My yard’s resident dressage instructor, Julia, has very considerately just had a baby, which means that we have strength in numbers when turning the place into a makeshift nursery. Armed with buggies, bottles, babies and, occasionally, a horse between us, we will colonise one corner of an unsuspecting school and set up camp, taking turns to ride and babysit.
I stagged on for baby duty first and watched appreciatively as Julia executed a series of perfect one time changes across the diagonal. Something squeaked. Mine, or Julia’s? I looked down. Mine. Hungry. I latched her onto a boob and carried on watching the dressage demonstration. Something yelped. I looked down again. Julia’s. A suspicious smell emanated from the buggy and I wondered, as mine sucked contentedly away, how long a stay of execution I would have in which to do a quick nappy change on Julia’s. Julia half-passed across the school towards me. I put mine down, picked Julia’s up, popped her on the changing mat on the floor of the school. Mine started to yowl. Newly nappied, I put Julia’s back, got mine out again, latched her on, and settled in to watch a breathtaking extended trot. Julia’s squawked. Adjusting my grip on mine, I fumbled one-handed for a bottle and manoeuvred myself into position. A bottle in one baby, a boob in the other and all is well with the world.
Dressage has been on my mind lately. I feel that we should be better at it than we are, so I have been trying to install a few basics, such as medium trot. Our marks seem to be creeping slowly, almost imperceptibly, in the right direction, with a 38 at Chilham and a 37.5 at Aston, but we are still a long way down the leaderboard after the first phase. In addition to improving my dressage score, I have also been aiming to jump a clear in the SJ and so get a point, and I hoped to do this at Chilham.
“I’m not sure that husband can bring himself to come to Chilham,” I mused to a couple of friends. “It’s owned by Mr UKIP, and husband’s political views are somewhere to the left of Karl Marx. The very thought of the UK Independence Party must be enough to bring him out in hives.”
“Mr UKIP,” said one friend, thoughtfully. “But are they not running a CIC?”
“Yeeees,” I hesitated. “Oh! I see your point. So international competitors may not be allowed to compete?”
“Well not European ones, presumably,” chimed in the other friend. “They’ll be checking the riders’ passports, not the horses’ at the trot up, won’t they?”
Keeping my Italian/French sounding, Belgian bred horse firmly under wraps, I headed off to Chilham, with baby, husband (who had overcome his political prejudices on the basis that Chilham, despite its ardent right-wingism, boasts excellent venison burgers and fudge) and in-laws. In a bid to cure my mother in law’s fear of horses through exposure to the source of her terror, my husband asked her to hold Vito whilst he (husband) groomed him. I, of course, was feeding the baby. My mother in law stood diligently in place, holding the very end of the lead rope and staying as far away from Vito as possible, for about 3 seconds. Vito swished at a fly. My mother in law tensed. Vito snorted and shook his head. This was a step too far and my mother in law turned to my father in law in panic, pleading with him to take this wild, headshaking, tail swishing beast from her.
The showjumping looked pretty small, I thought, and we kept a good, forward canter round the course. Our run of four fault rounds had, however, pursued us to Chilham and we went into the XC on a score of 42. So close, again, to that point. For various reasons (not least Aston a week later) I didn’t want to push him too much round a hilly XC course and so, though I took all of the direct routes, we finished with 15 XC time faults to add.
Back at the trailer, I stewed over my result. Our DR had been reasonable, our SJ annoying but not awful, and our XC had gone according to plan. Why, then, did I feel slightly disgruntled? It seemed to me that we should be in with a chance of a place. I felt that if I could only make a few tweaks, our final scores might be low enough to mean that we could sneak into the top ten. It seemed possible, but I was at something of a loss as to how exactly to make said tweaks. My results had been almost exactly the same in three of my four Novice runs; average DR, one pole SJ, some XC time faults. I knew that we had in fact made vast amounts of progress between Novice one and Novice four; Vito and I were gaining confidence and experience hand over fist, but where were the results to prove it?
Our next run was at Aston. Husband had inconveniently decided to go to work (what with it being a weekday and all that) so I dragged a non-horsey friend along to do baby duty. We haven’t yet appointed godparents, so those of our friends who think they may be in with a shot are still sidling up with expressions of interest and offers to help. We would not, of course, dream of exploiting our precarious position of power….. But we may just delay godparent announcements until the baby is about 7.
Non-horsey friend was doing pretty well in the Potential Godmother Assessment, I thought, as she entertained the baby with a huge array of funny faces. We headed over to the SJ. The baby started to cry. Oh. I began to deduct marks.
“Why is she crying?” asked my friend. Lack of initiative. She lost more marks.
“Who knows.” I replied. “She’s a baby, that’s what they do.”
“Nappy?” asked my friend, in concern. “Hungry, tired, wind?” Very good. A basic understanding of things that cause babies to cry. The marks started to add up again.
“Yes,” I said, riding off towards the warm up. “May well be one of those.”
As I came back to the ring for my round, I checked in on friend and baby. Baby had gone to sleep and friend was looking pleased with herself. “I just walked around a bit, wearing her, and she fell asleep.” explained friend. She rose up the godmother rankings again.
My round felt a bit “pull here, kick there, lift him over the odd fence in between” but it was clear. I must, however, reluctantly take this opportunity to deflect any praise that may be about to come my way. Vito is a showjumper. He has a consistent record to 1.20 and, just before I bought him, he’d been busy popping round a 1.30 (and placing in it). The response to my clear round at Aston’s Novice should not, therefore, be “Well done.” but rather “And why have you failed quite so spectacularly to do this before now?”
Still, a clear is a clear, irrespective of where the credit lies and I was heading into the XC on 37.5, which may, I hoped, be good enough for a place. “Stay there.” I thought to myself. “STAY THERE.” Determined to make the time, I kicked on round the XC. There were some skinnies, a reasonably strong coffin and a potentially spooky water, but Vito was as bold and honest as ever, and round we went, to finish 13 seconds under the optimum. At last, we had a point, and a fifth place to boot. Whether and how any tweaks were made is anybody’s guess, but perhaps we will remain nicely tweaked for Milton Keynes next weekend.