Our fan club and helpers extraordinaire, Mr and Mrs Paris arrived on Friday to cheer us on. They brought extra food and we had a great meal that evening. On Saturday, they were all geared up to help taxi people to and from the Parc Equestre and to feed and water all of the GAEC de Pimayon competitors as needed.
Alex was judging the Elite class, which was starting at 8.15am, so she and YA set off early. We all wanted to watch it, so Mr and Mrs Paris swung by the chateau to pick us up, so that we could leave YA’s truck in Sisi’s paddock for shade.
The elite competitors have to face freestyle tests, which are usually based on one of the seventeen tests on the ‘Club’ list, but always with an evil twist. I’ll do a separate photo post later on the Elite tests, for anyone who is interested.
We had enough time to stay and watch the whole class before we had to leave to get our horses and ourselves ready. It was damn difficult… MC was thinking in terms of next year so she was very interested in how it went.
We went back to the chateau, caught and groomed our horses, were fed by Mr and Mrs Paris (<3 those guys!), loaded up and finally headed for the Parc. Funny, I wasn’t feeling nervous at all. MC was – she was much more wound up than usual, but we all felt that she had a real chance of doing well. I guess this was putting more pressure on her.
We arrived in a convoy, with MC and I in the leading truck, YA behind and the Parises bringing up the rear. MC and I were told where to park but, somehow, in between the entrance to the truck parking area and where we stopped, we lost YA and the Parises. The Parises found us after about ten minutes, but where was YA?
“He parked, unloaded the horse, jumped onto her bareback with just the halter and set off!”
Um… ok… a bit strange! He’s a wound up kind of guy. Maybe the stress got to him and he just had to get up and go? Apparently he made it as far as the entrance to the Parc Equestre, where he was told he wasn’t allowed to ride bareback!
Anyway, MC and I made our way into the mêlee that is the Parc Equestre at Championnat time. If you haven’t experienced it, nothing prepares you for it. There are horses and ponies crammed into the Equestrian paths, dressed for every discipline, some of them dressed most spectacularly for fancy dress.
The other paths are quite literally packed with pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, segways, golf carts and official vehicles, going in both directions. This is all very well until you get to a point in the middle of the Parc where everybody – equine, human and vehicular – must go through the same intersection. Aero was impeccably behaved until we reached this spot, but it was just too much for him and he had a mini-melt down. I couldn’t blame him – that particular spot was horrific, and most of the other horses found it very stressful, too. Quieto coped a little better, but our nerves were all fraught by the time we got to the manege where the Equifeel competition was taking place.
MC was sixteenth to go – the first of our team. I followed eight horses later. Aero was ok in the warm-up. Not as good as at home, but he was listening to me. Finally it was our turn…
First thing was Deplacement Lateral.
We did it, not as smoothly and seamlessly as we do at home, but heigh ho, twenty points in the bag! Woohoo!
Next was the slalom. On a good day, we would do this for fifteen points, with the lead rope connected to the halter via an elastic band, but I played safe and opted for ten points (lead rope connected normally). I was right to be conservative…
…we had an anxious moment early on…
…but we finished well.
A clean ten points.
The third atelier was the Embûches. Normally there are just three things to do, with a time limit of two minutes. For the Championnat, we had five things to do, with a time limit of three minutes. It was almost the same as what the Elite competitors had had to do : go over a tarpaulin, a jump, ground poles, go through a curtain of streamers and pass between two barrels full of pool noodles, with the noodles twisted inwards so that they completely blocked the passage between the barrels.
Normally, I would do the Embûches at liberty for twenty points but, as soon as I saw the pool noodles, I knew I’d be doing it for ten points. The closest thing to the pool noodles that Aero has ever seen was a bullfinch jump back in his eventing days. He attempted to clear that – it was a good five feet high – and he frightened the pants off himself. I had visions of him attempting to jump the noodles…
It started great. The tarpaulin… the jump… the poles. Even the curtain of streamers went well, although he squeezed out at the side a bit (but still inside the boundary of the obstacle). All we had left was to pass between the barrels, pushing through the noodles as he did so.
He stopped, not knowing what to do. I could see the thought processes :
Do I go around? No? Are you sure? Around the other side? REEEEALLY?
Do I jump? (Lowers himself on his quarters a bit). No? It’s hard to jump from a standstill, maybe I’m not meant to jump.
Go through, you say? Noooooo I can’t… it’s a barrier! I’m not allowed go through barriers!
I have to confess, I ended up standing on one side of the noodles, hauling on the lead rope. Eventually… EVENTUALLY… I could see Aero practically close his eyes, screw up his face, put on his Big Boy pants and say “Ok. I’ll try.”
and he went through. Cue massive verbal praise from me; we legged it to the end zone and halted smartly. Just within the time limit. PHEW!
We picked up two -2 penalties; one for knocking over a cone at the tarpaulin and one for me touching him with the stick while trying to get him through the noodles, so we scored a total of six. The girl judging it assured me that any score at all there was a good thing and, when I looked at the scores afterwards, more than two thirds of the competitors took a zero at the Embûches.
Two ateliers to go and I was pleased to have scored no zeroes so far!
We were in the round pen for the fourth test. This was Le Cercle – basically, control the horse on a circle at liberty.
Of course, being in such a strange place with loads of people watching, he was a bit distracted and uncharacteristically difficult to stop and turn…
but I managed eventually
and we scored another clean fifteen.
The last atelier was Saute à Longe, jump on the lunge. I was choosing between the fifteen point and the twenty point options here. For twenty points, he would have to go back and forth over a jump four and a half metres away from me. For fifteen, it was back and forth over a jump just one metre away. I went for fifteen. Playing it safe!
He trotted into the jump, slowed and hauled himself over it. Then he turned and jumped again, more cleanly.
No good, shouted the judge. The first jump wasn’t good enough; it doesn’t count.
I sent him over and back again, but Aero was a bit pee’d off – as far as he was concerned, he’d done his job. He jumped, turned, ducked out, glared at me, stopped, turned, jumped… I actually forget what he did.
But the judge was already shouting, No, that’s okay…
Was our time up? Had we scored a zero?
No, no, the judge assured me. Just minus 2 for the first awkward jump. It was fine after that.
So thirteen points scored.
I was pleased with how it had gone for us. I knew I should have a total of 64 points.
MC had had two zeroes, the first in the slalom. Quieto had done it perfectly, for fifteen points. She was so thrilled that as soon as he passed the last cone, she stepped into his ‘zone’ to praise him – instant zero for crossing her boundary! She was furious with herself. Then in the Embûches, she had wasted a load of time at the curtain of streamers, asking him to go right through the streamers, rather than allowing him to duck out the side a little as I had done with Aero. By the time she presented him at the pool noodles, she was out of time, but she admitted herself that he wasn’t going to go through the noodles.
YA was pleased with his round. He had picked up two zeroes in the slalom and the embûches as well, but he had scored well elsewhere, giving him a total of 53, the same as MC.
Later that evening, the scores were posted. I was dismayed to see that my ten points from the slalom was not registered, leaving me placed just ahead of my teammates on 54 points. Nonetheless, we were all placed in the low twenties – not bad out of 64 competitors. The organisers assured me that the scores as posted were just preliminary and, sure enough, next morning my ten points was counted. I was thrilled to see that I was in joint 11th place!!
It was all to play for, as they say. Could I possibly get into the top ten?
PS Huge thanks to Madame Paris for taking the photos on Saturday.
I think this is going to be three-parter. I’ll keep it as brief as I can!
Last year, the title of this post was ‘Championnat 2014′, like as if there might be a 2015… and, of course, there was. With all the work I’d done with Aero, and with the huge improvement in the quality of our Equifeel work, I was dying to go off to the French Championships to show him off!
Last year, it took us ten hours to drive from Provence to Lamotte-Beuvron, where Le Championnat takes place. This year, it took twelve. Why? I’m really not sure. Both trucks are elderly, and one of them was carrying Sisi (640kg of Friesan) so it really struggled on the hills of the Auvergne but still – twelve hours? Ugh.
We were staying in an old chateau.
It’s a truly unique place.
It’s run by the old couple who own it – they seem to do all the work themselves, from meet & greet to sweeping up the dust in the entrance hall.
Le Championnat is a big earner for them – there were horses and humans shoved into every corner.
They also host hunting parties during the shooting season. The decor reflects this. Have a look at the photos on my Facebook page!
We settled the horses, protecting them against the flies and the heat as best we could – temperatures were up to 38C (100F) over the first two days.
Once the horses were looked after, we all went to sleep for a while. In the afternoon, we went to the Parc Equestre. It was strange to see it empty.
The next day, Friday, we took it easy. I got up early to work with Aero before the heat and the flies got too bad, then we went shopping. In the afternoon, we went to the Parc Equestre to collect our souvenir bags. We were all winners already!
Oh yes, and I bought a hat.
Preparing Aero for the fact that it might be necessary to go under a flag at Lamotte-Beuvron.
Any excuse to wave the Munster flag around ;-)
PS There will be radio silence on the blog for a few days but I will try to post updates from Le Championnat on Facebook and Twitter.
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