“Be more entertaining!” I shouted.”What?” bellowed my trainer.”Sing her a nursery rhyme!” I yelled.
“Distract her!””What?” he yelled again.
Michael’s abject helplessness, combined with the mental image of him prancing about to a rendition of “the Grand Old Duke of York” was too much for me, and I collapsed in a heap of giggles on Vito’s neck.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU” he implored, ‘What shall I do?”
Composing myself, I rode over to where he was standing by the pram, engulfed by wave after wave of very indignant screaming.
“Talk to her” I suggested. “I think she might be bored. We are, after all, pretty boring.””Alright”, he agreed, turning the pram to face the line of fences. “Go and pop down those related distances. Don’t go any faster than last time. You can create more energy if you want it, but energy doesn’t equal speed. Think of the basketball player, keeping the ball bouncing under his hand.” He turned to the baby. “There she goes”, he said, in a bright chirpy baby voice. “There’s Mummy. Look! Over one, very nice, now steady, oh, Mummy took a stride out. Bad Mummy.”
Vito had had a break from jumping over the winter, and he was feeling very fresh and forward when I got the fences back out. I took him for a couple of jumping lessons, so that Michael could drum some sense into both of us, and help me to establish some form of control. I wasn’t completely sure that control had in fact been established, but I thought I’d head out for some BS, just to be sure. The day did not start well. I arrived at Norton Heath, to find an all familiar smell coming from the baby’s car seat. Our ageing and decrepit Chelsea Tractor has a very good tailgate on its boot, which serves extremely well as a nappy changing table, so I whipped the baby out of her seat, pulled down the tailgate, and proceeded to investigate. As I unpacked her, I yelped and jumped back in alarm. I was clearly dealing with what we in the trade would term a “poonami”. Absolutely nothing had escaped unscathed. The lady in the lorry next to me looked over at the sea of poo, waving baby legs and nappy detritus. “BMW would be so proud”, she mused, a propos of my inventive use of the tailgate.
Once I’d de-pooed her, I handed the baby to the secretary. The baby screamed, wailed and refused to be pacified. I ran away. When I got on Vito, it became apparent that he was feeling no more compliant. When he’s excited, his old show-jumperish habits tend to force themselves to the fore, and we warmed up sideways, amid much head tossing and falling out through shoulders. Into the ring we went, and we spooked and scooted round for two down. It was certainly not our greatest round to date, but it was a good marker of where we were and what we needed to work on.
At the end of last season, I’d managed to come to terms with the fact that, in order to improve our scores in 2014, we’d have to do some serious work on our dressage. We could score in the high thirties on a good day, and this, combined with his consistent jumping and fast XC, meant that we’d picked up a few lower placings at Novice. If I wanted a shot at the higher placings, though, we had to refurbish the flatwork quite dramatically. I’d been trying to have fortnightly lessons and I was confident that he seemed to be improving, so I headed out, with my dressage trainer, her horse and her baby, to do some BD. The horse and the baby were both models of good behaviour, but my demoralising results of 57% and 59% left me wondering whether we’d actually improved at all.
Still, my rotten scores meant that I needed to put yet more work in and keep plugging away, so I left the baby with my husband and ventured out (admittedly with low hopes) ten days later, for another crack at some more BD. I kicked Vito up to the bridle and made him work forwards, without letting him fall on the forehand. “That’s a very pretty horse” remarked the judge, in a hushed voice to her writer, as I trotted round the arena. “Thanks!” I yelled. “Shame about the rider!” I almost added, then bit my tongue. This was BD, after all. Serious stuff. No flippant banter with the judges here, thank you very much. Despite the judge’s clear bias, I was amazed to score 69% to come 2nd, and 68% to come 4th. How could my scores have improved that much in just over a week? I don’t think that the high marks were a true reflection of our current level, but it’s nevertheless encouraging to know that we can do well – and those are the scores I’ll be aiming for from now on.
Vito, baby and I will be out XC schooling, JASing and BSing over the coming weeks, as I attempt to wrangle with the question that every eventer asks themselves at this time of year: “Where will my first run be, and at what level?” Will I man up, have faith that I’ve done my preparation, and go straight back to Oasby Intermediate, taking comfort from the fact that I did the Int there at the end of last season? Or will I leave the Int for a later date, and a new and unfamiliar course, and opt instead for Tweseldown Novice as my first? Isn’t this the stuff that cliffhangers are made of?