I woke up this morning feeling rubbish. I didn’t have a drink last night, I went to bed early, I ran through my dressage test in my head, checked I had it right at 10.50, 10.59, 11.42 and then fell asleep. I checked it again at 2am and then drifted off again. I had my alarm set for 8am but at 7am I woke up spluttering, coughing, lungs on fire, nose blocked yet running and could have cried…seriously cosmos, how could you give me another cheeky hurdle to contend with?! I lay in bed coughing until it was apparent that my husband was getting royally peed off being bounced around the bed on his only lie in day so I got up, took some antihistamines and wandered downstairs. My son Freddie greeted me with a smile.
“Big day today”
“Yes Mummy, I do hope Liverpool beat Chelsea.”
Hmmmm! On checking my nerve level I found it at nil surprisingly enough, so I went off to the yard to chuck the horses out and go and walk the course. Ted of course did not know what his day was going to entail, so even though I walked him up the field away from the dust bowl of a gateway he walked straight back to it and rolled, and turned brown. He shook, created a comedy style dust cloud around him, but looked OK, so I left him to it.
The ever wonderful Jackie accompanied me on my course walk and apart from the step up under the trees we have never done before, the rather delightful placing of a disabled portaloo hidden behind the hedge on the cut through, and the fact I would have to double back on myself for the last fence, we were pretty confident all would be OK. Even the dreaded carrot dressed table was being kind, for the carrots had turned rather black over night! I leered at some of the fence dressings, some pretty, potted plants in front of the log on the top of a hill especially, but I figured that Ted will jump pretty much any filler going so resigned myself to kicking like stink and smacking my whip on my boot!
Leaving the course I did another nerve check…yes, still OK, whoop, so happy! We went to go and prepare the trailer for towing and once inside the mecca of doom I suddenly felt very, very ill. This was real, we were going out in the trailer to a competition and I had NO idea of my horse’s reaction. I don’t know what it is about traveling horses to competitions, I hate it, it makes me anxious and nervous and is always the worst part of the day…no, getting ON the wired horse at the event is the worst part. I always travel tacked up for this reason, as I know that once on I feel much better. The thought of having to tack a wired horse up at an event is even worse than getting on actually LOL! Stupid how the mind messes with you!
So, by now I am feeling sick, very, very sick and not the sort of scared sick you can turn into an adrenaline positive by tricking yourself to turning it into excitement. Right then I would have welcomed a meteor landing in the yard and smashing my leg to smithereens. My husband phoned, talking about something, I don’t recall, I responded in grunts.
“Christ, what is wrong with you?”
“Well don’t do it then, you don’t have to do it.”
“Jamie, that is not the right response darling, don’t give me an out!”
Love him 🙂
Luckily at this point my friend Sarah arrived. It is because of Sarah that I bought Ted. He was owned by a friend of hers and she rode him and told me about him and how much I would love him…but he wasn’t for sale. A few months later she mentioned that the owner was not loving him all that much so I went and tried him, loved him, brought him home for the weekend and bought him…so everything comes back to Sarah, the pressure on her shoulders was great! “Louise, you can do this, it will be fun”…Wise words, she knows I can, I took her horse to do the Blenheim RC SJ years ago having only sat on her once before and that went up to 3ft9. So we finished the yard and went to get my stuff, and I was getting worse and worse in the nerve scale. I couldn’t find my cream breeches, I debated about wearing white and black jacket, I agonized over it, found my cream breeches, agonized about the fact they were not sticky bums, decided to take white sticky bums for jumping stuff and put my creams on so I could wear my tweed and blend in. All through this debate and faffing Sarah sat on the sofa and just observed me, good girl, she is very smart!
By this time my 12pm plaiting time was running late. Ted came in from the field at 12.15 and it soon became apparent that his mane really wasn’t in the best plaiting state. I usually plait with one band only, but that wasn’t going to happen, my arthritic thumbs were screaming, Ted was throwing his head back and forth, and some plaits ended up with 3 bands in, but eventually we were plaited. Then came the forelock…for which I endure a lot of abuse as I leave it long like an Andalucian’s because that is what I like. Now Ted loves having it combed but obviously not plaited…after him throwing his head around for 5 minutes I gave up, I didn’t need to stress him out anymore. I picked up my flicky brush and started giving him a once over – DISASTER, he turned brown! Everywhere I brushed turned brown, from the dust in the field, and there was nothing I could do about it! We stood back and evaluated…he looked like he was one of those greys with brown hues…it would have to do, the trailer was pulling into the yard.
Jackie’s husband Tony was our designated driver…very helpful family, more on that later…and before long we were on our way. I was physically shaking, I felt distraught, I tied my stock too tight and ballsed up the knot, nearly garroted myself with the pin all whilst puffing hard on a Silk Cut Ultra. We got there too soon, it is about a mile from the yard, and so the time had come. Sarah and Jackie got Ted off the trailer whilst I sat in the car and breathed. I closed my eyes and thought about why I was there. My stomach churned (thankfully empty, I don’t know about you but I cannot eat before competing), my hands shook, my armpits were pretending to be equine by sweating and not glowing as a lady’s body should….and I looked out of the window and saw a 22hh horse that was pretending to be my boy…sheesh, how the hell was I going to get on that! I left the car, tried to put my bib (I get it now, it’s for your number – durrr!!!) over my hat…fail…tore my hat back off, put the bib on….err I am tall and broad and it took some effort to pull it down over my less than ample bosom, but we got there. Jackie got a medal in weight lifting as she legged me up magnificently into the saddle and ahhhh, I was where I needed to be, I started to breathe, to calm and focus.
I won’t bore you, the dressage warm up was rather erratic, head up, head down, me bracing with my back and hand and then remembering where my core was and allow us to work together. I was last…not good, especially as Ted was remembering his stallion days and neighing and neighing and neighing, all concentration on anyone but me, and the collecting ring was emptying. At last it was our go and I am eternally grateful to a lovely lady called Pippa who went before me and stayed in the collecting ring until I was finished so Ted wouldn’t be alone. We walked around to look at the judge’s car… scary s***, we snorted at the white boards, I wondered how the hell I was going to trot without disappearing into the distance. The bell rang, I walked towards the entrance, and started to trot, impersonating that stagiraffe I told you about yesterday! Least said the better really, we managed to do everything in the right place, but without the beautiful submission and softness and throughness that would be ideal! The transition from canter into trot first time was more of a throttle into trot, judge’s comment was that it was abrupt…you’re are telling me, it was yank the back teeth out or go round for another circuit! My riding was defensive, I had too much tension in my shoulders, my back was braced against the strength coming from the front, but at last it was over…we had done it and we hadn’t been eliminated! My wonderful supporters (at this point I think there were 15…!) gave me a clap, I gave them a smile and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief…the next part we could do blindfolded!
After a quick tack change, breeches change (bring on the sticky bums) and 2 chain smoked cigarettes I was pinged back into the saddle by Jackie and away we went. Ted warmed up well and so we went into the ring with confidence. I was a little guilty of anchoring him a little too much as I wanted him to listen to me and not plough through the fences as he doesn’t always appreciate that he has to make any effort over anything less than 3ft3, but we set off well and managed to stay clear over the two doubles that had caused problems the day before. Fence six fine, then coming towards fence 7, colourful planks, I felt Ted back off…a quick slap of my whip down my boot and he remembered that I was in charge and wouldn’t allow him to be eaten and flew it, three more efforts and we were home clear within the time – whoop! Would have been rather embarrassing if we had faulted in this section though, so I relaxed even more, what would happen from here on in would happen.
Seeing as we were on a roll I didn’t go back to the lorry park and allow Ted to get all shouty and silly again, so stripped off my tweed and popped on my BP and XC shirt. I looked around and realised that everyone else had their medical armbands on display….hmmm, this could get dodgy. I asked a friend if I could borrow hers and that was fine, but then we realised that we would be going at about the same time, so I dispatched Sarah to buy one for me to be on the safe side….SIX POUNDS!!!!!!!!!! They know desperate times when they come asking for stock eventing items! Sarah hastily scribbled my details on, we tied it to my arm (for neither of us could work out how to get the velcro to work) and off I went to the collecting ring.
Now, this is where my naivety comes into play. I thought there would be 7 people to go before me…what I hadn’t accounted for was that 2 classes were being run simultaneously – doh! So I had 20 mins to wait, which we spent mooching, went for a canter, popped the biggest tree trunk available to us (to which we came to in a beautiful collected canter, my horse was LISTENING!), and waited….Eventually, after watching two young girls from my yard fly round in amazing fashion (well done Harriet and Amber!), it was our turn. As soon as we approached the starting box Ted started eyeing it in the way he does daisies, which are the most petrifying things in the world after imaginary tigers. I walked him round and round, remembering how WFP and the like do it at Badders, and finally we were called in. I booted him, he didn’t move, I booted him again and he went…genius! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and we were off with a growl and kick, kick, boot!
We snaked right and left but got to fence one, a small hanging log, and he flew it, I kicked on, reminding him to go forwards and he spotted fence two, a house, and over we flew as I chanted GOOD BOY GOOD BOY WE CAN DO THIS. We turned right towards the worrying point, a step up in the corner of the field under trees and something we haven’t done before. As soon as we started turning he started napping. I kicked and kicked and we were going forwards again but reluctantly so…with an audible zzzzzzooooop as the zip on my left boot popped as my calf muscle was working so hard! Sighing with resignation, and realising that the price of this event had increased yet again I shrugged. “We can do this” I shouted at Ted, and the wonderful fence judges, I don’t know who they were as I couldn’t take my eyes off the fence, replied in unison “YES YOU CAN” which made me laugh and we scrambled up and over the log at the top a couple of strides away. I kicked on along the hedge line towards the next fence and felt my wonder boy start falling completely behind the leg and going into his default bounce and rear mode. I kicked and told him how wonderful he was, that we were not going to prove the doubters wrong and we were off again (on watching the video the reason for this episode became clear…another horse coming towards home!).
We flew four and five and I admit that I was realising how eventing is deffo a fit person’s game – I don’t think I have ever appreciated that before and I am pretty fit! As we came towards 6, a sizeable log that you jump into nothing on a bank into the water Ted was more enthralled with the fence judges than the fence. I may have sworn and kicked and flapped, but we were over and trotting towards the water. I decelerated into walk and walked through the water as I didn’t need us falling down a hole and submerging ourselves like a couple of hippos when we were going so well, but we managed to go between the flags and I kicked on with Ted almost audibly saying “Aha, I know this fence and the next, we have done these before”! We absolutely flew upon landing and motored on towards the bank, Ted not giving the scarily placed portaloo a second glance, and as we approached the grassy incline I told him not to be a ****** and to pay attention, up we went, jumped down the drop, I whoooooped very loudly and kicked on to the carrot table…on looking at the photographic evidence he wasn’t sure the carrots WOULDN’T kill him so gave it some room! My friend Sophie was fence judging the next fence and I could hear her calling me onwards and what a great feeling that was, as the fence was one we hadn’t done, the log on the top of a downslope with some potted flowers in front! He looked, I shouted at him, Sophie shouted at him, he realised he was scuppered and snorted v loudly and went for it…weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I looked up and my friends were all stood on the bank cheering for me, I afforded them a cheesy smile on my way through and swung left towards a scary green caterpillar. “Blimey woman, I don’t think so” was what I could feel emanating from Ted, “Oh yes you can boyo, only two more to jump, come on you clever, clever boy” was my reply, and so he did it! The whoops of joy from me and my friends was huge and a smile started developing on my face. I clamped my legs on and guided him around the last napping availability. “One more my darling, one more, do it for me, do it for everyone” I shouted and he did. He did it. I did it. I heard my friends cheering and my eyes started getting wet. It was all I could do not to start bawling properly (and I admit that my eyes are leaking right now writing this), I was more happy and proud of my boy and me than I had ever been, in fact I was prouder of myself than I had ever been on a horse ever. This had been a huge journey and we had done it. I was soooo puffed out, my throat was raspy, my chest reminding me of the fact that I was not 100% but I couldn’t have been happier if I had won the Euromillions, Badminton and woken up with Elle McPherson’s body all on the same day. And yes, I felt smug 🙂
I had to work very hard not to cry during the next 20 mins with my wonderful support crew being so lovely about both me and Ted and we waited anxiously for the results. I already knew that my dressage was 39 (or 61%…I think that is how it works), so I had beaten my 50 target, whoop, but I was behind the leader on 33 dressage. Misinformation told us that I could be second (I almost fainted), but finally the end results were up…..
I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to be rewarded for our efforts. We got 8.8 penalties for going too slow (22 seconds too slow), but hey, that’s OK, I still stand by walking through the water…if I hadn’t I still wouldn’t have won, so it’s all cool 🙂
After having a glass of year old, flat, cherry Lambrini (all that was in the fridge at the yard), I snuggled my horse, had a tear, told him he never had to go anywhere and I came home. As I walked in the door Freddie came hollering and whooping towards me. I smiled at him, he is so wonderful like that.
“LIVERPOOL DREW WITH CHELSEA IN THE DYING SECONDS WOOOOHOOOOO.”
My husband had made the most delicious-tasting roast beef ever and I am half way through a bottle of Rioja….the perfect end to a rather delicious day 🙂
Thank you so much to all of you for wanting to hear our story, it has been fun telling it!
Oh I need to add at the end – thank you to Claire for her brilliant photos…that will be Claire, daughter of Jackie…told you they were a useful family to know! The pic of me pinging the log on the hill from beneath is courtesy of Sophie the fence judge supremo!
I promise to follow up with a tongue in cheek observation post, but for now I bid ye all goodnight 🙂 Videos tomorrow!