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Where’s all the hair?!?

I’ve competed before, up the yard, but never with my white jodhs on. The addition of them, for the first riding club competition of the year, seemed to make a huge difference to my attitude. Previously, I had simply rocked up in my usual whatever, but the degree of planning required to ferry the white clothes up there unscathed, and to keeping them pristine… it was extreme. I had a plan and it mainly worked, and after all was said and done, my clothes  did indeed had as much to do with the whole shootin’ match as did the actual dressage test and the showjumping course.

In fact, I think that the riding part is only about 20%. So here’s my breakdown

20% RIDER PREP: Not just learning the test or practicing jumping a variety of combinations of fences. I had the famous white jodhs for years and due to The Injury never even took them out of their plastic cover. I didn’t even try them on until about two hours before I left for the yard. Luckily, no unfortunate surprises there. I had a white blouse and jacket, and the blouse was fine, but I couldn’t even move my arms in the jacket (neither of those had ever been worn in practice, either.) I got a white V-neck T shirt and called it good.

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#CLEAAAAAAAN

My sports bra is black, though, so sure, I’ll just wear a white bra, I thought. Except that when I started riding, the support was, er, less than excellent and the bra straps kept slipping down my arms. A large part of my warm up was devoted to yanking them back into place.

20% HORSE PREP: I solved this problem by asking the pony girls to plait Connell.

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Excellent job, pony girls!

I made zero effort to figure this out. I had no elastics, and didn’t take the time to find a Youtube tutorial. I wish I had a shot of his tail, it was spectacular. Anyway, I’ll have to find out how long this took and work out how to do it for myself.

Also: grooming, which had already been done, and which saved me time + pristineness of jodhs.

20% WHAT TIME IS IT: When should I mount? Should I bring him up to the arena? Do I have time to stop sweating before I even bother doing any of the above? Should I wear my body protector or just wait? How many people can I ask all these questions until I actually have to do something?

20% WARM UP: How much is too much? How much is not enough? Connell was sticky AF during this section, distracted by all the activity, which is unlike him — so it must have been me. It was hot, to be fair — and as an actor knows how to find her light, Con knew how to find his shade. I kept a good, strong contact in the last few passes I took with him, through transitions, until it was our time to go, to let him know we both needed to stay on our toes. That was maybe the only thing I did right in this per cent.

20% ACTUAL RIDING: The dressage went well, even though I realised that I had never actually ridden the whole test from start to finish. Our riding club clinic had broken it down into its constituent parts and I hadn’t the chance in either of my intervening lessons to put it all together.

I wasn’t worried, because we are both happy with enough with riding tests. He continued sticky for the first half — as reflected in the notes, we had such a good judge — but we got there in the end. I felt the things we did incorrectly, or not as well as we could, and just kept moving. Hit an excellent transition into canter and knew that as well, and had a good halt at the end. Horse and rider got equal marks! A first!

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Speaking of percentages: 72.86

Spoiler alert: we came second because the showing jumping portion, only eight fences, was not great. I stayed on, and got round, but had 8 faults, mainly due to a) psyching myself out because the fences suddenly looked too high and b) not even bothering to take a few practice fences.

Why? Because it felt like we’d been there, up in the arena, in the heat and the dust for about a million hours and I was done. So somewhere, maybe in the rider prep, is the psychological/mental toughness required to pace one’s own thoughts and energy — or something.

Also, there is the extra 10% that is pulling out the plaits when your horse just wants to hit the fields and is therefore throwing his head all over the place with impatience, and then untacking and putting the tack away, and that’s the end of your blinding white jodhpurs.

The competition was a smashing success, not only because of the actual opportunity to do an event like this in the proper clothing, but also because of all the other stuff I learned…

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Oh! The judge asked, when we were riding the test, whether Con and I were a regular pair. When told yes, she said she could tell, we really looked like we knew each other well. Or something! It was a real justification for all the work I’ve put in with him!

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A couple of weeks ago, after I turned Connell out following our Wednesday night hour, I stood around and watched while the rest of my lesson mates brought down their trusty steeds. It was hot, hot even if it wasn’t Ireland, like the kind of hot you might find as normal anywhere else in the world, and we’d had an excellent and thorough jumping lesson.

Connell was standing in front of me as though he could conjure yet another Polo mint out of my pocket, and the other horses milled over to the automatic water thing. I stepped back after one last pat and a sincere vow that I hadn’t any more treats; Connell turned towards the water, and I noticed something interesting.

One of the horses had been drinking and backed off as soon as Con moved, even though he was nowhere near the water yet. Two more stood back, looking like they were pretending they weren’t all that thirsty, thanks very much. One stood in between Connell and the water, his body blocking the way forward, but he kept looking over his shoulder and twitching — defiant, but nervous with it.

Connell put one big foot in front the other and strolled on over. The horse that was blocking him backed off sharpish and the one who had been drinking sloped off down the field.

Connell drank; he looked up and around and the two patient ones were like, Nothing to see here and the cowardly-bold one twitched his tail and pinned his ears but didn’t move either. Connell drank again — little lift of his head — all the horses twitched now — one more slurp and Connell decided he was done and walked away; all three went for the trough, noses and hindquarters jostling for the uisce.

Horses in the wild employed hierarchy in order to keep the herd from being a drive-through for predators, and it’s a learned behaviour that has carried over into domesticity. From the top down, in a herd that has representations of all these types, are: stallions, matures mares, then mature geldings, then yearlings and weanlings, with fillies of both these latter sorts being the lowest in the power structure. As well, size matters, depending upon other factors like seniority, and degree of aggression and persistence.*

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Butter wouldn’t melt, in fairness…

All the horses that Con cruised by were of a size to him, if not larger, but all were relatively new to the yard as compared to him, and the mare who was undoubtedly the alpha, Delilah, trotted over the Rainbow Bridge a couple of years ago. She and Connell were pals, so I suppose he learned his dominance techniques from an undisputed mistress. However: he wasn’t nasty, didn’t kick or bite; he simply had the assurance that he was meant to be first and that was that.

I suppose I didn’t expect Connell to be the boss because he is generally so chill; he can be bold when going after a piece of apple in my hand, and often tries to scratch himself on me, which I don’t allow. He also follows behind me when I walk out of the indoor after dismounting for a lesson and only gets distracted when — wait for it — he thinks there’s something delicious that he might get in his mouth, like the hay that often makes its way out of someone’s stall.

He got what he wanted without, basically, being a jerk about it, and I wonder if there is comfort for the others in the predictability of a reliable boss horse? Hmmm, time to go for spin round the internet and learn more about herd dynamics — and how such techniques may apply to human life…

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*Reference here.

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Twelve years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It’s the antithesis of how I usually do things, but… that’s horses for ya.

TACK ROOM

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