The 2014 eventing season didn't quite start off as I had hoped it would… I had taken 6 horses cross country schooling up to Brendan and Sally Coscadden's ‘Grange Farm’ with the intentions of doing some final tuning up so to start the season with a bang. Well it certainly came in with a bang... I ended up biting the dust when I came off a young horse! I found myself driving home the jeep and trailer and two horses in absolute agony and a call to Blanchardstown Hospital emergency room came with the news of a bust up shoulder - ah great!
The six week prognosis was never going to be a runner and I got back up in two (not to be advised) – felt like an awful lot longer at the time. Thankfully I had amazing support at home from my Mum, Clare Brown and our great friends Belinda Brerton and Sarah Wardell who kept the show on the road and who schooled the horses for me!
Thankfully our first event back went extremely well and all the horses and myself were right back in flying form. I am a true believer in accepting that these things happen for a reason and this minor set back was the deciding factor in redirecting Jiff from Badminton Horse Trials to the CCI3* in Saumur, France.
Badminton turned out to be one of the most challenging of four star tracks in recent years. Saumur offered a typical Pierre Michelet track on the cross country- twisty and technical and I knew it would be a course well suited to Jiff. I had asked Francis Whittington if he would walk the track with me and I learnt a huge amount. Francis is renowned for his cross country riding and his attitude towards it is so practical. It caused a lot of problems throughout the day – fence 4 alone took 25 horses out of contention!
Jiff cruised around clear inside the time and gave me such a great feel – he was back on better form than ever and with a little belief from our manager and others, I knew he should have been in contention for the World Championships in France. With only one unlucky rail down the following day, we grasped 7th place in a very competitive field so I was thrilled with the result.
Next stop was Tattersalls International Horse Trials the following week with BT Border Bandit in the CIC3*. ‘Tatts’ is hands down one of the best international events there is and this year didn’t fail to disappoint with some of the best names in the sport taking on the strong Ian Stark built tracks.
BT Border Bandit (TP) (and winner of last year’s RED MILLS Super league!) showed his class with a fantastic double clear to finish up in 8th spot. At only 9 years of age this is the second year in a row he has finished this class with a double clear- he is a horse I think that will make it to the very top and I am extremely excited for his future!
It’s not only the big international events that had kept us busy in the Spring, we have also had some great national events taking place this season with the younger string of horses. I love producing the youngsters and feel them flourish and improve with each outing. This year I’ve had a number of lovely 6 year olds who have all recorded plenty of wins and placings.
BT Cloudnine has clocked up a number of wins and also finished 3rd and 4th in his two big internationals in Kilguilky and Camphire. Unfortunately he put up a splint at the back end of the year which ruled him out of the World Breeders Championships in Le Lion which is a huge shame for his breeder Barbara Hatton who had planned to travel out to watch him, but unfortunately these things happen and I have no doubt that she will see him on the big stage in the future.
Another very exciting prospect I had great pleasure in competing this year is the 6 year old ‘Goldman’, owned by Brendan and Sally Corcadden. He is an extremely exciting horse for the future and it was with a heavy heart that I learned he was being sold. It is a pleasure to ride this guy for Sally and Brendan and I expect he will make someone very successful one day…… if only I could win the lotto then that person would be me!
BT Pickapocket, previously ridden by my working pupil Clare Brown, and whom I took the ride on after Tattersalls, has been an awful lot of fun this year with some great wins and placings. He is a horse we bred out of my dad’s hunter so he is a real pet of the yard. He would be the most fantastic junior/young rider horse for someone coming out of ponies and he will be a serious horse for someone looking to do European championships at that level.
I am also having great fun with BT Bentley recently, he is a lovely 5 year old by OBOS Quality who picked up a win and a 2nd place in his last couple of events. He is a very compact but scopey horse who I expect will suit a young rider ready for an exciting journey through the levels. I am going to take him jumping in Cavan in early November as he is becoming a lucky charm these days!
It is wonderful to have Lowhill Village at Lyons back in action. All riders hate having one of their top string out of action and it has been a year of rest and working at home for Blackie after he picked up an injury at Camphire last year. He has been in work since last November but he has been working up slowly at home. He will be coming showjumping with me this winter to get back in action for next season. He has the Europeans at Blair next season to aim for and of course, Rio 2016 the year after.
The highlight of the season for me was taking part in one of the greatest equestrian events in the world – Aachen.
For three weeks in August, Aachen plays host to some of the best riders and horses in the world competing in dressage, showjumping, eventing, driving and vaulting. It was a world class field and it felt amazing to be back with Jiff. We had been told he may never compete again after his fall in London 2012 – the little horse never ceases to amaze me and just gets better and better.
The cross-country Track at Aachen was like a 4* track run over a CIC3* distance and there was no time to hang about. Sandra Auffarth and Michael Jung occupied the first and second spots (and who went on to be WEG individual gold and silver respectively later in the year) but Jiff gave his usual cross country exhibition.
I will cherish forever the moment when myself and Jiff entered the main arena for the showjumping, a football stadium which holds 40,000 people. ‘This is what it’s all about’ I thought, it is feelings like that that make all the 5am starts worthwhile. I came home feeling confident and inspired – the comeback for this horse had taken another important leap forward.
Next stop after Aachen was back home to the lovely Camphire International Horse Trials. I was giving BT Border Bandit a prep run here ahead of his first CCI3* Blenheim later in the year. We took it steady in the cross country and even with a clear round, we were never really in contention. I was delighted to see my good friend and fellow RED MILLS Ambassador Sam Watson take the spoils in the CIC3* on the day.
My 6 year old BT Cloudnine put in a fantastic performance and was one of only two horses to finish on his dressage score in the class and took 4th place. BT Bentley performed well in the 5yo Masterclass and finished 3rd in a very competitive field of exciting horses for the future. Last year, two of my horses, BT Righty HO and BT Cloudnine, took 1st and 2nd place in this class so the future is looking bright for BT Bentley.
Getting the call from our Team Manager Nick Turner to ask me to join the team travelling to WEG for Ireland brought about a whirlwind of emotions. We are a tight-knit bunch and I knew the call up was coming at the expense of another. I was extremely sorry for Austin to be missing out at this late stage.
Austin is a friend and had produced some great results during the year – notably the 12th place finish at Badminton this year. I met Austin soon after the news and was bowled over by his graciousness and support. He told me I had earned my place and to go for it. I will always be grateful for his encouragement at what was a difficult time for him.
The second emotion was of course one of enormous delight. It is always an honour to represent your country, but to get the chance to get back to the top level on such a special horse made it even more emotional. Although this had been the first year that I had not been aiming for a championship team, myself and Jiff had produced some great performances and I felt we were getting better with every run.
The competitive edge came out when we felt we had to prove ourselves all over again and this certainly played in huge role when demanding and gruelling track at WEG came before us. The euphoric feeling of coming through the finishing flags on XC day at a World Equestrian Games is one I will never forget.
We had gone round clear on what was one of the toughest 10.30 minute tracks I’ve ever experienced. He had shown again what a strong partnership we have and although we had a lot to prove before going out, we made a lot of people proud that day. The course took its toll the following day in the showjumping but we came home with our heads held high and Ireland had secured Olympic qualification.
As everyone who works with horses will know only too well, you’re enjoying the highest highs one moment and battling the lowest lows the next. Just a couple of weeks later I was at Blenheim Palace for the CCI3* with my second string BT Border Bandit. I was having the most fantastic spin XC onboard a horse with amazing scope and talent when we very uncharacteristically came unstuck midway round the track.
On pulling up, I was devastated to find he was clearly experiencing a lot of discomfort. It was a long wait with lots of icing until we could get him home and scanned and found he had fractured a pastern. It was a massive blow for our whole team but unfortunately these setbacks are part of a sport which requires horses to gallop across undulating countryside at high speed. Thankfully, a bit of time off and lots of TLC will have him back in action next season but its hard seeing them not out and about every day.
I am enjoying the closing events of the season on the national circuit with my younger horses. The winter will be spent with some lovely 4 year olds who I am bringing through and lots of winter training. I am really looking forward to a few outings to Cavan to showjump. Equestrian Pilates has being built into my social schedule alongside some pals. Our dedication to the sport will have us unrivalled! I hope to get to see some friends from other worlds as well before we get going again next season.
Overall 2014 has been a season of highs and lows, of learning and improvement. There have been lots of tears but importantly, lots of laughs. That’s Eventing!!
- Camilla Speirs