Quite the hike from Dorset up to Cheshire and with two horseboxes they skirted the Welsh border pretty much from top to bottom and made camp at Kelsall Hill on Friday with some 11 horses running on Saturday. Kelsall had been kind to us and the permanent stables were much appreciated by the girls that had dealt with the Somme like mud at Thorseby but I wouldn’t like to even guess at the step count for the couple of days as there was some fair trekking to be done!

As both Tim and Jonelle were keen to state, it really is a stunning venue with all weather showjumping (always a blessing in the spring) and a backdrop of rolling hills and an old fashioned track that made much use of the terrain. Neither Tim nor Jonelle are a fan of flat-round-the-fields-cross country and they both relished the chance to get their horses out onto a track that made them think about their footfall.

First they had some very fresh horses to ride in the dressage and Tim’s crew hadn’t had a start since last season apart from Coup de Coeur Dudevin (Joker) who has managed to squeeze in two runs. As Tim said, it showed in the scores with Joker being relaxed enough to score a 21.1 and lead his star studded section. Viscount Viktor was obliging as well with a 22.5 which is impressive and with Falco on 23.9, Jarillo on 25.7 and Happy Boy on 26 it showed that the winter work has paid off with some super scores.

It seems nigh on impossible that we are at the back end of April and the only one of Jonelle’s rides that has had an outing is Jutopia (Lola) who had an open novice start some weeks ago. Normally piloted by (the pregnant) Sammi Birch Lola posted a 22.3 and a very cool double clear in their first Open Intermediate together. Jonelle was also posting flashy scores on the flat with Senor Crocodillo (Diego) on a 24.3, McClaren on a 27.3 and Fernhill Kankan on a 28. Full Monty de Lacense (FM) is quite the drama queen but he managed to contain himself for a 36 which is an improvement on Thorseby and shows he is going the right way. He had a proper panic attack meltdown at Oasby at the end of last season in the arena when he got a fright and it’s taking him a little time to regain his confidence!

The Sunshine Tour showed its huge value yet again in the showjumping as horse after horse from Team Price jumped a clear round. It wouldn’t be a one day though without a bit of drama and when Milo’s martingale popped loose in the middle of his round Tim very casually dropped his hand down to retrieve it and smoothly continued his turn to a vertical. Milo suddenly seemed to realise tack adjustment was taking place by Tim mid-round. Milo is smart enough to know that it’s usually Kerryn who sorts the tack and since she was nowhere near the middle of the show jump track then something very weird was taking place! He shot forward, found himself at the base of the vertical, leapt over it like the proverbial cat and then continued his round looking a tad embarrassed. It was one of those moments when you know you not only have a careful horse but a really brave and smart one too!

Falco didn’t go to the Sunshine Tour ( I mean it would be like taking coal to Newcastle) and he is properly fresh and ready for a run. He absolutely loves to make the most of every single fence and his passion for going above the wings is fun to watch but not always the easiest ride for Tim! He has developed a bit of a new trick this winter whereby he powers down to the fence and on take off keeps his head down to achieve maximum vertical lift off the ground. It sounded very technical when Tim was explaining it to me and I was looking forward to seeing it next week at Cirencester but the end of the quite in depth analysis of this new found technique appeared to be that they went splat. Or at least Tim did. The last bit of the debrief was quite simple and involved some expletives but the gist of it is that the distance between 3 and 4 was a short six, Tim got there deep, Falco did his Harrier Jet thing but since his head was down he looked up on takeoff and basically got the fright of his life and dived through the fence instead of jumping over it. He did dive head first into a trakhener once some years in the distant past but he has never made such an error in the showjumping! So there you go, one minute donning two medals in Pratoni and the next eating dirt in Cheshire. Or surface at least.

Jonelle and Kankan pinging round the showjumping. Photo credits thanks to James Good

Jonelle was having a fun time cross country and she said she thought she was travelling pretty quick but then admitted that although they were mostly on top of the ground she did take some wide lines and picked her spots for the best take off so that night have been why no rosettes were forthcoming. Diego and Mac skipped around like the good advanced horses they are, Kankan put Le Lion behind her and jumped a super confident clear and FM put his brave pants on when he saw the Drop of Doom and didn’t decide to engage reverse. He did pick up a 20 as he got to the edge and was like “Are you serious! That’s like the Leaf Pit Drop!” and then composed himself, realised he didnt want to be on any transfer list and bravely leapt off the precipice. Much to his delight it was actually quite fun and Jonelle was very proud of the good decision he made.

Falco was sulking in his stable whilst Tim rode his other four around and he had a great and near perfect ride on Joker for his final prep run before Badminton. He was super happy that he ran as it’s always hard 10 days out from a 5 star when you have a happy sound pony and you start to question whether you really need another run…..it’s a different kind of pressure!

Milo was very very good and had a super round. Viktor also got a shock at the Drop of Doom and he did put the brakes on quite sharply but then having voiced his opinion quite clearly he too plunged down and continued on his way very much enjoying himself. Happy had a moment at the water which is very Happy at the start of the season but Tim blames it on a communication error. Tim wanted to pop in quietly, not have a huge leap and Happy decided to interpret that as an underide so obligingly didn’t take off. He has the sneakiest sense of humour! Tim did a re approach and Happy popped it sweetly and cantered off smugly but Tim actually had the last laugh as the jump judge must have been eating his sandwich at the time and never recorded it.

Tim mentioned that he and Jonelle had been in the saddle for some 10.5 hours each that day with barely a 10 minute break. He also waffled something about his legs being a bit tired which is hardly surprising as Boekelo was a while back and he only had one there!

Hats off to the team who worked their socks off and still managed to smile as always, even when they had to completely empty 11 stables of all their bedding before departure. And many thanks to the team at Kelsall who could not have been more welcoming or helpful. I think it’s safe to say we will be back.