I did one unaffiliated ODE in the late 1990s. My pony, Rupert, galloped out of the dressage arena. Eliminated in dressage! Quite an achievement!! But it was a ‘taster’ day so we were allowed to continue. He flattened the SJ then flew round XC and that was my foray into eventing over for a couple of decades…
Spin on to the 21st Century and I revived my eventing dream by buying a gorgeous ISH called Thyme. She was lovely: bold, sane, easy as pie to ride. It was all looking very promising. But I was also working for the NHS while trying to set up a new business, had young kids who had lost interest in horses and who had super active social lives of their own. Not to mention a birthday party to go to pretty much every weekend in those primary school invite-the-whole-class days. The stress and guilt of the time and cost involved became overwhelming and I decided to just quit horses altogether. Sold Thyme and everything else down to the last hoof-pick. And that was that. Or so I thought….
About 18 months later, 2 of the 3 kids decided they wanted riding lessons. And then a pony. I resisted for about a week (!) then we went pony shopping. And while searching for a pony for them I stumbled on a gorgeous 3 year old Fell pony called Cally. Well if the kids are going to have a pony I needed something to do myself. Cally was fabulous. So easy, so willing.
Over the previous few years I had developed a fairly paralysing fear of jumping. Even just looking at jumps made me sweat and feel sick. So even though I had a super pony, eventing seemed further away than ever. But Cally was so honest and easy that slowly I regained my jumping wings. X-poles, mini jumps, logs then eventually 60cm and up. So 18 months after Cally’s arrival in my life I entered a 70cm Hunter Trial at Eland Lodge thinking: 70cm? I can jump 70cm!! That’s only a few inches above my knee.
I went to practice on the course beforehand with a friend and stared at the jumps in terrified disbelief having discovered that there is a world of difference between narrow, 70cm portable XC fences at home and wide, solid, well dressed fences at an event. And I discovered the ‘brush rule’. The idea that the top 20 cm of brush somehow does not count as horses can hit it without harm. That made absolutely no sense at all to me. I mean why not just have the ‘pole’ rule in show jumping and stick a 90cm fence in at 70 which you can knock the top rail off without penalties…… Talking of which, in what way is a fence at an 80T event that is 120cm wide at the base, 90 wide at the top, 100cm high including 20cm of brush or has a drop of 120 an ‘80cm’ fence….
Most sports/tevents like to big themselves up – My son attended a Chess tournament with MEGA and GIGA Finals (2nd & 3rd rounds). Football switched from Divisions 1 & 2 to “Premiership” and “Championship” divisions. Meanwhile equestrian sport seems to take a perverse delight in understatement – ‘Novice’ eventing, ‘Elementary’ Dressage and ENORMOUS great ’70cm or 80cm’ fences.
But I digress….. I had my lovely friend with me that day at Eland who assured me that the fences she was pointing me at really were in the 70cm HT. I refused to believe her. The weird green baize thing? No way! The box? Absolutely no way!! The corner? No f-ing way!!! But she would not let me go home without jumping them as I was already entered into the HT 2 weeks later.
I stopped worrying that I’d make a fool of myself and started worrying that I’d die. Literally. We jumped most of the jumps and my overwhelming feeling at the end was relief to still be in the saddle at the end. And then Cally jumped round the HT with just 2 stops and I felt on top of the world. We did a few more 70s and she jumped clear every time after that first time. And suddenly the world of eventing seemed within reach after all those years. So it was time for an event horse and along came Amber…… And now here we are living the dream.
Dreaming it is easy and inexpensive. Living it is hard, hard work and costs about the equivalent of a new car every year. (Don’t try to add it up. It is too scary). The journey can be disheartening, exhausting and terrifying.
However, if you had asked the 12 year old me to describe my perfect life, this would be it. I have an awesome horse. My daughters share my passion and have 2 great ponies. I have transport and enough time and money to pursue this crazy eventing adventure. And I am fit and healthy enough to do it too. I am incredibly lucky. It could all be taken away in a heartbeat: Illness/injury (human or equine), change in circumstances, loss of nerve.
It is very easy when faced with set-backs, silly errors, poor performances, early mornings, misbehaving horses, falls and injuries, rubbish weather, endless lost shoes, haemorrhaging costs, lack of time and sleep and crippling nerves to wonder why the hell I do it. Why I put myself through it.
Then I have days like Somerford BE80T that remind me why. An average dressage but a fair reflection of where we are, an ok SJ with 2 poles – again a fair reflection of where we are. Then it was time for the XC and I had the privilege of riding the boldest, bravest most enthusiastic XC horse I have ever ridden. From the moment we left the start box and I felt her surge forward into her huge ground covering canter, locking onto Fence 1 from 15 strides out and there was never any doubt that she would jump whatever she was presented to. She would take it all on with enthusiasm and complete confidence. I went the wrong way twice which is annoying but we had no jumping faults and would have been within the time had it not been for my random diversions. What a horse. She is just utterly magical to ride. If only I could bottle the feeling of gratitude, exhilaration and pure joy that Amber gives me. Eventing may be expensive. And you may have to earn these wonderful days with blood, sweat & tears. But the utter joy of it is absolutely priceless.