Two weeks ago I started looking for a new horse. After coming to terms over the winter with the fact that I wasn’t at all interested in affiliated show jumping anymore I struggled to find a reason to keep my quirky, beautiful, neurotic 11 year old KWPN. I had, for three seasons, tried to make him into a hunter… read that as I took him out twice a season, spent most of the time running AWAY from the field and going home with my tail firmly between my legs. This season I had successfully, read that as actually stayed out all day and gone WITH the field, albeit with tellings off for being on the crop and standing resolutely on back legs a lot, Autumn hunted him twice, but the weather was diabolical, the ground poor, and with his aversion to mud, and mine to cold, we retired into a comfortable existence as a happy hacking couple, but always with company, as this wussy warmblood sees tigers everywhere.
So yes, I was resolute, I wanted something that I could do workers with – a happy coexistence between jumping and hunting, something that would stand still at meets so I could drink port and something I could do local ODEs with for fun. I have been involved in eventing in this country since I came over here from Spain. I did a few ODEs in Spain as a teenager, but it wasn’t a big thing there and so I grew my passion for SJ. Over here most of my friends are eventers. I have groomed for many of them, including at Blenheim, and I love swooshing water over the pulsing, erect veins on a heaving neck at the end of an arduous XC round, walking them off, chilling them out and bigging up their ego with soothing words of reassurance regarding their prowess… the horses are never so demanding!
So off I trotted and tried a couple of horses who left me with a yearning for my neurotic, useless at anything but SJ, Ted. Something inside my head clicked, this horse deserved a last chance, even though selling him whilst he gnashed his teeth at me at every rug change and banged the door incessantly when he wanted attention made me yearn for a mild mannered, no need to dodge teeth, sure of himself horse.
We had a chat, I told him of my worries, that someone would try and beat his neurosis out of him (useless…he has a degree in planting), that no one else would think the gnashing teeth were endearing, that the fact he licked the walker as he went round would be seen as insane rather than a cute character trait, and told him to buck his ideas up.
I stable at Elmwood Equestrian, and we are lucky enough to have a full XC course of over 120 fences ranging from logs on the ground to 3ft3 fences. www.horse-events.co.uk hold ODEs there and so we have two sets of SJs at our disposal as well as the XC courses. I have tried, and failed, to get Ted to trust XC fences – he loves fun rides but freezes, comedically from gallop to halt, when someone else would jump a fence alongside him, and the last time I took Ted up to the XC course I couldn’t get him within 10ft of a fence. My friends were heading up to the show ground for a SJ lesson and so I decided to go with them. My horse desperately needed to find some brave pants, to give me hope, and I thought it a great opportunity to try and ride him away from his friends and be responsive only to me, away from the *safe* farm we usually ride around.
As soon as we hit the field I kicked on away from the others and to my absolute suprise Ted decided that taking his own path wasn’t going to be an issue. I walked and trotted past a few fences, logs, pheasant feeders, houses, and didn’t get the usual OMG NOOOOOOO I CANNOT DO THAT reaction, so we headed through to the second field where a great array of schooling fences live. “Right, we are going to do this, I haven’t worn this body protector for nothing” I muttered to myself and kicked on into canter.
A small log appeared in front of us, all 1ft6 of it, not even a puissance fence for a Fallabella…I took the slightly defensive hunting position, shoulders resolutely over my hips, legs slightly forward and kicked on whilst breathing out into my core to keep things settled and calm. A lowering of the head, a lengthening of stride and pop, we were cantering away. “Whoooooooa” I breathed out, absolutely gobsmacked that I was actually riding MY horse and we were still together and no histrionics had happened. Shaking my head a little in disbelief I turned and cantered back over the obstacle, again without any perceivable reluctance from Ted. “OK, this is odd” I said out loud, and kicked on into a more open canter, looping around and coming to a slightly bigger log…POP, over we went, Ted snaking his neck in delight and me catching flies with my mouth. I looked over at the far end of the neighboring field to see if anyone was witnessing this epiphany, but they weren’t, and I realised that this was all about me and my horse and that, finally, I was getting IT, that adrenaline rush that eventers get when they go XC schooling.
Being a bit of a cocky so and so, and with my adrenaline pumping, I came towards an airy pheasant feeder…POP, a house….POP, a hanging log…POP. I allowed Ted to canter on, enjoying the wind in my face and smiled a bigger smile than I had worn for a long time whilst astride my horse.
Pulling up I shook my head with disbelief and looked around me. Chancing my arm I took on a skinny log pile, a caterpillar, a double of houses, all without drama or reluctance, and eased out the length of rein and cantered to a walk in Ted’s own time, slapping his neck in admiration and remembering why XC is considered a legal high by many.
I made my way back to the others before Ted’s neurosis at being alone became an issue, popping a hanging log, a sloping table and a house on the way back. Once they finished SJ schooling we all went and jumped some fences together and Ted then decided that he could also turn his hand to Team Chasing. We hacked back to the yard, my face aching from the smile that was plastered on it, and put the horses away, all rather gobsmacked by the events of the day.
I had learned a real lesson. Whilst I had always been a big believer in the ideology that once a great bond had been formed a horse would do anything for you, I really didn’t think that I could change or improve the neurosis that lived in my horse’s head. People had commented that WBs matured later than most, but I really didn’t think that at 11 years old my older horse could, indeed, learn new tricks, that he was just waiting for the trust and bond to be cemented, and maybe for me to just give him a chance to shine.
“There’s a ODE next weekend” my great friend Jackie, the yard manager, mentioned two days after my first, successful XC session. “Uh huh, I know, and I so want to get out competing again, but one short XC session is not really the best basis for an event” I answered. “I need to go at least once more, when is the XC closing?” “Today I think” she admitted. A short phone call later and within 3 hours I found myself up on the XC course again with a couple of friends from the yard on their very green horses. Initially disaster struck, Ted wouldn’t go into the next field alone, and despondency threatened to descend again. I allowed us a lead and then kicked him on in to the front and, thrusting my shoulders back and haughtily jutting out my jaw, raised my game and mentally put MYSELF in the driving seat, rather than allowing my horse to decide where we would or would not go. Ted’s ears pricked and he was suddenly full of BRING IT ON attitude. We popped the logs and all of the fences we had jumped previously, none of which he couldn’t walk over from a stand still, but jumped as though there were trolls and billy goats beneath. If I was going to compete in the ODE there were certain obstacles I had to tackle – the water, the bank complex and the table that was usually dressed with carrots for events! I had decided on the heady heights of 2ft3 rather than the 2ft for our first event, mostly because I knew the SJ would be carnage if he couldn’t see the fences, and we were also still both more comfortable in a SJ canter into the fixed fences, than a forward, open canter more suited for bigger fences…and any higher and we would have to tackle a ditch and trakehner!
We popped a log on a slope and trotted down to the water’s edge…and came to a standstill. We snaked left, we snaked right, I kicked, cajoled, swore and then did the whole passive thing which took Ted so by surprise that he walked amiably straight in… winning! We cantered over a hanging log, on to a house and looped back over a 2ft6 pheasant feeder with no probs, so came at it from the opposite direction, miraculously again, without faltering. Feeling buoyant I trotted over to the bank complex. I rode up and down the grassy banks wondering how on earth my SJer would take to jumping a fence that was only half a fence. Taking a deep breath I approached the drop down, fully expecting to be launched skywards, and slipped my finger into my neck strap in anticipation. Well blow me down if Ted the Terrific didn’t just drop his forelegs down and canter on his merry way! I looked at Jackie, she looked at me and we both just laughed! Now, Ted has seen his friends do the bank complex on numerous occasions…could he have learnt how to do it through watching?!
This does raise an interesting point of thought – we all know that horses can learn behavior from others…we have 4 horses who now bang their stable doors because of 1 who revels in it…but can they learn not to be scared of XC fences, and even learn technique through watching?
So, I had been down, could he gauge the “up” question? Setting off in our best, bouncy, SJ canter the wooden boards loomed closer and closer…my hips drove like a pony clubber and my legs urged Ted not to break stride…and then we were up, cantering merrily over the top of the hill and down the other side, neatly popping off the drop. At that moment in time I don’t think that winning the lottery would have felt better. I was achieving something that I thought would never be possible. I was feeling that real, true, basic bond with my horse that I had never considered would happen. Finally we were on the same wavelength and it felt utterly magnificent.
So, I just read the Ts & Cs for the event….you guys who event probably give these notes a quick, cursory glance and move on to excitedly filling in your details on the entry form. However, they have raised some serious questions in my house!
1) Oh buggerations, I forgot that I would have to do dressage….I will now publicly admit that I have not ridden my horse in a snaffle all winter. It isn’t that he is strong, it is just that I like my NS waterford jumper bit and am lazy when it comes to swapping tack over. I am pretty sure I am allowed to dressage in a grackle, which is rather good news as Ted has a fabulous talent involving cocking his jaw and pretending he has never even heard of the concept of being *through* nor *accepting of the contact*. And how hard can the 2007 Pony Club Introductory test be? A couple of 20m circles (ha ha ha, in a 40m arena no doubt!), walk, trot, canter….we can do that, although I would be more confident if my horse had actually ever seen white dressage boards, that he shall no doubt mistake as placing boards for jumping. I actually think I would be more comfortable doing a medium dressage test than a PC Intro test that is obviously designed for 10 year olds….
2) Hats…oh dear, I ride in a ProTector, which is prob NOT considered a suitable XC hat. This does bother me, I can ride in my 9 year old Charles Owen J3, at least I think that is what it is, but my high tech Pro Tector that I know I can drive a car over (no, I haven’t tried but I saw a vid that did!) is prob a no-no. Which also means I need to find my old silks out…ARGH, colours…
3) COLOURS!!! I will, obvs, choose green, as I like green and it clashes with my red hair, but I don’t have a green BP, my Racelite is navy and sky blue – can I wear a top OVER this?!
4) “Watches capable of being started, stopped and recording time allowed are forbidden”….err, my neon pink Ice watch can be stopped and started, by taking the battery out, and has a whirly dialy thing around the face that can be used to record time – does that mean I mustn’t wear it? How on earth anyone thinks I could even consider time…oh, hang on…
5) Time…I presume it will be optimum? I don’t know…surely it isn’t fastest, that wouldn’t adhere to the old elf n sayfty hitlers of these days and how is a 12.2hh pony ever going to match my 17.1hh’s stride?
6) I need a medical armband…what on earth? Should I just wear my t-shirt that says “If lost please return to the pub”?
7) I need to provide my own bib. Is this for the dribble/sick/vodka spillage?
8) £2 medical cover charge per horse…Charming, what about us riders?!
9) Prizes in kind….hellllllo, do we get to pick from an array of buff gentlemen…or does that mean a dandy brush?
10) There is a space for me to fill in points of interest and achievements….”Here is Louise on Ted. They have jumped XC fences twice. In preparation for this event Louise told her horse he would be taken to Potters if he showed her up, and cannot wait to finish so she can indulge in a bottle of Stolichnaya. Ted is an 11 year old KWPN who can jump the top of the SJ wings with his eyes closed…which is how he usually navigates the world as even his own shadow scares the poo out of him. If there was an Olympic medal awarded to the horse who could hold his breath for the longest then Ted would probably win it. Don’t be surprised if Ted passes by you with the stealth-like quality of an electric car: his motto is – if you don’t breathe, you don’t make noise, and then the tigers are not alerted to your presence…..”