Once more there is a dearth of eventing chez The Eventing Vet. The ‘vet’ part still applies, thank god, but sadly not the ‘eventing’ bit. At least not right now. No, my life has been filled with sparkly browbands, matchy bandages and patent boots (admittedly all belonging to the other competitors, not me) and I have turned my back on mud, bravery, tales of ‘a good day on paper’ and the joys of studs in order to become more proficient at what the Daily Mail calls ‘Horse Dancing’.
Horse Dancing – the sport where your hoof-oil doesn’t get washed off in the Somme-like warm-up, the pastime where it’s still cool to wear an outfit-coordinated scrunchie and the competition where the results are decided by some old biddy in an estate car, who forgot to bring her Guide Dog, picking random numbers between 4 and 7 out of a hat. Or so it appeared to the old uninitiated me.
The rot first set in via an email conversation with my RC Team Organiser. Her: ‘It’s the RC Areas next month, shall I put you down for a couple of classes as usual?’. Me: ‘erm, yes?’. Her: ‘sooooo… you’re not eligible for Prelim, we can’t get a team for the Novice. Shall I put you down for the Elementary as an individual?’. Me (sarcastically): ‘why not. In fact you might as well just bung me in at Medium too while you’re at it’. Her: ‘OK, Elem and Medium. Done’. Me (under breath): ‘oh bugger’.
Thus began three rather frantic weeks as I tried to learn how to do the fiddly sideways bits, stay roughly in the vicinity of the saddle during sitting trot and contemplated the horrors of medium trot movements that stretched the full length of the long diagonal in a 60×20 arena (a stomach-wobbling 52m according to Mr Pythagoras).
Finally after much blood, toil, tears and sweat (well, maybe not the blood) I figured that I could produce something that the aforementioned visually-challenged labrador-owning lady of advanced years might deem worthy of 50%. Tops. Hoorah! In my excitement I’d overlooked the Elementary test, but on further scrutiny I discovered it was to be E42, which I hate with a passion, so I made the grown-up decision to continue to overlook it.
We stayed overnight at the Areas, having competed in the SJ qualifier the previous day. I was roundly mocked by the rest of my team members for reverting to my proper stay-away-eventer roots and insisting on cleaning all my tack in advance of the next day’s competition. Apparently that’s not smart, tidy and professional: it’s geeky. Even if you do so with a pint of Pimms in one hand. We also had a Pimms-fuelled run through of each of our tests, on foot. We were joined by our Area Coordinator (drawn in, I suspect, by the sweet perfume of Pimms floating on the breeze and the slightly less sweet guffawing of my fellow club-members as they watched me try to attempt a test-worthy pirouette, at speed, and with a lack of grace and coordination directly proportionate to alcohol intake). He was reduced to tears of hilarity when some helpful soul told him that I was entered in the Medium the following day. A vote of confidence indeed.
Something odd happened the next day. Perhaps Fugly had watched a replay of the dressage at the Olympics or perhaps the spirit of Carl Hester possessed me (or possibly it was some slightly more liquid spirit) but I actually felt as though we might actually possibly really be DOING DRESSAGE. Not that muddy bit before the SJing where you try to stay in the boards and keep the horse’s ears from hitting you in the face; but proper real Horse Dancing. By now my dreams of 50% in the Medium had been long abandoned in favour of heady thoughts of 60%. I knew we wouldn’t beat the horse in before us but from the first halt to the last we pranced, flowed effortlessly sideways, extended, collected and pirouetted. As I halted for the final time our club roared and cheered and I confess that a tiny little tear rolled down my cheek. Don’t tell anyone though!
The Elementary (the Dreaded Elementary) was a big class full of classy Proper Dressage Horses with all the mandatory bling and sparkle so as I cajoled Fugly round the test (in sitting trot so I could kick harder – the petrol tank was a little empty by this point) I consoled myself with the thought that no-one important (except possibly the visually impaired judge) was there to witness this car-crash of a test. We halted, saluted, collapsed in a puddle of sweat and I came out declaring that it would probably have been easier if I’d carried Fugly round rather than vice versa. We both had a good hose down and a drink and I promised Fugly that whatever happened, I’d never make him do E42 again.
Then I found out our scores. My dreams of 60% had come true. We’d not only got 67.2% for our Valegro-esque performance but we’d won the Medium class. Whoopee!! And just to prove that I know NOTHING about dressage, our geriatric-beach-donkey dancing in E42 had gained us a whopping 70.3% and we’d won that one too. We’d not only won both classes and qualified for the National Champs at Elem AND Medium but I now had to go and find my poor horse and explain to him that I’d lied and he was going to have to do E42 again. One last time.
And so began my summer of dressage. I felt rather an impostor and that my wins (despite being under different judges – so I can’t even claim that I only won because the judge’s guide dog fancied me) were flukes. I certainly am no diva so in order to compete at the Nationals without sticking out like a sore thumb (‘look – there’s that girl on the big lanky horse who shouldn’t even have qualified!’) I felt that some lessons, some BD and some more Horse Dancing practice were in order.
There have been more tears (mostly from my instructors), there has been an occasional smile, there have been huge dips of confidence and short bursts of positive mental attitude, but most of all THERE HAS BEEN NO BLING! Who knew dressage could be so emotional?
**disclaimer – in the course of my journey into Horse Dancing it has come to my attention that most judges have pretty good eyesight and some of them are even encouraging and helpful. Again, who knew?**