Living the Dream

Living the Dream

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.



Jump Camp!

Jump Camp!

Question: How do you de-train a horse in 6 minutes

Answer: Take it round a XC course at an ODE…..

This week has seen me return to Somerford for a jump training camp to prepare for Somerford BE in 2 weeks. I was last there in September and the show jump trainer recognised me. Or rather Amber. “I’ve taught you before” he said. “I liked your horse”. He also reiterated his offer to train and compete her for me. He then added “Gemma liked her too” – Gemma being the queen (or at least princess!) of Badminton, Gemma Tattersall, who was instructing on the XC course on the same camp.

My pride in awesome Amber’s awesome fan-club soon turned to embarrassment when it became clear that Amber has turned into a crazy, wild, big orange beast since the Kelsall ODE. It’s as if she now just thinks any jump is the cue for great excitement and high speed!

A sweaty, stressy hour followed which included Amber jumping a random Oxer that happened to pass her eye line which was not remotely where I was heading. Oops.  She also launched herself at every fence and bogged off after every landing. Oh dear.

After that he said that not only would he be happy to train her but I really ought to send her away. If not to him then to anyone who could ‘educate her properly’. Ouch.

It was perfectly fair comment – and after our combined display of rude horse plus ineffective rider I could only agree. But it still left me feeling disheartened and useless. I SO want to work with her myself and not send her away. But not if I am going to ruin her.

Next up was XC with a trainer I have used many times before who has seen the many-faces-of-Amber. So I asked for an honest opinion: Send her away or keep on taking the slow and scenic route. (Or perhaps that’s the slow and ugly one??)

She could see his point of view but she also feels there has been real progress and a snapshot lesson is not representative of where we have come from and what we have achieved. So basically it’s an option but not (yet) a necessity for safety’s sake. Plus I’ve got very good help on my yard too including the option of Amber having some schooling which we have been doing on and off anyway. Maybe we need that to be more consistent for a few weeks  till she settles again.

She also said Amber strikes her as the kind of mare who is quite particular about who she will let ride her. And she has decided for whatever reason that I am acceptable. This echoes the horsemanship  clinic I hosted in the summer. The trainer was doing some groundwork exercises and used Amber to demonstrate one. Amber was very unimpressed and pulled a series of her best bitch-face expressions at her. Then I took over the reins to repeat the exercise and her expression softened immediately. The trainer said Amber was quite clearly saying “Sod off you’re not my human” then “THIS is my human”. So we may not be a great match on paper, (green on green = black & blue and all that) but I adore her and she seems ok with me so I guess we will find a way to make it work….

The XC session was ok. Not great but ok. And in the meantime back at home we have started walk-canter transitions and she is getting so much better in her flatwork. I struggle to believe in our progress myself at times but I mustn’t lose sight of the fact that she has often been rideable and adjustable recently. Not reliably, but pretty often. Including jumping courses out of a nice relaxed canter rhythm.

So as long as we are making progress I think that’s ok. If I decide I will ruin her or I will get hurt then it will be time for a re-think but for now we’ll just keep on keeping on….

Butter wouldn’t melt….