The Semiotics of Showjumping

Apologies to anyone who’d googled Saussure, Charles Demuth, or William Carlos Williams, and found themselves here.

I was as nervous as I was way back in September of 2006. A friend messaged me yesterday to meet up, and I replied, in textese, that I couldn’t as I was going up to the yard to jump. In the league. Or whatever it’s called. I was going showjumping.

Was I? Really? I had my eye on the sky all day, waiting for the promised deluge, hoping for it. I rang to see if it was still on, and evoked distress in the woman who answered the phone. Why wouldn’t it be on? Indeed. It was just, I was going to go all the way up there, and the jumping is in the upper outdoor arena, and if it rained, I’d have gone all the way out there, when I could have been sinking a few jars and not being jumping, jumping a course I’d never seen before, in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know.

My body ignored my nattering mind and walked me out the door at ten to four.

As soon as I got on the bus, it started to rain. I tried to reckon the direction of the scattering shower, and it looked like it was blowing out to sea. I realised that my phone was ringing, my earphones too loud to hear it — oddly, I had chosen my very first horse playlist, huh, the one I made within a week of starting riding. As omens went, I didn’t really know how what to make of it.

I listened to the message. The jumping was on.

On the LUAS I did this dry heaving thing I do, when I’m nervous? Did I mention that I’m a choker? Get me up there in front of a crowd of people, and I seize up: in eighth grade I spelled out of a bee on a ridiculously simple word [‘structure’], in high school I had a solo at the choral presentation in graduation and I fumbled it, I choked, gaaaaaaaah…

I got out of the taxi and just kept walking, walked up to the office, paid my fee, requested Delilah, put on my hat and reckoned I better look at the course.

I stood outside the gate for moment, trying to work out the fences from a distance. There was a woman wandering around, gaugeing approaches. I went in and joined her. She talked me through the course and it all started to make sense…

‘I’ve never done this before,’ I admitted. ‘I’m nervous.’

‘You’ll be fine once you get out there,’ she smiled, and I smiled, and I went to get Delilah.

I tacked her, and realised that there was no one about to hold her while I mounted. I tried to mount her without a restraining hand, on Thursday, and she wasn’t having any of it. Well, shite, I had to get on her, and get on her I would. I lead her to the indoor, talking her along as she grumpily chewed on a handful of hay she’s snaffled from the ground. I’m getting up on this horse, I thought, and grabbing a healthy amount of rein, I put my foot in the stirrup and got up there.

As we walked out and up to the arena, I thought, I have done this all by myself! I tacked her, I mounted her, I walked her up to the arena, all by myself, like a proper rider, like a person who rides horses.

Things were looking up.

Someone got the gate for me and I immediately took stock. I had no idea what to do, what the etiquette was, I knew we needed to warm up, to have a few goes at the practice fence, but otherwise… I noticed that everybody else was trotting their horses in the general flow of the fences, so I did it too.

Okay: fence number one was at C, two at X, three at A, then a double, counting as number four, at E, then back to one which was now five, six and seven along the B side, and then eight, roughly at X again. Right.

We trotted, we cantered, we took a few fences, fairly hairy as people kept changing rein, Delilah was grudgingly taking the crosspoles, I knocked them down once in the canter, and took it again after it had been reset. Okay.

I talked with some of the people I knew, and some that I didn’t, and well, fuck it, I was there, it looked like I was jumping after all.

The first rider went, kindly wishing us all luck, and suddenly I was ready to go. Suddenly, it wasn’t that big a deal. There were maybe seven jumpers taking the pipers [60cms, although, frankly, a couple of them were edging upwards of 70 and 80], and after a wee girl went, I went.

And there we were. Cantering about the place, taking the first, getting a good line into the second, the third, a bit of hesitation on Delilah’s part with the second fence of the double, and then —

And then I just blanked. If you’d asked me my name, I probably would have shaken my head in confusion. I saw the next fence. I saw the figure 5 [not in gold.] Delilah kept cantering. I kept looking at the number five, and I looked up and called to Paul, ‘That’s the next one?’ and I turned her in a circle and took it… and six, seven, eight, taken, nothing falling down, least of all me, and then back to two to four to five to six to seven to eight — which Delilah just about took from a dead stop — and I had done it.

‘First clear round!’ shouted the ten year old boy waiting his turn.

Really? No, that can’t be right. That was a fault, wasn’t it, at five? Everyone was absolutely lovely to me when I returned to the practice area, and for one shining moment, I thought I had it, that red rosette, in my hot little hand.

No one had seen me drift at the top of the arena. It wasn’t a clear round, but dammit, I did it!

I was suddenly in a world. A world where everybody sat on their horses and talked to me, and I talked to them, and I received compliments, and I felt like, if my feet weren’t in the stirrups, I would have floated away on a cloud of joy and achievement and sheer awesomeness.

I beamed all the way home, watching all the dressed up people heading out to pubs to sink jars, and I wouldn’t have traded my damp head and my mucky boots for anything, any single thing at all in the entire universe.

I’ll be back in two weeks time, back up there, the hell with the weather, I’d done it once, and I’ll do it again. I remembered dismounting Mercury, in September of 2006, after an hour of walking around and around, remembered that soaring feeling of having done it, and shy of two years later, I had bloody well done it again, felt that skyrocketing feeling of having done it, and I just can’t imagine that everybody in the whole world doesn’t want to feel like this.

I am rather in awe of the that blankness, though. It is a formidable thing. I saw the number and registered it as simply… nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing penetrated. I don’t know what I was I thinking, except that I was thinking that I didn’t know what that figure five meant. Why was that little red sign with the five painted on it there? I sat there and it made no sense. Perhaps the second fence at four threw me off. Dunno. I’m fairly certain I’ve never felt such a sense of no sense ever before. So that’s something to think about, I guess.

But, oh! How I wanted that rosette!

4 Replies to “The Semiotics of Showjumping”

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