my own goal

THERE are few keener competitors than Britain's champion female showjumper, a leading contender at next week's Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead. Her eagerness in the arena is legendary, but this quality has not always been sufficient
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BIG prizes in showjumping are not easy to come by, but I nearly won one in Goth-enburg. The top rider in the show was to be presented with a car. I rode well and coming to the last event had an exceptionally good chance of winning.

Everything had gone well. I felt good, my horse was in great form. The ultimate event was a knock-out in which riders and horses compete against each other on opposite sides of the course. We reached the final. We jumped with great confidence and were not only clear but in front. There were two fences to go. The car was looming before my eyes.

Suddenly, for no reason, my horse, Bond Gringo, went left. I moved to the right. We parted company and didn't make the fence. The event was over. The car went with it. It was bitterly disappointing. I cannot remember being as despondent. These things happen in showjumping but there could have been a more appropriate moment. Gringo knew the course so well he could hardly help himself. It was nobody's fault. I kept telling myself that. You just have to get on to the next event, build yourself up and hope things go better. It can be difficult to do when something like that happens but it must be done.

That Gothenburg disappointment happened three years ago but it was only last month that I had quite a big let-down at Hickstead. I had won the ladies' event at Windsor on Bond Diamond and went into the Nations' Cup at Hickstead in great heart. As it happens, we won the trophy but it was little thanks to me. Diamond and I barely contributed to the team effort. We had a terrible time of it.

This is what team showjumping is all about. You have to accept that neither you nor your horse is going to do well all the time and that other team members are in form if you aren't. But that left me feeling slightly dejected, especially as the last time I'd been on a winning Nations' Cup team in 1990 I had played a part in the victory. But the important thing, I told myself, was that the team had won. I had a dose of flu and it was only when we returned home that Diamond was diagnosed as having a virus. That was some small consolation.

Such incidents have not deprived me of my appetite for showjumping. I still look forward to competing, still want to do well and still enjoy getting the horses ready. Without a good horse, of course, it's impossible. My method is to bring them on myself and I have six at the moment, three of whom I ride in the top events.

I suppose in some ways I still haven't replaced my old faithful, Everest Oyster. He died of colic two years ago. I was fourth at the time in the rankings and had a great horse. The future looked good. When he went I plummeted down. You have no option but to start again. Added to that, of course, is the hurt you feel at losing such a long-time companion. Oyster had been with me since he was five. We had learned from each other. His death was a big wrench.

Diamond is improving and should continue to do so. Gringo is 15 now but he should be able to go on for two or three years yet. It has been done before even at world-class level. Like me, Gringo still has the appetite. I still have ambitions to compete in Nations' Cup teams and the real dream would be an Olympic Games place. That's not something I contemplate much. So many wrong turns could happen between now and Atlanta next year.

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