So here we are, bidding farewell to another fantastic Stoke City season with the clubs highest finish in the Premier League table yet. On reflection it has been a privilege and honour also to have had the opportunity to document and share my journey to become an International dressage rider. It has been a great experience and to conclude with my final column this season with the news that I have achieved that goal, making my International debut for Great Britain just a few weeks ago, is very special for me.
My Dutch ‘Mission’
Jim Lovell, one of Nasa’s finest astronauts and most well known for being on the ill fated Apollo 13 mission (known as the “successful failure”) believes every mission has a glitch. This was realised as I was packing my horsebox in preparation for our imminent departure to Holland for an International show when I discovered my tack locker had a flat tyre. This may seem insignificant, but with immovable deadlines and the fact I am reliant on the tack trunk to move heavy tack and equipment, I needed this tyre to be functional. Of course this happened late in the day on a bank holiday Monday so solutions were limited. Thankfully after a dose of “tyre weld” (which I had never heard of until that day) and some ingenious rigging of the tyre, we were back on track and my groom and I could breathe a sigh of relief that we wouldn’t be having to carry heavy tack and equipment for miles and miles across the showground. However, little did I know, that 24 hours later this would pale in comparison to my ‘mission’s’ major glitch!
The evening before our early morning departure, I was packing the last few items into my horsebox ready to get home to see my family and finish my packing. With no warning, a huge explosion in the locker I was walking past nearly knocked me off my feet. A few long seconds later, still trying to gather my thoughts, I could hear sinister sounding ‘sizzling’ and an overwhelming smell of sulphur. I carefully opened the locker door to see the devastation caused by one of the lead-acid batteries exploding with shrapnel and battery acid everywhere- a dangerous situation I have since discovered. Thankfully no one was injured but this still meant I had a very serious situation to deal with late in the day. Swapping lorries was not an option with all legal paperwork required for my horsebox to travel with the horses filed with various organisations. Locating a willing mechanic on a Monday evening was a tall order which we were unsuccessful in. A few frantic phone calls later, Richard’s son Joe, who is an International show jumper for Great Britain, took on the role of ‘chief mechanic’ and went to work till late in the evening replacing my lead-acid batteries with gel ones from his truck. After a few safety checks, we were thankfully on our way the next morning as planned with Foxy and another horse Bubble happily munching away in the back completely oblivious to the drama that had unfolded the evening before. I have had this truck for over three years with no issues and have waited a lifetime to travel to my first International show, and it would be hours before we go that a glitch would threaten this mission!
After an incredibly long journey the next day, we pulled into the showground in Roosendaal, Holland and went to work getting the horses settled into their temporary homes for the week and unpacking all our equipment (the tack locker wheel worked a treat by the way). It seemed we Brits were keen to arrive with majority of the British contingent already in situ and was a great to see so many familiar faces which immediately calmed my nerves.
The International show was an amazing experience for me personally. I must have experienced every emotion from nerves, trepidation and anxiety to elation, relief and pure joy at the occasion. The intensity of learning I experienced was almost overwhelming at times but it paid off with two good performances from Foxy and I. Sadly, it was not perfect with a few ‘rider’ errors that were costly in the final scores, but Richard was pleased and said I did a great job considering my inexperience at this level of competition. The first big show is always the hardest with emotions running high- next time I know I can easily improve on my scores with more settled nerves.
Although the Premier League season will have wrapped for another season, our schedules will remain packed throughout the summer break. Not only does Asmir have an International qualifier for Euro 2016, my calendar is bursting at the seams with competitions to accommodate around family holidays. It is an opportunity for Asmir to attend and support me at my shows, which can be more difficult to fit in during the busy football schedule.
I have a one off event that Asmir will be my ‘manager’ for and that is when I am put through my paces, as a contender, with the original Gladiators from the 1990’s television show when they reunite for a one off appearance at Bolesworth International show. Even the famous referee John Anderson will be officiating proceedings with his super Scottish voice he is well known for. So if you fancy a good laugh and a great day out with the family it is running on the beautiful Bolesworth Estate in Cheshire on the 18th-21st of June and perhaps Asmir and I will see you there.
Wishing you all a wonderful summer break and here’s to a successful 2015/2016 season for Stoke City.