Le Seul Brit en France by Dot Still European Cup competition in Franche Comte

Thursday 19th May

J’arrive a Basel en Suisse via Easy Jet, got my hire car and drove over the border into France. One hour later I am at the venue Mathay for the French round of the Le Trec Euro Cup.

Jean Bernard was waiting for me so that he could introduce me to my hired horse for the weekend.

Umprevu, a 16hh grey gelding, 9 years old, last competed in Trec 3 years ago with Lynn Davies at a very appropriately named horsey place in France called DUNG!!!

JB arranged for me to join in with a lesson at the stables that evening to get to know my horse. Olivier, the owner of the riding school and a French National event rider was taking the lesson and did not speak a word of English, mixed with my lack of French……. I couldn’t wait!

In the meantime, I went for a drive around to get my bearings and have a general look at the area. I checked into my hotel and headed back up to the stables.

I joined in with 5 others for the jumping lesson. Should I have been worried? 2 had on French regional team saddle squares?

Not a bit, Umprevu was a star and was the only one to pop through the 1m grids, without stopping or touching a pole. The language barrier did not pose a problem at all. Lots of gesturing though!!The lesson finished at 8.30pm and I was invited to supper of bolognaise. Yum, I had forgotten I hadn’t eaten since the morning.

Off back to hotel for some ZZZzzzzz.

Friday 20th May

Up to the stables for 9am, tacked up and went for a  reccy ride with Umprevu, map and compass. (you daren’t go anywhere in France without your map and compass) Lovely 2 hour ride in the woods trying to find tracks that are on the map but not easy to find on the ground. Back to stables and had an hour in the school trying some PTV moves and to measure his walk and trot. Little did I know how important this would be.

Lunch again at the stables,( they really did look after me well) cleaned my tack, packed my saddle bags and went for more reccying in the car.

It is a beautiful region with hills ( they call them mountains) up to about 550m and forestry as far as the eye can see.

For those not familiar with a Euro Cup competition, meals from Friday night to Sunday lunch are included in your entry, so… pizza and salad for all on Friday night and a good opportunity to meet everyone. All very social.

There are new French rules which mean that a Friday night and Saturday vetting are no longer required, only on the Sunday morning are the horses vetted. Also new in French rules for this year, you no longer have to carry any equipment except your Id and a copy of the horses passport. It was explained that it was up to the rider what they carried and if they chose nothing and your horse lost a shoe and you had no hoof boot or shoe to put on, he would probably fail the vet the next day. Me being fairly risk averse, tool the whole lot ( by UK standards) of equipment.

Back to the hotel for 10.30pm. Set alarm for 6.30am

The fire alarm in the hotel went off at 11.30pm. No blooming fire but I still had to get up and check what was going on. A member off staff had blown out a candle under the smoke detector.

Saturday 21st May.

I awoke before my alarm, unusual for me!!! I don’t normally wake before the alarm. QUELLE HORROR!!!! It was 8.19am. My phone had decided to do an automatic update through the night and had switched off my alarm.

My map room time was 9.30am, I was a 3km drive from the yard.

I threw my clothes on, jumped into car and arrived at stables at 8.40am. Was I glad I had got all my equipment ready the day before? Missed breakfast but made it to the tack or ID paperwork check with 3 mins to spare. AND BREATH…… AND FOCUS……..AND INTO THE MAP ROOM.

Every time I have competed in France ( this is my 4th time) they give you the whole OS sheet, all neatly folded up, not a nice A3 or A4 printed map of the area, so the first task is to locate yourself on the huge sheet. The map was a complicated draw with lots of off piste and little “offs” or wiggles with most of the route being in the woods. There was a large gap about ¾ of the way round??

Got it all down and about 20km marked up and off we went minus my lunch pack which I forgot to lift. ( remember I had no breakfast)

The first ticket or difficulty was within 200m of the start and was a test of whether or not you were paying attention from the get go. Apparently I was as I got it right. YAY. This gave me a huge boost as it had been a bit of a fraught morning.

A km further on, my right rein clip broke and I had no steering. Oh Oh!

I jumped off, put it back on, only for it to become detached another 300m up the track. I undid my lead rope and used that as a rein. It wasn’t a nice soft, synthetic lead rope it was an old fashioned jute rope. I continued for the rest of the day with rein and rope in hand.

The rest of the day went amazingly well without any more dramas. The gap in my map arrived. It was grids. French grids are not the same as our nice 8 figure references. They have 13 figure references. A challenge as I had never done French grids before. We had to sit in the back of a van at a table and chair, very civilized, please take note British organisers!! I tried to plot, but they didn’t make any sense. They were all over the place. They had given the end grid which was at the end of the gap, marked by two lines. I managed to work this out and the rest were fairly simple after that.

All plotted with 2 mins to spare and off I continued. We had 30 mins to get to the finish of the grid section. I arrived at the end in 29 mins and 50 seconds to find a car but Non Personne!!!!! I shouted Moi ici, J’arrive etc and got some funny looks from some cyclists. Turns out you just continue on your route in France. Only wasted a minute or so and thought, take a note of the time and move on.

The next checkpoint was quite near the end and as soon as you arrived they took your map off you. Bearings! In French of course, no translation for Le Seul Brit!!

13 instructions. All went well and I was one of only a few to come in the right way. This was the finish.

Back to the stables, very happy, thought I might have missed only one ticket at a very tricky bit. Had found 11 tickets ( all manned!!)

Washed down Umprevu, who had turned out to be very strong, remember the rope rein. I hadn’t really noticed during the ride, but I was now a couple of layers of skin short on some of my fingers!! Found some ice  which helped, found my lunch pack which helped and someone found me a glass of wine, which definitely helped. Sat in the sun for an hour. Ahhhhhh.

Checked on Umprevu, he was very fine, munching his hay in his stable then off to dinner, a very tasty local sausage and potato rosti. Results out. Scored 170, 8th place, only missed that one ticket and had the 5th best score of the day. (4 riders were on equal scores just above me)Not bad out of 39 elite riders. Only 4 got all the tickets.

What a full on day.

Back to hotel, showered and fell into bed. I woke every hour in fear of the alarm not going off.

Sunday 22nd May

Alarm did go off at 6.30am.

Made it up to stables in time for bacon and eggs, juice and tea. This was a much better start to the day.

The vetting was at 8am and the MA started at 9. The MA was a straight line, over the brow of a hill. Very narrow, about 1m30 and lined with spectators, dogs and judges.

Umprevu does not really possess a slow canter but you have to try. 17 points gained. His walk was quite good but apparently he stepped out.

After the MA, everyone has lunch. Fish and Chips with salad. The PTV started at 1.30pm. I was not on till 3 so took the opportunity of watching the first few and timing some of them. The time of 9 mins was going to be very tight. Nearly all of the 18 obstacles had an associated difficulty to contend with.

I warmed Umprevu up and headed to the start. Number one was a ridden corridor,  along the top of a bank but with a barrel jump immediately in front and at the end. It had caused a lot of problems. Not for Imprevu. Did it perfectly for a 10. The jumps were all between a metre and a metre 10, the incline and decline were very steep with a moving (gravel) surface, the branches had a jump immediately before and after etc etc etc. It was a totally thrilling PTV and we loved every bit of it. Came in at 8 mins and 45 secs.

The scores came out very quickly. 134 for us. Nobody queried anything and the prize giving took place within 30 mins of results, followed by some cheese and wine. No wonder they all stayed for the prizegiving.

I ended up 16th overall and was delighted with how the weekend ended up.

During the chat afterwards, a person who liveries at the yard was curious as to why I was riding in a snaffle bit. I replied, “ it was the bridle I was given for him”, they replied oh, ok, he is usually ridden in a gag!! This would perhaps explain why I had such a strong horse over the weekend. Hey Ho!!

A fabulous weekend, with lots learned and with some fantastic memories and a couple of blistered fingers to take home. More new Trec friends have been made and I would thoroughly encourage anyone to make the journey to compete abroad. The standard is high ( In France you are competing against World and European Champions) but you come away having learnt a lot.

Huge thanks to all in France, especially Jean Bernard and the staff at the stables who made it such a fun and enjoyable weekend. I will be back.

Some Pearls of Wisdom

  1. Take a second alarm clock.
  2. Always be super organized.
  3. Try to take as much of your own trusted tack as you can.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, most people are more than happy to help
  5. Take your own snacks for the POR in case you either forget to lift or don’t like the local offerings
  6. Count every step of the way and when your map says … go through those thick prickly bushes….. GO!!!!!!

Some Stats

POR 170

MA 17

PTV 134

Total 321

Kms ridden POR 34km

Kms walked about 30km

Kms driven 320km

Kms flown who knows

Tack cleaned 4 times

Nationalities present- French, Swiss, Spanish, Austrian and un seul Brit

Au Revoir et Jusqu’a la prochaine fois

The Master Map