“So what shall we do with the little one today?” my trainer asked, half dreading my response. I looked at the baby, grinning and wriggling in her pushchair, not remotely asleep.
“I think,” I said, “that we will have to take her into the arena with us. We ‘ll park her next to something that I won’t be jumping, something like that skip over there. But, if I fall off and Vito goes haring round the ring, you have to RUN, as fast as you can, over to the pram, and make sure that he doesn’t jump on it”.
Michael looked amused. His part in the childminding side of things had become increasingly interactive as the baby got older and required ever more attention. During my lessons, he’d patiently put up with my foibles and followed my instructions, moving her pram into the shade when I worried that she was too hot in the sun, then moving it back out of the shade when I decided she was too cold. He’d built makeshift wind-breaks from Jump for Joy fillers, he’d pulled his car up to the side of the arena for me to put her into, then bitten his tongue and smiled politely when I backtracked, fearing that she’d overheat in it. He’d given her bottles of milk in between adjusting fences for me, and now, he was being asked to act as a human shield.
Baby, horse and I go to BE accredited coach Michael every three or four weeks. We’d done a few events since we had last seen him, and I wanted to work on a couple of issues that had arisen at Keysoe….
After a reasonably successful run at Aston, where we gained our first points, we’d gone off to Milton Keynes. Husband, armed with an umbrella and a full set of waterproofs, was on baby duty, and stalked off to find my number, some coffee and anything approximating to a chocolate brownie, as soon as we arrived. Duly numbered, coffeed and brownied, I hopped onto Vito and went off to the DR. Concerned that he might change in the counter-canter, I’d practiced and practiced this movement at home until we had counter-canter coming out of our ears. However, to fall back on the old saying: “You can take the horse out of show-jumping, but you can’t…..” and of course, we popped in a harmless little flying change. Harrumph. I didn’t think that my mediums or my rein back were up to much, either, so I was relieved to get 37, our best score to date at Novice.
The show-jumping looked a little filler-heavy, but I kept a rhythm, kept coming, and then promptly had the last fence down. Husband, his pushy-parent tendencies deflected from the baby and onto me for a moment, scowled at me as I left the ring. I scowled back. ‘Why did you mess that up?” he demanded. “I just got a bit close, and…” I tailed off. It was then that I decided to rethink my attitude to show-jumping. I’ve always thought that because Vito is a very proficient show-jumper, it is my duty to jump clear, and I’d be disappointed if we didn’t. Now, though, I have had a fundamental revelation. Vito is wonderful, I am fairly hopeless, and together, we are just slightly sub-standard. If, however, Vito were also hopeless, then together we would be an outright disaster zone. I therefore feel grateful that this is not the case, and I am pleased to be mediocre, rather than downright useless.
Husband turned and flounced off with the baby to pore over the scoreboard. “Wait,” I called after him, “can you buy me some black tape, please?” “Black tape?” he asked, incredulously. “I buy you black tape every single time we come to one of these events. What do you do with it? Wash your hair in it? Are you, in fact, a majority shareholder in Black Tape Co Ltd and you need to boost profit margins?”
The sad truth is that black tape is a crucial part of my life. Without it, most of my kit would slowly detach itself from me, or from Vito, or from my trailer, or quite possibly from all three, and would drop gently off, leaving a Hansel and Gretel style trail of boots, breastplates and indicator casings behind us.
I went off to warm up for the XC and husband appeared, mollified by his trip to the scoreboard. “Quite a few had fences down,” he said, “you’re not the only one. If you can get the time on the XC, you might just get a place.” Not wishing to disappoint, I booted Vito on, went straight everywhere, and finished 9th on a score of 41.
After Milton Keynes, I’d gone to Keysoe. Keysoe is one of those venues that moves every time I go there. I must have been seven or eight times now, and I have never knowingly gone there or returned from there by the same route more than once. I drove aimlessly around the Bedfordshire countryside, pausing occasionally to consult my map and waylay the odd passing motorist in the hope that one of them might know where I was going. Eventually, we arrived, with moments to spare before my dressage test. My friend and I nappied the baby, tacked up the horse, collected my number and raced down to the DR, where Vito and I proceeded to do a somewhat stuffy test for 38.5.
There was a baby-feeding sized gap before the SJ, so I fed the baby, walked the XC, show-jumped and went through to the XC on my dressage score, having managed what’s known as the Lesser-Spotted-Clear-Round in the SJ, a species previously believed to be extinct, and which is so rare that it has now obtained official UNESCO protected status. Our XC round, however, was just horrendous. We were clear, we made the time, but it felt bitty and messy and I rode very badly. A reminder to me that the XC does not just happen. A clear round has to be earned. Our final score of 38.5 left us 7th and meant that we’d collected a third point, but I knew that I had to focus and re-group if I wanted my next few runs to go well. We were upping the ante with an IN next at Purston, and a CIC* at South of England. Now was not the time to start making mistakes…..