In the October issue of HQ, we introduced readers to Victoria Scott, a South African rider who moved to France to immerse herself in the eventing scene. This month Vicky shares more of her experiences to give a taste of the world of international equestrianism.
Going to Bramham
My journey to Bramham started many months before the event itself – the moment we decided to set our sights on a CCI3* competition (‘we’ being me and my coach, Rodolphe Scherer). We carefully selected this prestigious event due to its beautifully built and technical course, great going and world-class competition.
My horse is a lovely nine-year-old Selle Francais named Song du Magay, who I have been slowly bringing up the grades for the last two years. We always knew he had potential but it has been a long road to bring it out.
For those of you who are not familiar with eventing, or the Bramham Horse Trials, this event is a CCI3*, meaning it is a long-format international event. It is held over three days, with the dressage on day one, a 10-minute cross country, run at 570mpm on day two and showjumping on day three, with vet inspections in between. It is a huge test of the horses’ all-round performance and condition, so the preparation and care for the horses leading up to, during and after competitions like this are crucial.
In preparation for Bramham, Rodolphe and I carefully planned out a gallop programme, interspersed with treadmill sessions and small events. We are lucky to live close to a perfect beach for galloping. We have a strict programme on the beach, which we follow down to the second: trot for 20 minutes, walk for two minutes, slow canter for three minutes (1.5 minutes on each lead), walk for two minutes, gallop for 10 minutes (not too fast, playing with the going, and letting the horse breathe), trot for five minutes and then walk in the water for 10 minutes. This is a great opportunity to listen to your horse and assess his mind, breathing and fitness.
Road to Bramham
Then the day finally arrived to leave for Bramham. It’s a two-day trip by truck and ferry with a stay over in Dover en route. The horses handled the journey well, including the ferry trip, during which they stay in the truck.
Bramham is a picturesque event, with green rolling hills, beautiful big jumps, huge crowds and a shopping village that could make you weep. Like any international event, security is a priority, with arm bands and ‘bouncers’ at every gateway. We received passes for each lorry, rider, groom and owner. Events like this treat the riders, owners and sponsors very well, with shuttle services, cocktail parties and VIP tents. You feel so important and it adds such prestige to the experience.
A good start
The event started with the first vet inspection, in front of Bramham house. Horses and riders are turned out immaculately, with many riders wearing outfits that have been custom-designed for them by famous fashion houses. Song is generally good in the dressage and true to form he managed a great score of 49.1, putting us in an excellent position. We walked the course and quickly learnt what a true CCI3* is – huge and long! We walk with a measuring wheel to plan each minute marker, which is crucial to pace yourself on such a long course.
On cross country day, we are given an exact starting time to help us plan our preparation and warm up. Rodolphe is a great teacher of the fine details which can make all the difference, even down to the brand of vet wrap to wrap the legs with. We had a good 30-minute warm-up, allowing a good canter and jumping session, followed by 10 minutes of walk and starting up again before heading to the start. What a rush! Your heart is pounding, you feel totally ill and wonder why you do this crazy sport, and then the flag is dropped and you’re off …
Song always starts off strong and keen, pulling me into the first few jumps, so I try to stay quiet to relax him so he saves his energy. I had decided beforehand to not chase after the time and rather ride for a confident round for him. Rodolphe had warned me that when the horse gets tired, the gallop becomes mechanical rather than energised and this is when accidents happen. I felt this for the first time ever with Song but he continued to clear the jumps with such focus and precision. When I approached my 10th minute and last hill I noticed how good I was on time, and knew if we stayed cool we would make it. Song powered up the final hill and through the final combination and neighed coming through the finish to celebrate. We had an incredible time with just 3.3 penalties! My parents and Rodolphe came running with huge congratulations. It was a group effort to then attend to Song and cool him so he could get checked by the vets. He recovered quickly and was released so the real caretaking could begin.
Post event care
This is a vital part of the process. We first wash the legs with disinfectant shampoo, in case of any scratches from the course. Then ice boots are wrapped onto the legs with ice water poured on the boots every 15 minutes. Later the boots are removed and the legs get some time to dry before an in-hand trot to check soundness. We use clay on the legs, wrapped with bandages to draw out any heat. This stays on all day and is cleaned off with cold water the next morning.
On to the showjumping
Later that day was the showjumping. The track was fair and right up to height. Being from France, I am not used to jumping on grass as we always ride on sand, so the warm-up arena took some getting used to. The pressure was on because if we got a clear we’d be in the top 10 placings. Song has come a long way in his showjumping. He has a naturally big, powerful jump, but his technique has been difficult to train. He stayed very level-headed in the atmospheric arena, but sadly clipped three poles, moving us to 24th place. It was devastating but still earned us an Olympic qualification, which now means we start a whole new exciting journey.
Text: Victoria Scott