Tales from the collecting ring
There’s something in the sheer elegance and perfection of dressage that begs for disastrous ‘Thelwell style’ scenarios where I am concerned. Who was the only person at Senior BD Camp, whose horse escaped from the temporary stabling Houdini-style for a walkabout around the stable block? I’ll be forever known as “the one whose horse escaped at camp”.
Or the times with my mare Eve where a canter across the diagonal could mean a sharp exit over the white boards and out of the arena. Bless her little white socks.
Yesterday was a great day and fantastic result. We qualified for our local area festival only to find we are in South East Asia the same week. I think I’ll have to give Patchetts a miss for a tropical retreat in the centre of Ubud – it was a hard choice. But the occasion didn’t go without the usual ‘incident’.
The venue is in deepest, darkest Essex at the top of a 45-degree gradient hill and a narrow lane. Only the second outing in my 7.5 tonne lorry, I was bracing myself for the tight corner and the climb up the path to the car park. As soon as I got the vehicle across the bottom of the driveway, the engine stalled and the starter motor jammed. I was left blocking the driveway to other competitors, the judge of my classes and causing a five-mile tailback to Harlow. Luckily Gill, my trainer and ex-owner of the horsebox, had followed behind me in the car and was able to do some nifty on-the-spot mechanics and inform me that I was trying to take the hill in third gear.
And there was the usual collecting ring mayhem. As soon as I step over the threshold into the warm up arena it’s like a strange new world where conventional human manners cease and riders often forget their horses have feelings. It’s the closest riders get to kamikaze bumper cars and can get quite intimidating.
Inevitably, at nearly every show, you get the skittish, nervous animal who is being told off by a frenzied jockey, only to make it more skittish and nervous. Or the snail-pace riders who cross your path just as you are getting the rhythm and momentum in the warm-up. I’m surprised the horses don’t sack their riders at times.
To add to the madness, I catch a glimpse of Nick in my peripheral vision walking Gill’s pint-size pet – her chihuahua Sebastian – around the car park while she is at the sidelines warming me up. Never a dull moment.