Spring: a word synonymous with new beginnings, dusting off some summer essentials and packing away the 100 denier opaques. Fake tan. Real tan. Flowers, lambs – fluffy little bundles racing in the evening sun. Not losing your welly in a gateway twice weekly.
For all us showing fanatics, spring means the frantic downloading of schedules, watching the little line edge slowly further along your search bar as it attempts to open schedule no.56. Then entries or woeful exclamations that “the judges are all really rubbish this year and I don’t think I will ever win a single red rosette. The end of the world is nigh.” Insert despairing emoji here. It means handing in your annual leave requests and praying no one else is planning anything radical like a wedding or open heart surgery on the one day you have a chance at a Horse of the Year Show qualification. How dare they, right?
Naturally, I too, have found myself in the grip of this frenzy, partly on account of having accompanied little sis’ to a show a few weeks ago.
But strangely this year, I’m at a loss as to exactly how I should approach my season. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the schedule thing. But what about the day-to-day?
For years now, my springtime morning routine appeared much like this:
1. Get up
2. Go outside
3. Feed and muck out ponies
4. Ride ponies.
5. Throughout above, stress continually about the state of coats, hooves, and ‘way of going’; have mini-meltdown at the sight of any minor lump or nick on limbs; hyperventilate should there be any hint of lameness.
Working days also had to include ‘No.6 Remove stray bits of shavings from hair’; and once we kickstarted the season, show mornings saw ‘No.4 Ride ponies’, become ‘No.4 Wrap ponies in cotton wool, drink tea while driving several hours before sunrise’.
My ponies – all natives – were home produced along side my sister’s from our family farm in Pembrokeshire. The highs and lows of the season were dissected exclusively by myself and sibling-co-pilot, usually on the way home from some qualifier or other, usually over a McFlurry, and sometimes involving our mother.
But now that Notting Hill is where I live – I still can’t call it home – there can be no mornings mucking out. For a start, there aren’t any stables on my road. And no stables means no ponies. If there were ever any stables nearby, they have been converted into apartments for the elite, and aren’t in need of mucking out. Whilst there probably is plenty of the proverbial being kicked around, it’s of a different kind, and frankly, none of my business.
So this year, it’s different. The preparation is out of my hands, which is why I am at a loss.
Still, I can’t complain, the move has worked out much better for my ponies than it has for my flock of sheep. I am also exceptionally lucky that I have a free rein to visit the yard. I even have a bed to stay there should I wish to, and I have taken my own little truck so that I can at least dabble in some dressage or jumping independently should the fancy take me! Nevertheless, it is odd.
It’s negotiating Prince, my Welsh Section D stallion, that I find strangest; he is the apple of my eye and the equine love-of-my-life. For the past six years, he has predominantly been cared for, worked and trundled around the countryside in my little blue truck, driven – you guessed it – by me. It’s a partnership that has worked: we’ve a HOYS Reserve Championship and an Olympia Best of Breed to prove it. At 15, now that he is approaching his twilight years, I am ridiculously precious about him. Pity poor Jo and Oli, his new producers, as they try to steer us both through another season!
I’m far less proud of what I have achieved with Milo (real name, Rambo), my delinquent section C. He was bought with a view to relieving Prince of his duties before covering our Section C mares. However, Milo had other ideas, and thankfully, Prince has been gracious enough to continue his appointment as my most trusted steed. For three years.
My relationship with Milo has been nothing short of tumultuous. He probably feels it troughed when I had Plan B-for-balls surgically removed, though for me the lowest point may have been when he jumped out of the ring. It wasn’t a ‘working hunter pony’ class. His feet should have stayed on the ground. His number at a show was once labeled ‘Raving Rambo’ and accompanied by a note suggesting I wore sticky-bum jodhpurs. Granted, I knew the secretary fairly well but you see how his reputation preceded him.
But, determined that we shouldn’t give up, and having virtually pleaded and cajoled him into leading a vaguely normal life, I’m optimistic. I’m hoping that ANOTHER year older, testosterone-free and with Jo and Oli’s help, we will finally enjoy some success. If not success, then at least some stepping stones in the right direction.
Up until now, peculiar as it feels, I have been fairly relaxed about the whole affair. But these last few days have seen a shift and a familiar knot has returned to my stomach. Next week is my first show of the season. Unable to embark on the usual routine, I found myself ‘doing’ active preparation by buying ‘stuff’ – coat gloss and the likes. Between us, I suspect I may have swapped one form of angst for another: it has eased the showing nerves momentarily only for a hole to have appeared in the side of my bank account. I wonder if I’ll regret it when Rhys wonders why we’re eating a new saddle pad for supper.
So stick with me and my sticky-bum breeches, because this season might be a challenging ride, in more ways than one!