the one ride on Friday, his Fairhill 5 star winner Coup de Coeur Dudevin (Joker) and he is a big mover. He gritted his teeth and gave it his best which was impressive and his score of 31 was down to his solid attitude. Tim looked particularly miserable throughout the test but he was soaked to the skin to be fair!
Just Vitali’s test for Tim to occupy him on Saturday and despite Tim saying he got a bit stuck in the mud he led his advanced section with a 27. Jonelle meanwhile jumped a good round in FM’s 3*S for just 4 faults and a couple of seconds over time. Stuart Buntine and his team had abandoned the main arena for the feature classes showjumping as it was on one of the wettest spots and had moved it to higher ground which was appreciated hugely by the riders.
Jonelle and FM set out cross country in a determined style with Jonelle giving a masterclass in forward and accurate cross country riding. The ground on the cross country was actually, as described by Jonelle, “not too bad at all!” and FM was more than happy to take a hold and attack it with his ears pricked. He was really super, didn’t look left or right (and there was plenty to look at, like round bales wrapped in pink plastic with pigs faces on as fence decorations!) and showed that he has grown up allot. He looked like the proper horse for the future that Jonelle always said he would be and it was a happy FM that crossed the line with his qualification for Bicton 3 Long well and truly under his belt.
Jonelle declared the truck park “like a ghost town” on Saturday night as seemingly half the field baled for home. A big chunk of competitors decided not to even arrive, such is the strength of social media now and Stuart Buntine was hugely disappointed that many withdrew after dressage or didn’t turn up without even walking his tracks.
And Jonelle’s opinion on this? She said that it was a really hard one to call. “The likes of Mac, that didn’t need to run, a valuable top class championship horse, why would you ask them to run on anything less than good ground?”. She added that the cross country wasn’t really the problem, it was getting through the dressage and showjumping warm ups! Mac is a particularly spectacular show jumper and the effort he would have had to put in to jump his usual round just isn’t really fair to ask him. A “Spring Carnival”, as Thorseby is billed, should in Jonelle’s opinion be run with all weather dressage and showjumping surfaces so that the UK’s notoriously unpredictable March weather wouldn’t affect it. Jonelle was quick to add that on the other hand they were extremely grateful that the team at Thorseby had recognised the need for the advanced horses to get a run and had sacrificed the lower classes for it, the constant moving of the showjumping and the quality of the cross country tracks.
By Sunday morning the sun had even decided to take a peek from behind the clouds and the atmosphere seemed a little more positive amongst those left to run the advanced and the 4*S. Tim was well in the lead in his advanced section after Vitali had posted a super clear round over the poles and he headed out cross country for a hack around the park. There are riders who like to win the one days as well as the three days but Tim certainly isn’t one of them and he had Badminton very much on his mind as Vitali did what he does best…he is a brilliant cross country horse and Tim had a super ride and made sure that Vitali stuck to regulation distances and they pulled up looking really happy. Despite the 21.2 time faults accrued they still finished in 3rd place with a great run behind them.
Joker came a little later in the 4*S and after another lovely clear in the showjumping he too had his second run of the season and his first big one since Fairhill. Tim just popped around in a super rhythm and Joker made very light work of all the questions and looked every inch the class act that he is.
Jonelle and LJ headed out in the early afternoon after just rolling a pole in the jump arena and they were not really on the same page in the early part of the track. Jonelle trains her horses to be truly reactive to the leg and it is never easy to take on a horse that has been produced to advanced by someone else. At the table to (massive!) open corner at fence 10 Jonelle landed the table and said GO to the corner and LJ didn’t really respond. She then scrambled across the corner and was lucky that the MIM clip on the back rail dropped and picked up two reminders from Jonelle that the key to cross country success is to listen to Jonelle! To be fair to Jewel, Jonelle did make it clear that it was a tough track and she hasn’t had a start this season so it was without doubt a throw in the deep end. Jewel showed her tenacity by digging deep and she kept, in Jonelle’s words, “fighting for it” and she came home better than she went out with some great footwork in the combinations. It reminds us all what a phenomenal cross country rider Jonelle is…the past few years with Faerie Dianimo (Maggie May), Classic Moet (Molly) and Grovine de Reve (Rev) at 4/5 star have made it look like she just points and kicks and today we saw the real gutsy Jonelle that simply just made it happen and inspire confidence in her ride all the way around.
As the team headed for home in the sunshine (how cruel!) it was a reflection of the oddest of weekends. They stayed because they had to and have pocketed an invaluable run around a great advanced/4 star track as a result with Badminton looming, Luhmuhlen MERS needed and a 3*S in the bag. Kankan and Mac have had their mini break and Kerryn Edmans has, yet again, been simply amazing and ran the show like clockwork. Teamwork is the Dreamwork and they have that in spades at Team Price so thanks to the home crew as well….and it appears we now have a sunny week ahead! Happy days!