I thought, since I’d done this last year, that I’d be better prepared for the equine avalanche that is the Dublin Horse show.
I was wrong.
I didn’t hit the Royal Dublin Society [RDS] — a huge, sprawling expo-type place — ’til around noon, but that actually made it more intense, more people everywhere, a queue to collect my ticket. I had foolishly bought a ticket, for the Aga Kahn Cup: I’m a member of the press! There are sport dudes all over the place at the paper! It never even occurred to me to get a press pass!
No matter. I was going shoppin’, and in one half of one hour, I bought my new hat, a pair of summer weight gloves [I lost my beloved MacWets, argh! And I don’t like my old pair anymore, too heavy], a curry comb, a brush, a hoof pick [I’ve decided to give the schoolies some TLC], and, unexpectedly, a lightweight but roomy wax jacket. I didn’t even look in a mirror, not that there was one, I just asked a couple people who were hanging around whether it looked good.
Not a pair of jodhs in sight, though, only breeches, which I don’t like. The hat has a leather strap, ooooh, and I discovered that it is meant to lie loose, two adults finger’s width from my chin. This is news to me. I understand that one wrong landing could result in being strangled by my own strap, but couldn’t the hat, equally, slip dangerously as well? I had it properly fitted though, so… Must investigate.
Debit card whimpering, I made my way out onto the grounds.
People everywhere, horses everywhere, bands playing, mile-long queues for burgers and chips, and oh, yeah, the activity in the rings.
I stayed to watch the medium hunters go through their paces. They all seemed as big as Tango to me, and I can’t imagine what the heavyweights look like. The ground was churned up within an inch of its life, due to the week’s heavy rains. Horses galloped by, mud flew, and we all laughed as we dodged the dirt.
I got a text: Shauna, Ken, and six-year-old horsewoman Casey had arrived. Hands full of chips, I stood somewhere that seemed to be free enough of milling, obstructing horse folk. Could I be found in this glorious chaos? I could, and was met easily by my friends. Casey was decked out in jodhs and boots, and sweetly, in the fleece I had bought her last year from the show. With her ball cap completing the picture, she looked as if she’d been born to walk the aisle of a barn. In the best way possible, of course.
My chips inspired a similar mission in Shauna and Ken, and Casey and I lingered by the warm up arena for the Cup competitors. I knelt beside her as we chatted about the horses, admiring their colouring and their form. The riders? We noticed that one guy wasn’t warming up with his hat on. That was about the extent of our interest in the humans.
The man of the hour appeared, and we got a little interested in him. Or, I did. 59-year-old Eddie Macken was riding for Ireland, and we all laughed about it giving me hope. Ken kept yelling encouragement at Eddie, mouth full of burger, but Mr Macken apparently had his mind on other things.
As did we: Shauna had snaffled some press passes, and we figured if I didn’t brazen my way in, I could always go to my proper seat. Directions from a young fella in an official-looking hi-vis vest sent us down the full length of the Anglesea stand… and more advice sent us around the entire other side of the stadium… only to find that the press box was directly across from us on the other side. Why we couldn’t sit up in the area that was on our right, we couldn’t imagine — we were press — and then I saw that those seats had waiter service.
Posh trumps press every time.
Off we went, and long story short, we were eventually led, by a suited man with a yellow rosette on his lapel, to a non-descript blue door underneath the stand. We took seats in the front row, directly on the turf, it seemed, and decided that they’d been worth the shoe leather.
We were just in time to stand up again as President Mary McAleese took her own seat, and it all began.
These horses… they are something else. So fit, so beautiful, their faces are entirely different from the horses I know. They’re celebrities, these guys and gals, and lacking the sunglasses that the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt avail of, they have some look about their eyes that are as effective as shades. They are entirely focused inwards, these horses, and it’s stunning, intimidating, gorgeous. I’d have as much chance talking to one of these guys as I would chatting up George Clooney.
It’s impossible to take your eyes off them.
Unless you had worked out that Cian O’Connor, Ireland’s premiere showjumper, was sitting one section over, two rows up, having a chat. Then, you’d be allowed a bit of distraction. He was jumping fourth, and apparently had people, perhaps, to warm up his horse for him.
The fences were enormous, and we were lucky enough to be in front of the toughest combination: a water jump, and then seven strides into a gigantic fence, and then three into another gigantic fence. This proved to be the toughest part of the course, and it was breathtaking to watch. It was funny to note that any number of fences seemed to be free of fault-making, and that several others were reliably come-a-cropper making. There was a spread way over on the other side of the field, three fences in gradation upwards, and deep, and nobody faulted at the fence.
There was chatting, and texting, and cups of tea and packets of biscuits [no champagne for the press?] and the occasional clear round — but not many of them, to be sure. Eddie faulted twice, with one for time, in the first round, but jumped clear in his second [okay, 2 faults for time] to rapturous applause. The silence that greeted the Irish riders was unbelievably intense, the entire body of the audience straining with them as did their round.
Anyway, the Brits won [and they rode very, very well] and Ireland was second, with the US third, and I don’t know how I made it home in one piece, sa dazed and dazzled was I.
I’m going back on Sunday.