There’s “gung-ho”. And then there’s “gung-ho”. I am, like most event riders, fairly gung-ho. As I stared resentfully up at the transparent plastic bag that hung on the left hand side of my bed, as I watched the clear fluid trickle, drop by relentless drop, down into the tube and flow from there into the mass of tape and gauze that protruded from the inside of my elbow, my mind started to race. Wednesday now. Wednesday. Been here for 24 hours. Should have jumped yesterday, needed to jump yesterday, to be prepared for Aston Intermediate tomorrow. Could still escape today. Could detach myself from the drip. Could get out, could jump this afternoon. Not great, but would do. Could still make Aston. Wednesday afternoon came. Off the drip, now. Off the intravenous morphine shots that had stopped my screaming, stilled my agony. Off the fluid that was being pumped into my veins to combat dehydration as I vomited and vomited, the pain too intense for any food or liquid to settle in my stomach. Couldn’t jump before Aston, now, no time. Could still go, though. Could get out of the hospital on Wednesday evening, could set off for Aston on Thursday, could make it.
My horse is good. My horse is very, very good and he mainly does it all himself. Last month, he’d taken me almost all the way round my very first Advanced, only for me to fall off him at the second to last fence on the XC. Now we were entered in the Intermediate at Aston, and I’d wanted a nice, happy run, where, if I may be picky, I wouldn’t fall off. Even though he is scopey enough that Intermediate fences come easily to him, even though he puts up with all kinds of nonsense from me and he just keeps going, at that level, he still needs me not to ride him like a dick. Weakened as I was by pain, dehydration and numerous shots of medically-justified heroine, I knew I couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him I’d do everything in my power not to ride him like a dick. There’s “gung-ho”, and then there’s “gung-ho”. I wanted, so much, to be “gung-ho”, to claw my way out of my hospital bed and go eventing. I emailed the secretary. Told her I needed to withdraw. “Gung-ho”, that day, wasn’t for me.
In the end, I escaped on Thursday evening, I was still in discomfort, and it hurt to do a canter session with him instead the following day. So that’s the end of P(C)arrot’s starring role in this story – sorry, P(C)arrot, you can go back to your carrots now.
I thought I’d encountered the very worst of all first-world problems when I kept leaving my boots or my hat in the wrong tackroom. Vito’s, when I wanted to ride P(C)arrot, or P(C)arrot’s, when I wanted to ride Vito. Little did I know, though, that I had but encountered the tip of the iceberg, and that actually, first-world problems can get worse, far worse. So spare a thought for me, when you hear about my awful plight; now that I have two horses, I’m struggling to ride Vito at all well, because I’ve become so used to P(C)arrot.
We’d gone for a lesson and, as I pulled off the North Circular and waited at the lights, the car next to me tried to attract my attention. I’m used to this when I travel P(C)arrot. He won’t tolerate the partition in the trailer and so I move it over and tie it off. It wobbles at the top and it causes multiple alarmed motorists to try to cross the impermeable communication barrier that is inherent in motorised travel and, using the internationally-recognised medium of face pulling, exaggerated mouthing of incomprehensible sentences and indecipherable gesticulating, to attempt to tell me that my trailer is falling apart, that my horse is in grave danger for his life and that everyone within earshot is about to instantly explode in some form of indeterminate trailer-partition-related Armageddon. Normally, I sigh, I wind down my window, I thank them for their concern, I assure them that Armageddon is not lurking under the haynet in my trailer, and then I carry on my merry way. This time, though, I was alarmed. Vito has no problem with the partition. If my motoring neighbour did not come bearing partition-Armageddon news, then what on earth DID he want? I racked my brains, nervous now. Had I got the wrong horse? Packed P(C)arrot by mistake, when I’d meant to pack Vito? I looked over again and the City girl in me recoiled. We don’t acknowledge each other’s existence, we Londoners. We’ll avoid eye contact with strangers, we don’t do small talk, we certainly do not strike up random conversations whilst waiting at traffic lights in Ilford. No, this guy had to want something. I looked a third time. This was East London, after all, had he heard about my hospital antics and come to offer me some more heroine? He didn’t look the type, I concluded. Chelsea Tractor (proper Chelsea Tractor, not like mine, all clean with a numberplate from this decade and nice interior and everything). Wearing a checked shirt, wife in pearls next to him. Perhaps he was safe, I though. Suspiciously, I wound down my window and raised an eyebrow.
As I may have mentioned, I’m not always the brightest of cookies. Don’t really notice things, a lot of the time. Bit gormless, I’d say, generally just go about the place in a slight state of confusion. Need to be told, by a Chelsea tractor driver with a wife in pearls at an East London roundabout, that one of the tyres on my trailer has blown itself to smithereens and I’m driving along on the rim.
I pulled off into the car park of a Premier Inn. Thankfully, this is where I’m fortunate in the number of ridiculous things that seem to happen to me. Have I had a flat tyre whilst on my own with a horse in an East London car park before? You betcha. ‘Course I have. I put the drills into place. Called the yard for someone to come and hold Vito so I could unhitch and change the tyre and then set to work with my wheel nuts. Sadly, though, this was where the plan started to go awry. For some reason or other, the lever that I was using to remove the nuts was bending under the strain. I was going to break the thing before I could remove the wheel. As I contemplated my fate, my hands covered in grease and an array of forlorn-looking tools at my feet, the cavalry arrived. “We’re here!” shrieked Char. “We’re going to get a mention in your blog!” yelled Cassie. “What shall we do?” asked Char. I sighed and explained my predicament. But my cavalry girls weren’t there for nothing, oh no. They were hell-bent on saving my ass and if there was a way out of this, then they were going to find it. “There’s a van over there” said eagle-eyed Cassie. “He may have some kit you can use”. This of course, completely blew any credibility that I may once have possessed as an Independent Woman straight out of the water. Unashamedly touting for tools from a Man in a Van in a car park on the outskirts of Ilford isn’t really very Angelina Jolie in Mr & Mrs Smith, is it, now? At this juncture, though, it seemed I had little choice, so I raced up to the van and, brandishing my stricken lever, a wheel socket and a handful of enthusiastic incompetence, I wilfully accosted the unwitting occupant of the van, explained that I’d just discovered that my equipment was bent and that, if he had a long, hard rod he’d be prepared to lend me, I’d be extremely pleased to get my hands on it.
My luck was in. Mr Van’s rod, it was obvious, was in no way bent, and he quite happily fished out an extraordinarily fine-looking piece of equipment and handed it over to me with a grin. Cassie and Char, though, as they walked Vito round the car park, were not treated with such courtesy. “Don’t look”, whispered Cassie, circling a line of parked cars, Vito in hand. “What?” whispered Char, looking. A man’s tousled head popped up from the passenger seat of a slightly swaying Fiat, and froze, silhouetted against the streaked window. “Ooh,” breathed Cassie and Char in unison. A second man’s tousled head popped up, back towards them this time, the neck craned slightly as the owner of the head and neck fiddled with something just hidden from view under the window. The first head (having, we can only surmise, just been up to something he shouldn’t) got out of the car and, brazenly re-adjusting his clothing, nodded nonchalantly to the girls holding my horse. “Alright?” he said, fiddling with his zips. “Nice horse.” “Um….” said Cassie and Char. “How old is he?” asked the owner of the head. “Er”, said Cassie, turning away with Vito and marching swiftly back towards the horse box.
“Excuse me”, came a bright voice, from beside the parking ticket machine. “Do you know what change this machine takes?” “No”, said Cassie, slowly, still holding a large black horse, in the middle of an urban city carpark, party first to some form of nefarious car-based intimate activity and being quizzed now on the whys and wherefores of the coin mechanics of Premier Inn car parks, “No… Sorry, I don’t”.
Anyway, back to the hospital. I may well have missed Aston with P(C)arrot, but I was going to give everything I could to make Horseheath with Vito. “Viv”, sighed one of my friends, when I’d told her about my day, “It’s hard enough to get the shopping in from the car when you’re on your own with two kids, so I’ve no idea how you manage with a horse and all his kit”. My parents, lured in by the promise of cake and flat tyres, had come to Horseheath and met me there to have the kids whilst I rode. As my husband was inconveniently travelling for work, though, the packing up and the unpacking was down to me – me and two kids under the age of four. Perhaps it was only to be expected that, under the circumstances, I was bound to forget something, but it wasn’t to be expected that something would be (a) my dressage test and (b) how to ride a showjumping course. On the upside, though, meeting my parents at Horseheath did give my father the chance to proudly present me with various new bits of useful-looking metal and so, at the very least, I’ll no longer be obliged to waylay extraneous members of the public and play the damson-in-distress card and demand that they fish out their rods. Although, if the couple in the Fiat were anything to go by, then I doubt I’ll have to do very much demanding at all.
(With thanks to Matt Nutall for the photos)