Thursday, 16 August 2018

My EO Journey – The Final Blog

Regular readers will have been following Laura's journey as she tried out for a place on Agility Team GB and was selected for this years team going to the European Open in Austria. Laura has written a blog about her experience at the Championships. Its an really interesting read which I"ll post in two exciting instalments. Here's the first...

My EO Journey – The Final Blog

If you’ve been reading my blogs you will have been keeping up to date with the work Jade and I have been doing, as well as some of the preparations we have been partaking in to get us ready for the European Open in Austria.  Here is my final blog – the trip, the highs and lows and my experiences.

 As you know many months of hard work went into preparing Jade and myself for this event, from fitness routines, diet changes, short sequence timing, handling precision and the all-important wrapping in cotton wool.  After all that, we made it (with no injuries), we were sound and ready to go. We left with my friend at 4pm on the Sunday and drove to the Eurotunnel, we stayed over in Calais on the Sunday evening and rose bright and early at 7am to crack on with the long journey ahead. The satnav stated around 12 hours of driving, however this wasn’t really case.  With 2 hourly stops to let Jade out for a wee break and to do some stretches and the constant road works / traffic jams we didn’t make it to our destination until 1:30am.  It was dark & we were shattered, so went straight to bed.

The next day (Tuesday) we woke and had a little stroll around our home for the following week.  Found some lovely walks and worked out which rooms some of our other teamies were staying in.  As Tuesday was technically a day off before the hard work began and knowing how Jade gets quite stressed during travel, I wanted her to have a relaxing day where she could settle, stretch out and sleep.  I gave her a massage and let her sleep, which didn’t require much encouragement – she had barely slept during our days travel the day before.  Joce and I met up with some fellow team mates and blew off a little bit of steam in the local outdoor pool.  This was a lot of fun – to be relaxed, enjoy each other’s company and build bonds/friendships prior to the next few days, which as you will find out are quite emotional.  We also were able to have a great game of volleyball, which yes, became competitive (I’m sure you couldn’t imagine it any other way).  After a couple of hours relaxing we had some lunch and then returned back to the hotel.  I took Jade out for a small walk and did some stretches with her, followed by another massage and then she was able to relax again.  A few of us went for dinner Tuesday night and returned home at a reasonable time to get enough sleep in preparation for the work to begin the next day.

 Personally, for me I found the Tuesday a really useful day. As you may know this is the first time I have been privileged enough to compete for Team GB internationally and so I’m sure you can all imagine my feelings around this.  Excitement, nervousness, apprehension, pressure, slight intimidation but also a sense of loneliness due to the family I had left behind to be there.  It enabled me to become more comfortable in my own surroundings, not just the area but with some of the other Team GB members, who before then, I had had little social interaction with.  I think it also enabled some other people to get to know me a little as I am not someone who will boldly put myself out there. That’s not because I am being rude (I’d be mortified if people thought that of me), I don’t like to impose and am also fully aware there are very strong friendship groups with Team GB and so it helped me to find my place within the team social structure and I felt comfortable and welcomed.  Thank you for that guys.

Right then, Tuesday finished and Wednesday began. The beginning of what we were there for and for the work to begin.  We had Team GB training in the morning where we were able to have a set period of time to practice on the kit that would be used during the EO’s.  Maria had organised a space for some proprioception work which was great.  I found this training session great… after the session.  During the training session however, for some reason I felt incredibly nervous… it’s just training, not the competition.  I felt all eyes watching me (even though I’m sure they weren’t) and will admit felt quite under pressure.  We had x3 short training sessions, my first 2 didn’t quite go to plan. Jade knows when I’m not 100% comfortable however I attacked the third short session differently.  I was more decisive in what I wanted to look at and what I wanted to achieve, whereas prior this I didn’t feel I was as focused.  A really big lesson for me to have learnt in confidence to use the time that is allocated to me, mine and Jades time, to get the most of what we wanted. The first two sessions felt rushed (my fault), maybe trying to cover too much in each session I don’t know, but I refocused and this helped me to achieve more and Jade worked much better. I should also add the even during the team training session during the morning the management team were incredibly supportive – keeping us up to date with information and helping if we needed it. 

The team training finished and we had free time until our vet/physio checks back at the hotel.  So we cooled our dogs off and thought we would take a look at the venue and where the stable blocks were, where our dogs would be able to sleep during the competing days.  The venue was huge.  An enormous horse arena, I walked into the centre of the arena to look at the surroundings and to get a feel for the surface which felt brilliant.  The sand was slightly damp but not too wet.  I felt that the dogs would be able to run on this well, a little bit of give but not enough that it would get churned up quickly and cause a problem.  After this we went to get some lunch as a team which was lovely, then we went back to the hotel to await our vet/physio checks.  This is always a nerve wracking time, not just for me but for everyone I feel. We have all worked so hard and this check was one of two that could potentially put our competition dreams on hold. Jade and I sailed through this and so I could breathe a sigh of relief.  We had the official vet check the following day so was feeling good about this.  Wednesday evening we had a team meal at a local restaurant which was lovely, albeit short for me.  The weather held out enough to chat with our team mates and receive a motivating speech from Mark the Team manager and also for us to receive our GB Team caps, something I was honoured to receive and hoping I will be able to add to the number of times representing GB, for this trip I had a number 1 😊.  

I was amazed at some of the other team members & the number of times they had gotten to represent Team GB – well done guys, an amazing achievement.  After speeches etc. the weather changed to an incredible downpour which then led to a rather impressive thunder and lightning display.  Knowing Jade would not be feeling amazing comfortable with this I decided to cut the meal short, made my apologies for leaving but needed to go and be with Jade.  Got back to the hotel, she was ok but not amazingly happy, so I put a body wrap on and we had cuddles until the thunder storm finished and then we went for a little wander.  That concluded Wednesday, the formalities of the EO’s were the next day so we bedded down.

Thursday came and as usual I phoned home to speak to Graham and Grace before she started her day.  I had been ringing her every morning which was brilliant – I love FaceTime. It started my day off well and meant I could check in with Graham to make sure he was ok alongside the boys who were enjoying a quiet and relaxing week.  We left the hotel and met at the venue in the stable blocks. We all had team training which I felt went much better than the previous day.  I knew what I wanted to look at and what I wanted to achieve, we met our goals and I felt more confident than the day before. After this I cooled Jade off and we awaited our vet checks, which again went smoothly. I hadn’t experienced this before and I was surprised just how thorough they were, it’s no mean feet seeing over 850 dogs a day prior to competition but it was brilliantly organised and appeared to run smoothly.  Once all of the GB dogs were seen I think Hana and Maria breathed a little sigh of relief.  It’s an important time for them also.  

After this we all met back at the stable block for a de-brief and then we awaited the opening ceremony.  I decided to take Jade back to the Hotel before the opening ceremony.  I wanted her to rest and didn’t want her in the heat much longer.  The temperatures were between 30ºC-36ºC over the course of the week so felt she would be much more comfortable sleeping in an airconditioned room.  A decision I was very pleased with.  The opening ceremony was incredible, I’m not to shy or ashamed to say it bought me tears (I think Tash must have thought I was a bit mad haha), I felt quite overwhelmed with emotion.  It was as if it suddenly became real.  I was there amongst all of these other amazing partnerships from all over the world.  A very humbling moment.  Austria did themselves proud, a fantastic ceremony and the finale was a display from some beautiful and talented horses and riders.  Once the ceremony finished we went for dinner and then went to bed. An early night before the hard work really began.

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