All about my First CCI*** - Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials

Final Canter

The week of our biggest competition of the year and career to date has arrived and on Monday we took Vinnie to the gallops for his last canter before the competition.

At this stage it is always a more relaxed and less demanding gallop and shorter than over the last few weeks.

This is because these last few days are all about conserving the energy and keeping V.I.P Vinnie relaxed and working well within his ability.

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Gallop time 🔥🐎🥇

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What no lorry?

Tuesday was spent packing Immy’s Lorry which she very kindly lent us at the last minute, as ours was being fixed and wasn’t ready in time! Best Laid Plans! Vinnie was given a light schooling session and was turned out for the rest of the day to chill. The other horses were all schooled or hacked, and Vinnie was given a good wash and shine!


First Trot Up Inspection

The first trot up at Blenheim was at 3pm on Wednesday so we arrived in plenty of time to set up camp and settle Vinnie in and take him for a quiet hack - he definitely knew he was at a big party which gives a great feel to us riders as it makes you really believe they are up for it.

It has been 3 years since he last did a trot up and he has always been lively in them and makes sure he has everyone's attention.

I thought aged 10 he might have grown out of this but this time was his biggest attention seeking display yet!!!! (Go to my Instagram or Facebook page to see go eventings great pictures). I am pleased to say I didn’t have to represent as sometimes you have to if your horse misbehaves.

After the trot up I took Vinnie for a nice long hand graze, he then had the massage rug on before evening stables and a good night's sleep!!.

We try and keep the horses routine as similar as possible as they have at home - particularly their feeding and bedtime routine.

Keeping Vinnie quiet and relaxed

The next morning having done morning stables I took Vinnie out for a quiet hack with a couple of relaxed canters around the cross country warm up area. This was to replace his time on the walker at home so keeping his exercise pattern similar.

More hand grazing followed by Mum while I went back to the yard at home to ride and lunge Conquer and Vino - We only live 50 minutes away from Blenheim which was ideal for a quick visit back home.

John Bowen came up mid afternoon on Thursday where we schooled Vinnie and kept him as relaxed, soft and supple as possible. We were both very pleased with how he worked and we never asked more than 70% as we needed 100% for Friday afternoon not Thursday afternoon.

John Mum and I walked the course with the dogs to get a feel for it and see what we have to play with. Mum left us half way round to go and do evening stables while John and I continued round the course.

My initial impression of the course was that it was a very well built course which was presented nicely using all the terrain available. I thought It was a step up from last years which I had seen as a spectator, but there wasn’t anything there that I thought we weren't capable of jumping.

Thursday night was spent having supper with friends on site and doing late stables as we do at home.


Dressage Day.

I rode Vinnie at 8am, having another training session with John.

We upped the work a little, increasing the number of movements that were asked. He was a little more opinionated that morning as we expected but still worked incredibly well. It was interesting seeing other people working their horses and the different approaches, some chilling, some drilling and some simply struggling!! By this time Dad had arrived and was watching having been in London all week, and we all went to walk the course once Vinnie had been washed down and settled back in the stable.

Walking the course the second time we set our minute markers and walked the specific lines I was to ride.

It was good to see that the groundsmen where still working on the course and had improved some areas that were flagged up in the riders briefing the night before.

Finally it was time to get ready for our dressage test - it seemed to be a long time coming! Both Vinnie and I felt very relaxed and warmed up well building on the work over the last couple of days so that he would peak at the right time.

This was the biggest arena either of us have ever been in, with lots of people watching and there was a chance that Vinnie could tense up but once we went in I kept deep breathing to keep myself relaxed which channeled through to him and this really helped. I haven’t done this before,quite so deliberately throughout a test and the result speaks for itself, getting a 29.3 and lying 7th overnight, despite me enjoying it so much I went up the centre line a movement to early so got the big beep!! Hey ho, this happens to the best of them and I was seriously pleased how Vinnie performed - our best test by far ever and with so much more to come which is so exciting.

Cross Country Day

It was a question how I was going to keep occupied - it is a long day when you have a late start, it is my, and probably many riders absolute hate to hang around all day waiting. I would choose to get up really early and get cracking any day.

Early doors Mum, Dad and I walked the course again and I walked it as we planned for us to ride it. I felt a mixture of anxiousness and excitement but the overriding feeling was I just wanted to get out there and do it!! We walked before the competition started and it was great meeting some of the fence judges who were already getting in place for the day and looking forward to a good days viewing.

I watched a handful of people go out round the course so I could see for myself how it was riding on the screen in the athletes lounge. I then kept myself busy by visiting the trade stands, and enjoying lunch with friends and family as it was a long time until 3.50pm.

Alexis joined us at lunchtime to help so freeing Mum up from horse duties. This was very helpful particularly as she is so experienced. This was a last minute decision as we could have done it ourselves but it just takes the pressure off. I know Mum really appreciated being able to take it all in rather than being hands on when I got back. I warmed up on the flat for 20 minutes well away from the XC warm up keeping Vinnie as relaxed as possible, this was followed by 10 minutes in the warm up, jumping combinations and practising his adjustability. We then chilled for 10 minutes so that we went out with our heart rates down. We set off really well, in a good rhythm and nailed the first combination which set us up nicely for the rest for the course. I was completely oblivious to the crowds and I actually think Vinnie was too - they just didn’t seem to affect him and he certainly has never seen that many people before. He was doing what he loves best.

I was up on my minute markers after the first run through the lake and then came to a big table to an open corner - he came back to me really well and was in such a good balance but I sat too quietly to the corner and didn’t make it happen - I am not sure he really even saw it and we cantered straight past it.

At the time I was livid but you have to put it behind you and carry on. I turned my stop watch off, as we weren’t going to make the time having had a glance off and concentrated on giving him a good run home.

He jumped the rest of the course so well and finished with lots of running, minus a front shoe but still had his pad on so I guess it came off right at the end of the course.

Wash down

As we came in I was greeted by lots of friends who were there to be on hand with Alexus to help take the tack off and wash Vinnie down, reducing his temperature and heart rate and getting ice on his legs as soon as possible to start the cooling down and recovery.


The vets were there to take the horses temperatures and heart rate and you are not allowed to leave until they are happy that the horse has stabilized.

Although fit, Vinnie’s adrenalin took a while to drop, in hindsight I think it was because there were a lot of people around him. Once Alexus took him to a quiet area he stabilized very quickly and soon returned to the stable for more icing, another wash down and chill time.

Dad went out on course to see if he could find the missing shoe as we were sure it happened so late in the course, although we do carry a spare set for such occasions if it wasn’t found. Martyn had briefed the onsite farrier about all his riders so Nick was happy to check Vinnie’s foot and replace his lost shoe which had been handed in. It had come off so cleanly and hadn’t been bent at all and his hoof was totally undamaged.

Nick checked for any bruising or pressure points but was happy there weren’t any. We stood his foot in an ice bucket 3 times that evening just as a precaution. When I did late check I re-iced his legs and foot and rebandaged for the night.

Early doors

Mum arrived at 6 and we trotted Vinnie up after his feed and was pleased to see all was well, his legs felt good. I took him out for a 20 minute hack to make sure he was relaxed and supple for the trot up at 8.30.

He had been plaited the night before so ready to go. I was delighted at how well he felt and looked and he was definitely up for more!! He flew through the trot up - literally - but not quite as extravagantly as the 1st one but certainly told everyone he was well and ready to go.

We collected the Show jumping list with our times only to find we weren’t on it!!! It turns out they thought we had withdrawn - how or where they got that from who knows!!! They then had to reprint the whole thing again!!!!

The rest of the morning was spent packing up as much as possible as we weren’t show jumping until 2.30pm. We managed to watch some of the CIC*** cross country and do a few last bits of shopping.

Show Jumping

Vinnie felt unbelievable in the Show jumping warm up - I worked him for about 30 minutes before my round and again the even larger crowd didn’t phase him at all. He jumped an amazing clear and it was a great way to finish a good week completing my first CCI***. The round can be watched on Blenheim Palace Horse Trials Facebook where they have a post with all the CCI*** SJ on - my round starts at around the 35 minutes.

My overriding feeling about the week is one of excitement for the future. We so nearly pulled it off and I now know for certain that Vinnie and I can be very competitive in all three disciplines.

Vinnie seems to have come out of the competition well and is now going to have a break before starting training for next season!!!! I took him for a hack on Monday morning and he felt well and had come down off his high! We will build on his strength and flying changes during the winter and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve next year.

A big thank you to Blenheim organisers and volunteers for a fantastic event - my first visit was very enjoyable and I look forward to many more. Another big thank to everyone in the team who got us there, and Immy who looked after the team at home.

All the other horses will be competing over the next few weeks with Moreton Morrell, Bricky and Osberton in the next 2 weeks.