Last weekend, I finally made it into the ring, and kicked off 2019’s season. True to form, I had butterflies flittering around my stomach for the week prior to it. Also true to form, the butterflies became an intense knot that sat, blocking hunger 24 hours previous. It’s not that I’m frightened. I love showing. It’s because I love it too much, and because I’m competitive. It’s because I am addled with anxiety from week to week and competing gives my worries a focus. In that way, it’s healthy. In that way, I find competing such a relief. At least when the jitters are are so intensely focused on one thing, and one thing that in reality, won’t hold much bearing over the ‘bigger picture’, they cannot pounce upon me from anywhere else.
One of the great privileges of competing beyond grass roots level is that I have met so many wonderful people from walks of life I would otherwise never have encountered. I revel in unravelling their stories, listening to anecdotes and perspectives different to my own experiences. So setting off with a crème egg and a different human co-pilot to previous years, a distracted knot loosened its grip.
Having said that, I missed my usual co-pilot, my little sister. Maggie and I ritualistically sing Disney classics and gossip our way down country lanes and motorways to our destinations. Our friend, Gemma, often travels with us, adding to our sources. She provides the sugar too, usually.
I don’t usually show Prince in hand, but was persuaded to by Mandy as I had relinquished the ride on him to Charlotte, a young lady less than half my age and even younger than Prince himself. In the end, I was glad I did. He won, but that wasn’t really what mattered. What mattered was that I enjoyed showing him.
Prince is 15 now. He’s the equine love of my life, and as he won Horse of the Year Show and stood Best of Breed at Olympia in 2017, I had intended for him to retire. Life has funny ways of chinking the plan, though, and as with other best made plans of mice and men, Prince returned to the ring last year, and will do again this season. This is namely on account of Milo’s resistance to conform and live up to my high hopes for him. But also partly because I didn’t want to move without my best friend being nearby, and it seemed daft to have professional producers of show ponies take care of him and not even show him once!
A comment on Facebook made by Charlotte’s mum, Liz, after Prince won an enormous class at The Great Yorkshire Show last year planted a seed. That seed came to bud last Sunday when Charlotte had her first competitive ride on Prince. As I watched, I couldn’t decide which emotion held dominance: nerves or pride. When they won and stood champion, I felt my heart might burst. Prince really is one in a million, and watching him bring so much joy to a young lady just starting out in ‘open’ competition reinforced this for me. It is unusual for a Welsh Cob stallion to show such docility and to so obviously display impeccable manners to take care of his jockey.
I later stood second to them with Milo, another proud moment. True, he had given a dramatic display of elasticity and flamboyance to compromise his place in an earlier class, but I felt pleased nevertheless, that he had managed to redeem himself. After all, this is the pony that a leading producer – I won’t mention her name – declared him dangerous and questioned my sanity in attempting to show him. At that point, I felt crushed, both for myself and for Julian and Sam Quiney, who had worked so very, very hard to break him in and help me on my way with him. Again, fate would have it that my plan to show him last year changes, becoming a plan to actively avoid any shows at all. Looking back, perhaps that year of just learning to be a bog-standard hack-about did him good. No doubt removing his testicles helped, too. Though he may beg to differ on that point.
Trouble is, now that we have got to this point, with good progress finally in sight, I’m wondering should I persevere further? Or is there now too much history? Too much water beneath our bridge? I’m not sure. I adore him, but is it the case that two equally stressed beings are not destined to click as a partnership? Perhaps the reason Prince and I have worked so well these past six years is because he is the calm to my storm. As I look to the next few shows, I can’t help but feel plagued by this. Perhaps that in itself is a good thing – something else to distract me from real life woes. Maybe I will keep a hold of him after all… Who knows?