Let’s put it this way: If King Canute had been given the choice, he’d have put his money on successfully stopping the waves before stopping this horse in a 20×40 arena.
As I started to warm my new horse up for our first dressage test together, I wondered what all the fuss had been about. This was completely fine; why the shocking scores that littered his record? He was quiet and responsive and it felt very nice. After about five minutes, though. I got it. He could “get tense in the dressage”, the seller had said. “Tight through the back at times”, she added. Mid-way through the test, I put my leg on for a walk-trot transition. P(C)arrot exploded into extended canter. I tried a downward transition. Nothing happened. I pulled a bit. He cantered faster. We cantered past the marker where we should have done a trot-canter transition. As we were already in canter, I tried to change onto the correct lead. He sped up. I belted, disunited, inverted and on the wrong leg, down the centre line, just about managed to stop at C and walked back to the trailer in a slight state of disbelief.
As befits my general attitude to dressage, I decided that the less time I spent on it, very much the better, so, by our second event, I had dispensed with the warm-up altogether and, hoping to sneak through the test before P(C)arrot wised up to the white boards, I went from trailer to test without so much as “by your leave” and hoped to get it out of the way before my horse realised what we were really up to.
The twist came at our first CIC*, at Firle, when I knew that the vet would want to scan his chip and check his passport. Husband and I schemed and plotted and eventually, my husband went on ahead with the passport and the kids, whilst I waited back at the trailer with P(C)arrot, tacking him up in as nonchalant a fashion as I could manage.
“Here’s the passport for Kate’s Touch” said my husband, proffering P(C)arrot’s passport at the FEI vet. “What?!” exclaimed the steward. “She’s on next – where is she?””She’s coming”, answered my husband. “But she wants to go straight in. Could you just scan the chip and send her in?””She hasn’t warmed up!” said the vet, shocked.”The one before her can go now” added the steward “then she will have some time to warm up.””That’s fine” confirmed the one before me.”No, you can’t go next” snapped my husband. “She can’t,” he said turning to the steward. “Viv doesn’t want to warm up.””POTTY!” shrieked the toddler. “Daddy, I want to go on the potty! Potty, potty potty potty. Daddy! Rosie wants to do a wee-wee!””She needs to go straight in” said my husband, fishing the toddler’s potty out from under the pram. “Her horse goes a bit nuts” he added, as he pulled down the toddler’s trousers.”Um”, said the vet and the steward, in unison, clearly quite bemused.”She wants to take him by surprise,” explained my husband, brandishing bare baby buttocks in the general direction of the FEI vet, the dressage steward and the one before me.”Wee-wee, Rosie do a big wee in the potty, wee, wee” sang the toddler. “Daddy! Daddy, you do a wee in the potty?””No, thank you” said my husband, politely declining the offer. He turned back to the vet, Parrot-passport in one hand, potty full of wee in the other. “So, would that be ok?”
I wandered serenely up on a relaxed P(C)arrot. The vet, relieved to have her attention diverted from the potty and the wee, turned to me and scanned my chip and I was sent over to the arena. I walked casually round near A on a long rein, humming to myself. Nothing happened. I looked over towards the judge at C. Still nothing doing. Rats, I thought, rats. I need to walk round the arena, past the judges. Not only was this going to blow my cover with P(C)arrot, who’d soon see through my little ruse and realise that we were in the vicinity of a dressage arena, it was also going to signal to the judges, as I wandered around in a distinctly un-dressage-like fashion, that I was actually a complete weirdo who was trying my very hardest to pretend that we were not doing dressage. But the wheeze seemed to have worked; P(C)arrot stayed in roughly the right pace, most of the time, and we came in with 62.
Just before the showjumping, I started to get nervous. It was pretty big, pretty twisty and it was going to be the toughest track I’d jumped on him to date. The first one I watched fell off. The next one had a stop. The third ran out and had two rails down. I started to canter round the warm up and P(C)arrot, fresh, perhaps, from not having done same-day dressage, took hold of the bit and started to turn on the Tank Mode. I wished fervently that I had put the gag in, but it was too late now. Snaffle and I were in this together, for better or worse, and we’d just have to stick together in the face of the mighty Tank. In the event, Snaffle didn’t let me down. Together, we harnessed the power of the Tank and, though I was a bit disappointed with two down, we jumped a nice enough round.
As I may well have noted in the past, I struggle with the navigational aspect of life in general, and of cross-country courses in particular. Husband, kids and I had set off to walk the XC and, after fence 4, we’d come quickly to fence 6. Now, not for nothing did I choose law over banking; I am, as well as being geographically imbecilic, completely innumerate. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, I thought. That’s fine, where’s the next one? Husband, however, well, he’s a smart cookie. I got a good one there, I did. Sharp as a knife, he said: “Five comes after four!” I looked back to fence four. Walked back to it, in fact. Still couldn’t see fence five. Walked from four to six again, in case I’d accidentally overlooked it on the first walk. It did not appear this time round, either. I asked the fence judge at fence 6. He didn’t know. I went back to fence 4, asked the fence judge there. No idea. Then, of course, I saw it! That was my fence 5! But how did I get to it? I went back to fence 4 again. “Are they going to remove the string tomorrow?” I asked. “Because I need to go from this fence to that fence, and this string is in the way.” The fence judges didn’t know the answer to that, so I walked my line, through the string, from fence 4 to my fence 5. I got there to check my approach. It wasn’t my fence 5. It was fence something else, on another course. I walked back through the string again, back to fence 4. About 76 hours and 53 laps of the park later, I finally found fence 5. Kind of between fences 4 and 6.
We got to fence 10. “Potty!” shrieked the toddler. I wrestled her into a portaloo. “Maybe later on,” she said, wriggling off the seat. I rejoined the husband at fence 10. “Potty!” yelled my toddler, running back towards the portaloo. “Mmmm, no,” she said, opening the door. We went back to the XC. “Potty!” she yelled again. I grabbed her. She screamed, trying to free herself. I looked at my husband, looked at the empty baby carrier on his back. “You need to put this child on,” I instructed him. “We’ll never get anywhere, otherwise.””But she needs a wee” he protested. “That’s as maybe,” I replied, “but she’s not going to do it on the loo and the potty’s back at the trailer, so…” “You take her” he said, thoughts of urine stains and clean white shirts flashing through his mind.”No”, I said, firmly, thoughts of cold stale wee flashing through my mind. We stared at each other over the baby carrier, both rooted in an impasse.
Fortuitously, my navigational incompetence and the toddler’s unreliable urination issues did not return to blight my ride across the country. P(C)arrot, straight and bold from start to finish, was super polite and rideable, and made it all feel very easy.
After Firle, I went off for a SJ and XC lesson and, as I always do, I persuaded the parents to come and babysit, provide cake, and conduct a series of running repairs to my ever-deteriorating car and trailer. Sometimes, when I am in the lorry park at events, I do reflect that my trailer looks a little out of place amidst the more popular lorries that are normally to be seen parked alongside us. We’re fairly recognisable in that we have a trailer at all, but also in that our trailer is categorically the scruffiest trailer ever to have disgraced the gates of a BE event. Well, no matter, it works and its simplicity does of course mean that my dad is able to fix most of its problems in the middle of a field with nothing but a screwdriver and some baling twine. His latest task was to source a cover for the gap above the ramp, the doors that were once there long since having fallen off their hinges. True to form, he’d diligently found me a made-to-measure cover and he’d come armed with a step ladder and a pop-rivet gun (no, I don’t know what that is either) and now he was attaching it to my trailer. I looked at it as he worked, looked at this cover that was to go on my out-of-place, recognisably scrappy trailer that already sticks out like a sore thumb. The wretched thing was bloody well baby-pink.