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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…

***

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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I have been many places in the sunshine, and there is really no better place on earth than Ireland when the sky is clear, blue, and cloud-free. And there is no better thing to be doing than racketing around the fields, up in the hills, on horseback.

If you’re not me. I have had an enormous fear of the fields from day one, and in the past, there has been nothing worse than a ride out. But then, we went out a month or so ago, and it was okay. We didn’t canter or anything, and Connell was pretty annoyed by that, he started throwing his head and snorting when it became apparent that we were heading back to the barn after a desultory amble over hill and dale {what’s a dale, anyway?}*

So that was pretty good. I remember chatting to Con afterwards, about remember how nervous I was that one time we went out last year? Ha!

This Saturday was even pretty good-er, because, I don’t know, I just got up there, and we trotted down the road, then trotted back up the road and the lane, and we went into a field, and we jumped a log, and then went into another field, and had a canter round the place, and then had another canter in another field, and then went up to the tippy top field and cantered there, too.

It was fun! Like, cinematically enjoyable: sunshine, eight horses pelting up the side of a hill, Dublin Bay stretched out before us, in all its glory.

Why wasn’t I afraid? I have no idea. Cumulative experience? General sense of well-being? It may be because I felt like I was completely balanced in my light seat. Also, after Connell bunched, and then went into the gallop {it really was a gallop-y canter}, the first six strides were like running for the roses, and then I think he went Hey, wait a second, this is tiring and then he started to slow down. To the degree that during the last few runs I was egging him on: Go, Connell, go!

I can’t tell you how great that was.

I can’t tell you how crap the jumping was on Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »

We didn’t jump on Tuesday, and we didn’t jump on Saturday, and I woke up on Sunday wondering, Do I remember how to jump?

I ride often, but I haven’t been riding for very long, and so stuff like that gets into my head. In the beginning, even up until my second year, time taken off was a source of anxiety upon return because, you know, maybe I forgot everything in a week?

I didn’t have enough experience to draw upon; showing up on Sunday, especially when I felt like I wasn’t going to remember what to do, is helping build up my reference library. Read the rest of this entry »

So, I can’t post video here, but I have it up on FB, and — and I put it on my phone, too…

I’ve got a list:
> Toes in
> Contact!
> Sit back
> Elbows in, too
> Look up!

I’m sure there’s more, but I swear, if I look at that thing one more time, I will never get anything else done!

I did a circle in the beginning, before I approached the first fence, and when I first watched the video I was like Sue, what are you doing? I mean, he was on the correct lead! But then I saw that I had picked up the contact, which was good, because the reins had been flappin’ like a washing line. Okay, I get that.

>Hands down a bit, as well, I think.

Oh, geez, okay, hang on, going to — yeah, wow, get those toes in. And the weight in the outside stirrup. Okay.

The thing is! I am now at the stage where I can actually think about things. Before, it was all about just getting over the fence, now I can finesse my position, the approach, everything. All the… grown up stuff. I’m not a pony girl anymore…

Speaking of approaches: I went alllll the way into the K corner on the way to H, I am so delighted with that.

Fan-feckin’-tastic.

I woke up and thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to just lie here and daydream about going double clear over the 80s on Connell?

This is the thing that makes people not do what they say they’re going to do: it is nice to just lounge around and make up the story, the perfect story, about the thing you want to do, because it always works out, er, perfectly. As a writer, I find this to be the hardest part about getting anything of length produced. I have these really excellent scenes, right, bits and pieces that do have a sequence and a narrative drive, but it’s the linking bits, the other bits and pieces that threaten to make the thing never happen, because, well, they are the nuts and bolts.

You gotta be handy with the nuts and bolts, or the whole thing collapses.

I got up anyway, and commenced conjuring up positive images in my mind. On Tuesday, Connell and I jumped really, really well, and on Saturday, whilst the fences were teeny, we had to jump a grid and then a twenty metre circle over to jump at X, and then another circle to jump at M, and we managed it better every time we did it, so I was feeling pretty good.

Also: nervous. I mean, 80s*. If I hadn’t gotten Con over more than four fences without incident in the past, well, that had demon had been exorcised — but only over 70s.

But I could do it. I was pretty sure. Yeah. Okay. Read the rest of this entry »

*Because horse people hang their rosettes from their rear-view mirrors.

MY SECOND ROSETTE

We found out on Saturday that there was going to be more showjumping starting on Sunday. Not a league, we didn’t think, it was only for a month, but ah, sure, why not go along and have another go?

I thought, I’ll jump the 70s with Connell, and the 80s with Delilah. I said this at least three times between finding out there was jumping and the drive to the bus — or maybe only once, out loud. I did say it at least once, and A-M said I’d keep wondering what to do until I got up there.

Sunday morning, and I feel pretty okay. I can see myself going clear. I imagine going clear twice, on two different horses, and I laugh out loud.

When we get to the yard, I discover that you don’t just pay your €12 and jump the livelong day — it’s €12 per round, which is grand, except I don’t have the other €12 for the 80s, and now — now what? Do I do the 70s on Connell, who I have never gotten over more than four fences without incident? Do I just do the 80s on Delilah? I kind of thought I’d like to give Con a go, because since I got my first rosette, the pressure is off, and now I can go ahead and take a risk, I can risk not going clear, because I have gone clear, and — I don’t know, it seems like any thing that happens now is perfectly fine, it’s experience, and I am happy to push myself.

But jumping Delilah over the 80s is a risk, too, considering that I don’t even ride her consistently anymore —

I look up, and one of the grooms is heading out of the barn. There he is, followed by reins in his hand, followed by Connell.

I stand there, like that scene in Lawrence of Arabia, like, I’m watching this thing from the distance coming closer and closer, and I’m transfixed, I can’t move, and I’m still thinking, Will I do the 80s with Delilah or will I do the 70s with Connell

The groom hands me the reins. I guess I am doing the 70s with Connell. I laugh. I give A-M the money to pay for my round, it’s all crushed up in my pocket, like a child’s lunch money. I go in, mount. I think that I — that we — can do this.

Four or five pony girls come in, and we all start to warm up. I start bossing them around, or depending on your point-of-view, teaching them proper pre-showjumping behaviour, telling them to call out ‘Jumping!’ when they are heading for the practice fence. They all do this, and then I say, ‘Let’s change rein,’ and we do. Connell is loose and into it, and I loosen up and get into it, cantering him over the crosspoles. He hesitates just before he goes over one approach on the right rein, and I am like, No way, dude, we can do this — and we do, and then I go again, right away, and we’ve both got more energy.

We all go down to have a look at the course. I see it and I laugh, don’t even ask me what the order is, I can’t remember, but I do know that I have never jumped a course in which there are four fences at the corners, F/K/H/M, angled in to X. Well, that’ll be interesting, I think, which is a positive adjustment of my first thought, which was: Crap.

The pony girls and I walk the course on horseback, and we all convene in the middle to talk each other through it. They are all numbered, most of them twice, because there are only six fences but there will be eight jumps for the first round, and then six more for if you go clear. Number 4 is a double, one stride, and that’s going to be the one that you do, and think you’ve done 4 and 5, and where’s 6, and then you’ve gotten lost and it’s all gone pear-shaped.

Paul comes into the arena, and says we’re going to begin, and we all head for the gate, and he asks, ‘Who’s going to go first?’ There’s a heartbeat  — I wait for one for the kids to say Me! and I realise, Crap, I’m the grown up, I have to go first. I can’t make one these little girls go first! Dammit. I say I’ll go, and I trot Connell into a canter.

I realise that I’m on the wrong rein to take the first fence at X. Yeah, okay, no big deal, I change rein and begin.

And the thing happens again, I don’t remember much, although I do remember thinking Crap, where is 4 — oh, there, okay, and I shouted ‘Am I clear?’ as I went over 7, and then did 8, and I think I didn’t even stop, I went right into the second round, and then I remember thinking This is the last fence — and then I was double clear again!

Connell was good as gold, and I think it’s because when I am doing this showjumping thing, I am only doing my job — directing the horse, and controlling rhythm and pace — and letting him do his job, which is the actual jumping. I am not trying to read his mind. I am not worrying about what he’s doing. He was gorgeous, and I mostly got all the lead changes correct. It was like… it was just fun and perfect and the experience of it is like bottling endorphins. I am buzzing all over again as I write.

These rosettes aren’t the really fancy ones, like you get at Boswell or wherever, and they don’t have a thing, a loop by which one hangs it from the rear-view mirror, but if I did have a car, I would of course jury-rig it up — or else I do not deserve to be called by the surname of Conley.

I can only do next Sunday, as my last two Sundays in May are booked, but I think — I think I will do the 80s on Connell? Because I think we can do it. Yeah. Okay. Well, that’s the plan for now…

… I was also on Delilah, and I know I was conscious of this experience going up last Sunday — only the second time I’ve showjumped a whole entire course in front of people! But here’s why I was so worried about remembering where fence no. 5 was.

Four years later… sure, it doesn’t seem like that much time has passed. Huh. How ’bout that?

MY FIRST ROSETTE!

So. The showjumping league has been going on for ages, and yesterday was the last one until summer. I talked myself out of it the first week, and after that, there wasn’t even a voice in my head to ignore. I was doing okay on Connell, but every fence felt like a 50/50 proposition, and I just wasn’t feeling sufficiently confident.

On Saturday, one of my lesson mates basically talked me into going, and since AM was going as well, I figured, Ah, sure, feck it.

And then I was unexpectedly out Saturday night, home at 12ish, how’d that happen? and when I woke up, I thought, Ah, no, sure, I’ll sleep in and forget it… but then somehow, I suddenly found myself up, and washing my face, and having coffee, and checking the bus times, and walking out the door.

Weird, how that happens. How the mind goes lalalalalala and the body decides to ignore it.

At some stage on the bus, it occurred to me that just because I’ve been riding Connell, it didn’t mean I had to jump him. Hmmm. Since Rebel is no longer around {I can’t — I’ll write about that at some stage but not now, not here} I thought, Maybe I’ll take Delilah? I mean, she’s stiff and she’s getting up in years, but I watched her jump fences for a very indifferent rider recently and thought, Well, she’s bockity, but she’ll get me over the fences.

Connell or Delilah? Delilah or Connell? went my brain, getting me back for ignoring its chatter about having a lie-in instead of a showjump. I got into the car, barely said hello to AM. ‘I might take Delilah,’ I said, and pros and cons were weighed.

When I went to pay, Paul said, ‘And you’ll want Connell,’ and I said, ‘Can I have Delilah?’ and he said, ‘Either one!’ and so I went and got Delilah. Oooh, the warm up: I had forgotten just exactly how bockity she was, and it was a bit of a struggle to sit back in the canter. She refused one practice fence. Feck! I thought, and was thisclose to putting her back and getting Con… but I went at the fence again, we went over — okay. Off we went, me and D, to go jump a course of 70s.

I… I don’t really remember it? It was eight fences, and then if you went clear, you did the first six over again. Right. There was one at F, and then a related distance at X, then over to E, then back around to F for the line in to a double at X, then eeeeeeeeeeeeee H around to M, then the first fence became the 7th, and the 4th became the 8th.

I remember Delilah shaking her bum and trying to take off as we trotted large around the arena; I remember thinking Hmm, well, if she’s hot, she’ll be strong and get us over the fences, and then thinking, No, I want to control this, and sitting back and not letting her get out of hand; I remember being worried that I would forget which was the 5th fence; I remember thinking, Oh, God, I am bouncing around like a sack of potatoes and then sitting in more fully; I remember coming around the turn at H, heading for fence 6 and hearing another of my lesson pals call encouragement; I remember going over 6 and looking and thinking Oh, there’s 7! and feeling surprised by it.

When I cleared 8, I heard Paul call ‘Clear round!’ and I thought — I don’t think I thought? I don’t know, I just kept going, and went straight to 1; I remember coming around to 4 and feeling myself losing my left stirrup, and then putting more weight in the right stirrup and keeping the left; and I remember, as I came around again to 6, I thought Holy shit, I think— and I remember thinking as we sailed over it, thinking Ah! and then we landed and everyone cheered! and I felt like my whole body was my heart, beating and beating and laughing and full of pure, unadulterated joy.

I thought, Maybe I’ll do the 80s?, but I brought Delilah back up, and AM handed me her phone so I could video her round, and I commenced taking photos of me and my ribbon and texting them to myself. I remember, because I feel it now, the surge of absolute delight, the absolute and clear and incontrovertible sheer joy of having gone around clear. Of having been in the moment and only the moment, of only thinking as far as the next fence and of the… the ‘nowness’ of it, of one thing coming naturally after the next and doing just what was in front of me. Of urging Delilah on and forward and over and around: clear, clear, clear.

I’ve just remembered that I didn’t untack Delilah, oh shoot, but I was completely satisfied with my round of 70s and figured, Ah, I’ll do the 80s next time, and I forgot to go back, and oh, dammit, oh well.

I’ll never forgot whispering to AM, Do you think I get a rosette, and we weren’t sure since I hadn’t been in the league before now — and I’ll never forget the shock of delightful surprise when names were called to come forward for the ribbons and mine was one of them, and me lurking around like Gulliver, waiting for all wee girls to get their rosettes, and for the league winners to get their plaques. {Plaques?!? Hmmm!}

I tucked the rosette carefully into my pocket, and whenever anyone said the word ‘rosette’, I’d touch my pocket. There it is, I’d assure myself. There’s mine.

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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