“Runway” she said again, more insistently this time. “Runway Vito, Vito Runway.’
“She’s definitely talking about Vito” said my husband, as he leant forwards encouragingly. “What is it, darling? Tell daddy.”
“It’s nonsense” I snapped, frantically, reaching for a banana in order to distract her. “Here, Rosie, banana, mmm, yum.”
“Runway” said the treacherous creature again, accepting the banana without adhering for a moment to the terms on which it was offered. Then she looked up triumphantly. “Mummy fall off! Vito run away!” My husband raised an eyebrow.
About five weeks after the birth of baby no. 2, I’d taken Vito for a XC lesson. My father, ever supportive, had come along to babysit, to fix my car brake lights, and to provide a running commentary to my two year old parrot on most aspects of my general incompetence. He professed, when I confronted him, to have done nothing of the sort, but the damage was done. Rosie was fascinated and, for weeks afterwards, I was reminded on a daily basis of my unexpected head-dive into ignominy and subsequent traipse across the cross-country course, past the spectating toddler and over the lorry park, to retrieve my errant “runway Vito”.
My first dual-babied event was Munstead, where I ran in the 100 Plus. It was a bleak, windy, rainy, chilly Sunday and I huddled, for the most part, in the front of our car, feeding the baby, changing the toddler’s nappies and trying not to get frostbite on my boobs.
There’s a definite division of labour when it comes to the horse. My husband does Man Things, like hitching up the trailer. He is also qualified to hold the horse and tell me exactly how to ride each fence on the XC, but now he offered to step up the pace. “I could do those things that go on his legs” he offered, the day before the event. “The ones that he wears in the trailer – that would give you more time to feed the baby. But I’m not touching his tail”, he continued, firmly. “He poos on that.” I saw my chance and I jumped at it. “Haynets”, I suggested, slyly. “They’re pretty easy to fill”…
For the last two seasons, I’ve thrown myself successfully on the mercy of event secretaries. I’ve pleaded for, and been given, civilised times, and the days of 2 am starts seemed to be a thing of the dim and distant past. Now, though, my luck had run out. “Childcare arrangements”, snigger the secretaries. “Yeah, right. Cited childcare logistics last season, and the season before that. And these kids never get any older, or any easier to care for, do they? Funny, that. Well you’ve had your crack of the “late times” whip and now you’re fair game. Get that alarm clock out and remember how to use it.” Faced with the prospect of leaving home in the dark for South of England Novice, we decided that it was time to Invoke the Aunt. My aunt lives pretty near the South of England show ground, so we packed up Vito and both kids and went off for an overnight stay.
Three days before South of England, I’d taken Vito out to a BD competition. Much to my surprise (and to the surprise of pretty much anyone who knows me) we’d managed to win an Elementary class. This was good, I thought. Positive. We could clearly get the good scores in the first phase, and my terrible dressage score at Munstead had perhaps just been an anomaly. Sadly, though, this appeared not to be the case, and we were, as always, last after the dressage.
After a respectable enough SJ (four faults) and XC (clear) at SoE, we headed to Hambleden for another Novice run. This time last year, I also did the Novice at Hambleden. And this time last year, I drove home from the Oxfordshire event, wondering whether I ought to give up eventing. I was irredeemably rubbish on the XC, I thought. Hopeless. Shouldn’t be doing it at all. At Hambleden, I’d fallen off on my head in a hedge. This was preceded by my falling off on my head in a ditch at Gatcombe, which was followed by a run-out at Goring Heath. If nothing else, I thought despondently, my total incompetence across the country was costing me an absolute fortune in replacement Gatehouse HS1s.
As it was, I didn’t give up. I withdrew from whatever it was I’d entered next, I sought out my now XC trainer, I bought some skinny poles, I went to an unaffiliated BE100 and I didn’t come back out until I was ready to do it without falling off on my head. And now here we were. There was the jump I’d fallen off into last time, there was the skinny I’d sailed past, here was the scene of what could have been the beginning of the end and now I had something of a point to prove.
As I jumped on Vito and rode over to the SJ warm up, the baby started screaming. My husband strapped the toddler firmly onto his back, strapped the baby onto his front and set valiantly out after me. As I rode round, though, I saw him gesticulating to me in a frantic “come here now” sort of manner. I cantered over. “He won’t stop screaming” said my husband, nerves clearly frayed. “Uh, have you tried a bottle?” I asked. My husband stared at me with an expression that would have splintered kryptonite. “Really?” he said eventually. “A bottle? You think so? Well thanks for that helpful suggestion. Do you think I’d be telling you this if he would only take the bottle? He’s not interested in it. You need to feed him.” I wandered over to the collecting ring steward. “Six to go” said the steward, cheerfully. “Um,” I said, lightly. Well,, the thing is, I need to feed that screaming object over there. Won’t stop yelling. Might delay me a bit. That be alright?” “No problem”, said our obliging steward, “we’ll fit you in when you’ve finished.”
I’m generally pretty good at stuffing the baby under my top to feed him, but the addition of a number bib to the equation did make things a little more complicated. I wrapped the bib round my neck, untucked my shirt and handed Vito over to my husband in exchange for the baby. The baby stopped screaming and started sucking immediately. The ear-splitting shrieks ceasing, my husband started to relax. Then Vito, always keen to rub, started pushing and shoving at him with his head. My husband stepped backwards in annoyance. Vito stepped after him. My husband darted sideways. Vito followed suit. “Tell him to stop it!” said my husband, tetchily, as he moved away again, irritated. I laughed. “You actually need to stand closer to him”, I said, “not further away. Hold him here, both reins, right underneath the bit, and when he pushes at you, move his head away with your hand.” My husband looked regretfully at the now peaceful baby, certain that the horse/baby swap had not worked, as he’d initially hoped, in his favour. “Alright” he said, after Vito continued to push and rub at him, “have your horse back. I’ll take the baby.”
We swapped over and I hopped onto Vito for a nice clear SJ round. Normally, I ought to feel confident at the start of the XC, but this was different. This was Hambleden. This was fall-off-on-head territory and I had to show myself that I’d improved. That this time, I could do it. Sensing my apprehension, my husband looked up at me as I sat on Vito, ready to go to the warm up. “Ride your XC machine”, he said, quietly. “This horse could go round here in his sleep. Get on your line and let him jump.” I swallowed hard.
The fall-inducing fence was fine. The corner was fine. The skinny was fine. We had a sticky moment up some steps and out of one of the waters, but we were home with a double clear, another BE point, and some more gratuitous boob-flashing to add to my already extensive repertoire.