Thursday, 24 February 2011

Champions Tour - Week One

Phew - what an exhausting week that was!  I now feel recovered enough to tackle the blog, good job too as we're off again tomorrow afternoon for another show!

Days One and Two: Todenham to Gleneagles. 370 miles.
Rebecca, Ronan, Tinker and myself set off early on Sunday morning for the 370 mile journey up to Gleneagles.  Although the journey was long we just trucked on with no problems and arrived on site in the early evening.  Having settled the horses into their enormous stables we tried to hook ourselves up to the electric, and that's when the fun began!  First we plugged into an extension which turned out not to be plugged into the wall socket.  Then we turned the lorry around so our extension cable would reach said wall socket.  It then turned out that the wall socket didn't work anyway.  We then had to move the lorry again, before using all three of our extension cables (30m + 18m + 5m) to reach a wall socket at the far end of the school.  It was almost like 'if you get lost children, just follow the cable until you reach home'!  By this time it was about 7.30pm and we were both so exhausted we went to bed!!

The following day we had a bit of a nightmare as it turned out that Becca (for the first time EVER) had forgotten some of our costume - eeek!  We were missing a leotard and a waistcoat, and whilst we could easily manage without the waistcoat we desperately needed a leotard!  So we went on the hunt up to the hotel's health club to see if we could buy a black swimming costume.  We weren't exactly dressed for perusing Gleneagles boutiques (both in muddy boots, horsey clothes and woolly bobble hats) but we persisted none the less!  The place is amazing and we found all sorts of incredibly expensive wares - my favourites being the pair of tights for £180 and the bottle of whiskey for £11,000.  Yes, £11,000, for a bottle of whiskey. 

Luckily, Geoff's girlfriend Sarah managed to buy us a more reasonably priced black body suit, so Becca did the first show in a lovely lacy number - very stylish!  Unfortunately, the show didn't go too well for us.  Tinker spent the whole time charging about at top speed, we managed to fall off in the roman riding, and then at the very end when I was standing up on Tink waving my ribbon stick he shied at a jump wing and dumped me on the floor.  Not our best show!  Never mind - on to the next venue!

Day Three: Gleneagles to Stainsby Grange. 221 miles.
We arrived at Stainsby Grange in the late afternoon, and got the horses settled in straight away.  Our lovely new apprentice Amy arrived as she was going to be spending the next couple of days with us.  It was such a coincidence, but it turned out that Amy's sister Thea was working with the official photographer, so was travelling around on the tour too! 

Another welcome arrival was a package of costume from Bryn - we had the missing leotard and waistcoat!  And some other vital necessities... Sweets!!  Love foam bananas and fizzy cola bottles!

We managed a slight improvement on our previous night's performance (it couldn't have gone much worse to be fair!), although we did still have some issues!  The spotlights were really low so as we were coming up the long side we were totally blinded!  I couldn't see where to turn Tinker, he couldn't see where to turn himself, and Becca and Ronan were having exactly the same problems behind us!  At one point Tink nearly ran straight into Alan sitting at his production table at the top of the arena - that really would have been a disaster!  We managed to make it through without any major mishaps, although I think the most daring move I managed was prince sit!

Day Four: Stainsby Grange to Bishop Burton College.  77 miles.
It was a nice straightforward drive down to Bishop Burton on Wednesday, but I have to confess I slept most of the way!  Seeing as we had plenty of time in the afternoon Becca had a bit of a training session with Amy on Ronan in the arena.  She did really well and is so flexible she really puts Becca and I to shame!

The temperature really dropped in the evening and by the time we had to warm up it was absolutely freezing!  For our second part in the show we weren't on until about 10.15pm, and as we were warming up (the only venue where we had to do this outside!) the sand in the arena was crunching with frost!  Very brrr!

I was a happy girl for the evening as Ben had driven down to see us.  Unfortunately he could only stay for a little while but he did bring us lots of treats - maltesers, yop and carrots for the horses!  Both the performances went well, although I did have a few wobbles as Tink dodged various different jump wings!

Day Five: Bishop Burton College to Arena UK.  96 miles.
The fun started at the beginning of the journey when we were merrily driving down the dual carriageway only to have a phone call from Alan saying did we know where we were going as he'd just seen us on the wrong side of the road going in the opposite direction.  Ooops - about turn!

Arena UK seems to be our nemesis venue.  It was here, back in 2008 at the Miniature Horse of the Year Show, that I had the most mortifyingly humiliating experience of my life to date, so I was really hoping to put that behind me and perform with aplomb!  However, from the moment we arrived things didn't go to plan.  Having managed to park the lorry so that the jockey door steps were right next to an enormous dog poo, we unloaded the horses and took them around to the stables.  Leading them through the yard there was a funny crunching noise, at which point we realised the floor was covered in broken glass - not the best of starts!  Having settled the horses (and moved the lorry slightly!), we waved Amy off on her way back down to London before sneaking into the main kitchens and did all our weeks worth of accumulated washing up - very domesticated!

It was soon time for the first section of the show and disaster struck once again - but thankfully only in the warm up this time.  Becca was working Ronan when all of a sudden she jumped off, and started looking at the soles of her boots.  Unfortunately she'd managed to step in yet another dog turd, then stood on her pad, then sat back down.  It was everywhere!  We were due in imminently so I grabbed Ronan and Becca rushed off to the loos to clean herself up as best she could - I suppose we should just be grateful she hadn't done a shoulderstand!  Thankfully from then on everything went well.  The layout of the arena was far more suitable and both the boys performed brilliantly.  I also had a surprise visit from Ben who'd been working nearby so I was a happy girl all round!

Everyday we'd been giving Ollie a vaulting lesson (whist wearing a purple tutu - brilliant!), and to be fair he was actually very good.  Today we'd decided to get him flanking off Tinker at canter.  So he'd done his warm up and a little bit of vaulting, then flank!  He went flying through the air, landed on his feet before falling forwards, turning it into a somersault and ending up on his knees in a bow to the audience - very amusing!  Our second section went smoothly, and we finally started to think we were all getting the hang of it!

Day Six:  Arena UK to South View Equestrian Centre. 100 miles.
My turn to drive and typically it was the wigglyest wooyest journey imaginable!  However, our drive was easy in comparison to some...  The big blue articulated lorry carrying all the chairs, stages, lights etc etc had set off from Arena UK about half an hour before us, so we assumed they'd be well into their journey by the time we left.  However, we'd gone about five miles or so when the road we needed to take had a low bridge sign at the turn off.  So we checked - yes, we would fit under by a foot.  Off we went down the narrow road only to come across the two boys and the big blue lorry attempting a very long, very awkward reverse.  They'd totally missed the signs and couldn't get under the bridge!  There was nothing we could do for them unfortunately so we just squeezed past and carried on - our turn for awkward reversing manoeuvres was yet to come...

We finally arrived at South View (about an hour and a half before the big blue lorry!) and settled the horses into their stables.  One of the trade stands on the tour was a company called Cyclo-Ssage, who specialise in massage rugs for horses.  Sean had very kindly offered for our boys to have a treatment each - which they loved.  Tink looked a bit like a jelly when he was finished, and I'm not sure he was too keen on doing much work afterwards!

Unfortunately, the first section of the show didn't go very well (again!).  The music messed up for the strip and when it finished Becca was still on Ronan with her trousers still on!  Very hasty strip and dismount!  We then set off for the vaulting.  We both mounted to shoulderhang but unfortunately Tinker cut across the top of the arena making a beeline for Ronan, before cutting him right up.  Ronan had to practically stop dead, nearly causing Becca to fall off - luckily she didn't!  She was understandably quite upset when we came out but thankfully Thea had filmed the entire incident so I could prove I was also upsidedown at the time of collision so couldn't have steered out of it either!  The other funny thing was that at one point I was flying round at warp speed, looked over to Ronan, and saw that he was trotting!  Our two horses really do need morphing into one - the result would be perfect!!

Everything else went smoothly, apart from one tiny detail.  Following Ollie's lesson Becca had to introduce Dave Clough (the singer) whist we did a quick costume change.  She took a deep breath... 'Ladies and Gentlemen, I leave you with the amazing DAAAAVVE QUIGLEEEY!!!'  Ooops.  Dave Quigley is the guy who owns the yard where we'd been for rehearsal the previous week - who just happened to be in the audience!  Becca was mortified but managed to cover it up well, and I don't think either Daves even noticed!

For the dances in the second half I was trying a new trick with Tinker - the catch.  I've been very sporadic with his training on this one, and he's never been overly fond of holding things in his mouth, but I'd been practising more and more with him and had decided it was about time we gave it a go in public.  When the time came I got him concentrating, threw the sash, and he caught it!  Before dropping it so immediately it looked like he hadn't caught it in the first place.  I had time with the music for one more attempt - and he caught again!  This time he gave it a bit of a shake before dropping it so I was really happy with him and the crowd loved it!  Then it was our final section of vaulting, which we managed with no further collisions - phew!

Day Seven.  South View Equestrian Centre to Osbaldeston Riding Centre.  62 miles.

Although this was one of the easier journeys (initially!), it involved getting back on the M6 and heading North - away from home!!  We stopped at the truck services on the way up for a shower and ended up going in the men's, as there were far more cubicles and they were cleaner!  The token allows you eight minutes so the race was on to wash, shampoo, condition and rinse all in the allotted time span.  We both just about managed but I have to say I usually take a lot longer than that in the shower at home!

We carried on trucking up to the final venue and managed to get within 400 yards before going wrong.  We should have gone straight over but the silly Irish TomTom said left, so left we went.  We managed a few yards before I stopped and looked at the verge.  It looked like something very big had recently made a very big mess reversing - I had my suspicions as to who it may have been!  Becca was adamant that we carried on so we did.  And the road got narrower, and narrower, and narrower.  I stopped again by a very narrow gateway and decided to reverse instead of attempting to turn around, at which point Becca insisted it would be easier to turn around and that she'd do it - big mistake!  Having got the lorry wedged, then freed, then stuck in the soft grass inside the gateway we decided to get the horses off and call for help.  Lee arrived to help but to her credit Becca managed to rock the lorry back out of the mud and onto hard standing.  I watched them get the lorry wedged again before walking down to the venue with the horses - Jive Pony like to arrive in style!  Becca arrived a short while after having had to reverse all the way back down the lane, but she managed and we were there with no harm done - at least to the lorry, I can't say the same about the verges!

The stables the horses were in were just lovely, they were really light and airy and tucked away looking straight into the woods - there was even a giant  oak tree right outside their doors!  Our final performances both went seamlessly - no crashes, good vaulting, smooth roman riding and Tinker caught again, so we were finally pleased with ourselves!  Ollie did really well in his lesson too, he managed mount, full flare, free stand and a flank off - all in canter on Tinker which is no mean feat!  At the end of the evening Becca and I were only too keen to fall into bed - made even cosier by lovely hot water bottles!

Day Eight:  Osbaldeston Riding Centre to Todenham.  160 miles.
Our final leg was the journey home, which went without a hitch.  We arrived back home at about 2pm, and turned the boys out straight away.  I had thought Tinker tired, but within two minutes of being out in the field he was charging around like an absolute mad brain, bucking and farting, skidding to stops before turning around and charging off again!  This perfomance carried on for a good ten minutes and all the other horses just stood and watched - sometimes it's all you can do with him!

All in all we had an interesting week.  The whole concept of vaulting without guide ropes, in the dark with spot lights on us was far far harder than we had anticipated.  However, we managed!  If you'd like to have a look at some photos, click here to see a whole raft of them by the tour's official photographer Dave Thompson.  Otherwise, click here to see a very small collection that Becca and I managed to take throughout the week.

Tinker's got a weekend off now - because it's Casper's turn!!  We're off to the East of England Equine Fair, for a one day solo show.  It's going to be a day of firsts - Casper's going to be doing the first show, and then Amy's going to be doing the second show.  Keep your fingers crossed for us - I'll let you know how we all get on!

Lots of love

Rosie xx

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