My husband looked up from bdwp and stared at me. “I take it that you are not going to plait” he said, sternly. Something in his tone told me that this question was rhetorical and was really more of an instruction than a request and so, deciding that I probably valued my marriage over my horse’s hairstyle, I quickly concurred. “No, darling”, I said, hastily. “Not going to plait”. Entries secretaries are generally very good about giving me baby-friendly times, but unfortunately, they seem not to be blessed with the power of telepathy, meaning that should I fail to ask for civilised times, I’m reasonably unlikely to get them.
We were off to Aston to contest what would be my second-and-a-half Intermediate of the season. Once he’d recovered from the shock of setting his alarm for 4 am, husband set himself to finding The Best Possible And Most Direct Route Out Of Town. It’s totally a man thing. Left to my own devices, I’d hop onto the nearest motorway and stay there, but with husband in the passenger seat, we were going to go as near to the proverbial “crow flies” route as possible and shave every last metre of our journey length.
“Head for Seven Sisters Road” he instructed me as we left the yard. “That’s a rash assumption”, I said, cautiously. “What makes you think I know where that is?” He sighed. “Turn right”, he said. “Then right again at the roundabout. Now,” he said, triumphantly, “just drive as if you were going home.” “This isn’t the way I drive home”, I protested. “I mean, I have admittedly driven this way in the past, but I don’t normally take this route. I don’t really know where I am going”. “Hang on”, he replied as we approached a junction, “shouldn’t you turn left here?” “I don’t know”, I yelped, as the traffic lights turned green, “should I?!” “This is your route home!” he shouted. “You drove this way every day for a month when there were roadworks over at Hackney Downs!” “That’s totally irrelevant!!” I yelled back. “Just because I have driven a route in the past does NOT mean I can drive the same route again! I have navigational dyslexia! I’m frankly incapable of finding the front door each morning without an A to Z, so how on earth do you expect me to know my way home via Seven Sisters Road?!” There was a stony silence. There were some hasty detours round the one-way streets of Stoke Newington. Our Shortest Journey in the World became inexplicably longer. And we arrived at Aston.
Earlier in the season, I’d discovered a fundamental flaw in my plans for the year. Specifically, it appeared that I was slightly incompetent and generally incapable either of staying on my horse or managing to point him in the general direction of any remotely technical fences. Disheartened, I’d gone off for some remedial XC lessons and then I’d put a plan into action. Early in the mornings, whilst husband and baby were still asleep, I’d creep out of the house (employing the A to Z to help me to locate the front door) and I’d cycle to the yard, where I’d practice skinny after corner, after related distance. Sometimes, the baby would wake up as I left. She’d stand up in her cot, wailing and demanding to be picked up. Sheepishly, I’d pretend I had crossed the threshold of the bedroom, had passed the point of no return and couldn’t hear her, as I fled down the stairs, leaving my husband to deal with the inevitable crawling under bedcovers, pulling of hair and poking of eyes that would surely ensue as he tried in vain to persuade her to go back to sleep. In the evenings I’d cycle home, relieve the nanny and then try desperately to dial in to conference calls whilst doing battle with a squawking child and firing off lightning-quick emails before the baby grabbed at my blackberry and sent a stream of gobbledy-gook to “FirmwideGlobalDistributionList”.
After three decent runs at Nov/IN, I’d bitten the bullet and gone back out for an Intermediate at Eridge. Keen for some advice on the course, I’d enlisted the help of my former Pony Club instructor, who was competing there as well, to give me a few tips. We don’t really see each other much these days, so when she pulled up next to me in the lorry park, she was likely surprised to be confronted not with a purple-haired, multi-pierced, angry teenager who was sporting a tie-dye crop top and accessorised with a packet of 20 Benson & Hedges, but rather, a vaguely sensible, definitely older, version of the same, accompanied by a husband and a baby and wearing sensible footwear. We talked through the XC and then I set out on course. I’d done a characteristically mediocre dressage by this point, and a nice enough SJ round for one down. So now it was crunch time; could I put my training into practice, and were we ready for Intermediate?
I’d set off pretty slowly over the first few, but kicked on hard for the coffin, which was set on quite a long distance. As I got into my stride down a long galloping stretch, I saw a fence judge waving a red flag. Oh. I was being held. Out in the middle of the course, husband was waiting for news of when I’d be set off again. The weather had turned and the baby was about to get cold, but he didn’t want to head back to the lorry park whilst I was stranded on the far side of the track, waiting at the mercy of the fence repair team, who’d been summoned to rebuild a fence near the finish. I circled Vito, hoping he and baby were ok and he cuddled the baby, hoping Vito and I were ok.
I’d never been held before, and as I walked round, waiting to be given the go-ahead, I went through the rest of the course in my mind. Annoyingly, I was about to come to two corners. I’ve struggled with corners in the past and now I was facing two of them, in cold blood. I wasn’t quite up to it. Try though I might, I could not quite commit to the first and we had a stop. I tapped Vito smartly down the shoulder as we re-presented. Come through for me, Vito, I need some help here. He popped over and the spell was broken; I could ride again (to the extent that I could ever be said to be able to ride). A couple of tougher questions followed, but we were fine now and we completed the rest without mishap.
In some ways, it’s become easier as the baby’s got older. Gone are the days of breastfeeding in collecting rings, of timing my warm up with military precision to fit in around my dressage warm up. One thing that’s a bit more complicated, though, is the baby’s mobility, combined with her implacable curiosity. Gone, too, unfortunately, are the days of putting the baby down beside the car, rather like a piece of tack or grooming equipment, and knowing she’d still be there when I came back. Short of bringing a spare head collar and tying her up on the other side of the trailer next to Vito, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep her still. The first time that she used my tow hitch as a trapeze, husband and I jumped forward instinctively to stop her. Then we both paused. I made a mental note to check that my light cable was still intact before we set off and husband resigned himself to the fact that her pale pink Mini Mouse t-shirt, loving picked out for her by devoted grandparents, would likely look better accessorised with a healthy dose of black grease.
After Eridge, we went off to Brightling CIC* and then had two more Intermediate runs at Aston. The steering left a little to be desired in places, but our confidence grew with each outing and, whilst there’s still plenty of work to be done, it’s starting to feel as if the heady heights of Int may just about be within our reach after all.