Show Jumping – how very dare you!

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So when we bought Millie almost two years ago (how time flies when you’re having fun) the plan was that within a year we would be competing enthusiastically (even if not successfully) at local shows, we would possibly be part of the riding club teams, would have done the odd hunter trial and would most definitely be jumping at home on a regular basis. None of this has happened.

This is mainly down to me and I am aware of that, I don’t have the same amount of time to invest into training as I did when I was 21, I am not half as brave as I was when I was 21 and I cant dedicate each and every weekend to driving around the country going to every show possible (as I did when I was 21) so Millie’s show jumping training has been pretty non existent. This saddens me as I love jumping, but I love jumping on a horse that also loves jumping.  Millie wasn’t really jumping when we viewed her, but had apparently done a little bit with them (but then probably decided she didn’t feel the need to do it). But I decided to take a chance on her and thought ‘how hard can it be to get a horse (that was incidentally bred for show jumping) over a jump!?’

The answer = harder than you could ever imagine.

I didn’t have grand ambitions, I wasn’t asking Millie to contemplate the Olympics, heck I wasn’t even asking her to contemplate a whole course of jumps but the answer was still ‘no’.

Millie’s Sire is called ‘No Limit’; she has a brother called ‘No Worries’ and another sibling called ‘No Problem’. Millie should have been called ‘No F*cking Way Am I Doing That’

A little blurb about Millie’s (well known show jumping) sire that made me giggle and wonder if Millie was in fact adopted and no one told her:

“He has won numerous championships and classes – with a wonderful careful and scopey jump,”

 

“He seriously is something very special and is exciting news for British breeders – he is passing on his own abilities to his offspring.”

In all seriousness I know Millie has the ability to negotiate a course of jumps, in the right order and with some degree of control (although our performance going round a clear round class last year at a local riding club show would suggest otherwise). I know if she let herself (and I let her) she would enjoy it. And I know if I was more confident and pushed her a bit harder she/we could even be OK at it.

On the few occasions I have put some jumps up at home, the level of inconsistency with Millie as been staggering, so much so that I wondered if I had tacked up the correct horse.

The week can vary something like this:

Saturday: Tack up. Warm up. Ears go forward at sight of poles, eagerly pops cross pole, my mum up’s height and Millie doesn’t even notice. Up’s height again, jumps enthusiastically and clears by about a foot. Set up a couple of upright jumps of 2ft 9 and successfully clear them (style and brakes admittedly need fine tuning but over all very happy and feel a summer of shows coming on) – I have photos to prove (in case you think I may have actually dreamt this positive experience)

Tuesday: Tack up. Warm up. Whites of eyes show at sight of poles and head shakes left and right in a ‘oh no no no’ type of way. Snake towards cross pole, root self in front of cross pole, squeal indignantly when asked to possibly go over cross pole, begrudgingly walk through cross pole, scare self by scattering poles everywhere, try again and manage to get over cross pole (hurrah). Change to 1ft 6 straight pole. Millie is appalled we have even suggested such a thing so has nervous breakdown and gets put back into field to get over the trauma.

Thursday: Tack up. Don’t warm up as can’t even get on. No jumping.

SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT (or don’t shape up and just carry on doing exactly what you want)

So with winter coming to a close (allegedly) and the riding club newsletter teasing me with ‘members needed for show jumping team’ I started to go through a ‘feel sorry for myself’ phase and decided 2 years has been long enough pussy footing around and not getting anywhere and as much as I am really enjoying putting in the hours of flatwork training and would be more than happy to turn my attention to dressage if Millie decided that was her preferred discipline, there would still be a niggling desire to want to be able to go to a show and at least get round a novice course without a) swearing, b) crying, c) not jumping any of the jumps and d) doing 2 out of control laps of honour around the ring after each jump that we do actually manage to get over.

So it was decided that 2013 would be the year that Millie and me would by hook or by crook get around a course of jumps without totally disgracing ourselves (this is still in discussion) but we started with a little jumping lesson – it went as follows:

SESSION ONE OF MILLIE’S JUMPING BOOTCAMP (tantrums and tiaras)

Eventful and entertaining if nothing else. Millie predictably felt abused and offended that we had dared ask her to consider going over a jump. We asked nicely (she said no) we asked a bit more firmly (she planted self to ground shaking), we ignored her (she got pissed off), she was outnumbered and decided to have a little girly huff and cat leap over it (congratulated herself and decided enough was enough).

Once challenged she decided it wasn’t actually too torturous to go over these little jumps and I swear just for one little cotton picking minute she actually let out a little smile (although she would furiously deny such cooperative and joyful behaviour).

Things were going OK until she decided with no negotiation that she was done for the day, most horses would either slow down, or stop or begrudgingly carry on a little while longer with a big sigh but oh no, when Millie was asked, and then told to go over another jump (I say ‘jump’ but really it was a pole 6 inches off the ground) she was pretty adamant the answer was ‘F*CK OFF AND DIE’ and as she couldn’t actually say those words her way of communicating them in no uncertain terms was to launch her self from all fours into the air (a sort of buck/rear/leapy type thing), bring her left hoof up by her ear and then with all her might stamp her foot on the ground with a squeal and proceed to full on toddler tantrum. We laughed. She sulked.

So as you can see Millie does NOT like being told what to do – unfortunately everything has to be played so that she thinks she has made the decision to do it….2 years later and we are all still waiting for her to decide to load, be caught, tie, stand still for mounting, to jump and to pick up all of her feet without trying to kick me in the head. We all wait with baited breath.

We unfortunately did not progress to SESSION TWO OF MILLIE’S JUMPING BOOTCAMP as I went out with my friends and attempted to ride the next day with a hangover and ended up in A&E (see previous post) It would appear Millie will do just about anything (including hospitalising me) to not go over a course of jumps.

*Re-thinks 2013 show jumping goals and writes FOR SALE advert (again)*

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Tack Room Musings – C’mon Peter Pan

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Whilst mumbling and musing in the tack room the other week it became very apparent that there are some things you can only talk to other horsey people about.

Now you could argue that there are many things that can and should only be dicussed with other like minded horsey people and you would be correct. After all, which of your non horsey mates would spend hours debating the pro’s and cons of a single jointed bit ‘v’ a double jointed bit ‘v’ a no jointed bit ‘v’ no bloody bit at all? Who else could you have a 40 minute conversation with only using the letters A K E H C M B F and it make total sense (or some sense at least), and who else will appreciate the complete devastation of travelling to a competition just to go and mess up your 20m circle or not finish on a square halt at X, nope not your non horsey friends. So as much as your mates ask after your beloved horse, I hate to break it to you but they really couldn’t give two hoots about what supplements he/she is on and whether he/she is losing his/her winter coat yet! So yep, point well argued that there are a million things you should only talk to other horsey people about.

BUT, there’s one topic in particular that you really can only discuss when you are in the company, and only the company of other people that feel so strongly, remember so clearly and can still recall with such passion the often misunderstood and trivialised subject of…..imaginary horses!

I can’t remember exactly how we got on to discussing this the other day but before we knew it, there we were, 4 professional women in our 30’s comparing the imaginary horses we tamed, loved, rode, groomed and successfully competed on when we were children (I think we were distracting ourselves from our real life equestrian failures of that particular day)

I think most children, especially little girls, go through a “I want a pony” phase, usually after their “I want a puppy” phase and before their “I want to wear mummy’s high heels and make up” phase. For most of these children this phase will consist of a few weeks of begging mummy and daddy for a pony (ideally ebony black or dazzling grey), then when those requests are met consistently with a “no don’t be ridiculous darling”, they moodily canter around the living room swishing their pony tail in the air whilst banging two coconut halves together and stopping to paw the ground occasionally.

If you were lucky, your constant whining and whinging about wanting a pony would lead to a compromise, this compromise would be to attend a few lessons at the local riding school, where it was quickly discovered that learning to ride isn’t about cantering through open fields in the sunshine with your bonnet blowing in the wind and your immaculate trusty steed reading your mind and rescuing you Lassie like from sticky situations. It is in fact discovered at this cold, dark, muddy riding school that shaggy ponies have a devilish mind of their own and they will throw you head first into the ground rather than be your knight in furry armour. You also discover the sun rarely shines and you will spend an hour teeth chattering, unable to feel your fingers, wishing you were at home playing in the warm with your friends. This is often more than enough proof to most 8 year old girls that horses are creatures best kept on the television and rummaging through mums wardrobe is a much more sensible past time.

However for some little girls (and boys I’m sure), this doesn’t deter them and they take matters into their own hands and rather than be defeated by the parental “no’s” or unsatisfied with the riding schools standard of equine offering, they delve deep into their creative core, taking the imaginary horse to a whole new level and before they know it they are galloping full pelt on a wild, chestnut, Arabian stallion (called something like Blaze, or Fire), jumping hedges and ditches, winning endless competitions, thundering across open fields and rearing majestically into the sunset. Bareback and bridle-less.

It is in the level of detail in which you created your imaginary steed that determined just how ‘horse obsessed’ you really were. Did you have a specific breed? What markings did your horse have? Tempestuous mare or untamed stallion? What colour was it? Were you the only person that could ride it? (of course you were, admit it) Did you tie your horse to imaginary tie rings? Did you pick your imaginary horses imaginary feet out? Did you scold your imaginary horse with a tree branch crop when it refused a fence? (sometimes hitting rather painfully the back of your bare leg. Ouch) Did your imaginary horse get frisky and flighty and snort like a thing possessed? Did your imaginary horse rear and nap? (bucking was a bit tricky with only two legs). Did you sail round Badminton Horse Trials on your imaginary horse? Could your imaginary horse piaffe and passage perfectly at the drop of a hat and half pass effortlessly across the kitchen floor? If yes to most of the above you were most definitely in the ‘I am pony crazy and will not give up until I get my own even if I am 30 years old when it happens’ club.

I was lucky enough (or spoilt enough some might say) as a child that my persistent begging and pleading did lead to being the proud owner of a beautiful little black pony, Timmy was more Thelwell than Black Beauty but he was my pride and joy. But he wasn’t an easy ride *C’mon you bugger, so when getting to grips with this wise old 12.2hh Dartmoor pony became too much I would abandon him and his bad attitude and go tack up my impetuous 16hh Arabian stallion and career off into the distance, horse and rider in total harmony, poetry in motion, while Timmy stood in the field consumed with regret and jealousy (I love the power of imagination)

What I loved about our tack room recollections the other day though was the seriousness in which we all still described these horses of yesteryear (one of us, naming no names, could still demonstrate with much vigour her imaginary horses canter) and the fact that even though we could now laugh about it, and all had our own living, breathing horses standing outside, we were still so fond of our first equine friends and spoke about them in such detail, with such loyalty and as if it was the most natural thing in the world (and not at all weird or verging on autistic). It did turn out that the majority of us in the conversation happened to be only children, so that may also have had a large part to play in this introverted, self indulgent activity. But either way, these imaginary horses, I believe, helped shape our adult equine lives in one way or another.

It also goes to show we are only ever a conversation away from rekindling our carefree youths and awakening our chestnut stallions from our minds like the Phoenix rising from the flames.

So the next time you get off your horse feeling deflated, disillusioned or down right infuriated all you have to do is head to the tack room and say to someone “remember when it was all so easy as a kid before we got real horses”, this will without fail get everyone discussing (and if you are lucky, demonstrating) their imaginary horses with passion, genuine fondness and without a second thought about whether it was normal behaviour or not.

This trip down memory lane wont make your real horse behave any better when you go back outside, it definitely will not make it jealous that you are cantering around the tack room on a fiery steed *C’mon Peter Pan and were you ever to come face to face with a 16hh chestnut Arabian stallion I suggest you keep your horse whispering talents to yourself and leave it to the professionals but it will take your mind off of your present pony troubles, raise a few giggles and take the topic of conversation away from wibbly wobbly 20m circles and overstepping the mark at X….again.

* if you have never seen French & Saunders ‘ponies’ sketch 1) you are not as horsey as you think you are, and 2) you have missed out on a classic piece of British comedy at its best – below is a reminder

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If she’s amazing…

“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy.”

This Bob Marley quote pretty much sums up my relationship with Millie. She isn’t easy. She’s yet to prove that she could be amazing but I’m sure as hell not giving up until I find out.