As my husband approaches a significant milestone next year we’ve had a few laughs over some of the things he’s done. He came to horses very late in life – he was 32 to be precise. He approached it as he approaches everything he enjoys in life – at full throttle. Within six months of putting a foot in a stirrup he was out hunting.
I was the first to encourage him to spread his wings and try new things. He quickly settled on show jumping and within a year he’d said goodbye to unaffiliated opens and had set himself a goal of getting to Foxhunter.
When he first took it up people said to me, “At least you don’t have to get up at 3 for cubbing.” It turns out that it would have been easier …
If anyone out there is the OH, child or parent of a keen show jumper they’ll understand the way of life that comes with it. There isn’t another type of equestrianism that involves the sheer number of people per class that show jumping does. Most venues are only too glad to have a hundred per class at the lower levels. It’s all money in the bank and that’s essential. With the help of the A5 rule they can certainly get through some numbers.
When Steve was jumping he had to arrive first thing – we had 12 to muck out before we left. Once there I’d see to the horse and he’d head off towards the secretary’s caravan. Ten minutes late he’d bounce happily back to the box declaring “We’ve still got time for a coffee.” What he meant by that was he was 129th to go. Add to that the fact it was usually minus 5 and he’d want to “Watch a couple go” and you’ve got a couple of hours standing about in the freezing cold. Suddenly waving him off at 4 in the morning didn’t seem too bad.
When finally it was time to get horse and rider out there it was done with my tongue clamped firmly between my teeth. By that point the nerves had kicked in. Far be it from me to suggest he needed to remember that Fence 4 was a related distance to 5 or to watch that sticky little upright by the gate. What did I know anyway?
If being cold or shouted at was an issue it all paled into insignificance as soon as we entered The Warm Up. There is no place on Earth like the warm up arena at a show jumping show. Other than walking across the M1 at rush hour in dark clothing I can think of nothing I’d want to do less than take on the traffic in the The Warm Up. Just getting across to the practice fence was bad enough – when you got there far be it from you to suggest – albeit quietly – that the class was only 2ft 10 so could we possibly take the pole down from the top hole?
If looks could kill there would be many a show jumping groom that perished at a show. In time we all learn how to reduce somebody to a quivering wreck at five paces. It comes down to self preservation in the end. The choice between getting the OH a cross pole before he throws his toys out of the pram and creates a scene or taking on the spotty kid chewing gum like a washing machine and decked out in more tinsel than the village Christmas tree is an easy one. Ain the early days a similar scenario was played out each time. It went something like this –
(Steve) “Sweetheart? Can I possibly have a cross pole?”
Raised eyebrows and withering look from ‘Sweetheart’.
“Any time in the next hour will do – there’s at least another three to go.”
I turn to Gum-chewer who immediately raises the pole. I look back to OH who just happens to be cantering away down the school calling “Fence!”
At that point much to Gum-chewer’s annoyance I drop one end of the pole, glare alarmingly towards her and - feeling quite proud of myself - I turn to watch … as our horse slides into the fence and drops Steve on the floor.
I rush to his aid – throw him back in the saddle and turn to stand guard over ‘my’ cross pole. A voice comes from behind me “Will you be long – only some of us need something a little bit bigger?” I daren’t even look at her.
Steve manages to get under and over the fence a few times but stays in the saddle and Gum-chewer takes possession of it once more. By now the collecting ring Sergeant-Major is calling for us. (Seriously – what is it with those people?!) Steve disappears towards the gate and I try desperately to get across the stream of horses all coming in my direction.
I hear the bell go. I’m sure to miss it. I shut my eyes and run. Heart thumping I manage to get across to the collecting ring just in time to hear the bell go for the second time - and see Steve leading his horse towards me.
He shrugs and smiles. “My mistake,” he says cheerfully. “I forgot about that related distance to 5. Still …there’s only 25 to go in this class and we’re 54th in the next one. Coffee?”
There is no real lesson on schooling to be learnt this time – more of a lesson in etiquette. If you’re a show jumping fan have a great time this Christmas – enjoy all those shows – but please spare a thought for those you take with you!”