The amateur rider – the injury and a personal worst score

I am writing this blog the week before my first Area Festival competition at Prestige this Sunday the 5th of February. After my last blog where I explained that my instructor advised me the horse needed to gain weight whilst I should shed weight, I was successful with the former action point but failed with the latter. My dry January was more of a damp to wet January coupled with the odd cheese burger here and there. My intermittent running didn’t stand a chance of helping me turn into one of those skinny dressage riders, so I’m still chubby with man boobs.

The injury

Anyway, my four year-old, four year-old rising five year-old or just plain five year-old – whatever you want to call him, after a week of no riding due to arctic conditions decided to injure himself whilst out in the field with his friends. I’ll put front overreach boots on and feel I’m being responsible, nobody else in my field even does that.

However, the dressage horse next door to our field has boots up to his ears. I used to think that was entertaining and unnecessary, having a little chuckle as I walked past what could only be described as an armored vehicle. That is before my horse decided to injure himself in the field and just by looking at the injury I could guess the answer was no riding. I feel karma saw me laughing at what I thought was silly and sucker punched me in the face.

The injury itself was a gash, deep and up a little on the inside of his pastern area on his right back leg, if you want to sound fancy you say offside hind but that annoys me because then I have to remind myself what side I get on before using the fancy words. The injury had no heat, a little bit of swelling but not lame. Phew. I decided to pre empt what my vets would say and stick the little you know what on box rest, clean his wound and get the good old trustworthy purple spray out.

Purple spray isn’t cool anymore

After a couple of days and the wound still looking deep, I panic-called the vets for a second opinion. They turn up at the yard, give him the once over and tell me to keep doing what I’m doing but to stop using purple spray. That caught me off guard, my nan’s solution to any injury, even loss of limb, would be to clean it, stick purple spray on it and rest. Turns out medical science has advanced over the last 400 years and they’ve determined that purple spray as an antiseptic kills both good and bad bacteria, meaning a longer healing time.

The lovely vet reached into her boot and recommended this new fancy spray which included aluminum. The first thought that popped into my head was of my horse turning into the horse equivalent of Wolverine from X-Men with metal blades that could come out of his hooves when a car driver or cyclist annoys us when out hacking. Turns out it doesn’t quite work like that but it is very good for healing. The only bad news from the vet visit is that my horse needs another five days of doing nothing, especially no schooling. I think he did it on purpose to spite me for talking about him.

After another boring five days of playing Mother Teresa I finally got to school my horse. It’s a windy day, he’s been in his box, grounded, for 7 days and he’s a four year-old, four year-old rising five year-old, five year-old horse. The sensible approach would’ve been to lunge him first. However, I’m male, we do stupid things as suggested by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) who state that women live longer than men.

I threw my dressage saddle on and mount in the school, almost instantly he lurched forward and proceeded to canter and bronc around the school whilst I got my act together in a saddle completely unsuitable for bronco riding. After a few hairy moments worthy of You’ve Been Framed or a western film, it turns out the week off hasn’t caused us to go backwards but simply stand still in terms of progression.

The great freeze season 2

After finally being able to ride my young horse again, the great freeze returns, stopping me from schooling… again. This time, however, instead of letting it beat me, I drove to the showjumping yard down the road where they have an indoor. The time between the Petplan Area Festival at Prestige which is on the 6th of Feb and the great freeze season 2 is too short. I don’t have time for nature to get in the way of my training, instead I remortgage my house and school my horse 3 times a week for two weeks using the indoor down the road.

When I explained what I was doing to my mum over the phone, she sounded confused and asked why I don’t just use the indoor at my yard. I had to explain that she was speaking to the wrong sibling. I don’t keep my horses at an international competition yard with both an indoor and outdoor arena, a walker with a roof on top of it and a water treadmill.

Still not allowed out in the field but fit to ride, getting on can be interesting but our work together pretending to be a dressage horse and rider combination is starting to bear fruits and my confidence is rising that we may actually pull off the biggest con of the century.

My personal worst the week before the Area Festival

Brimming with confidence, I looked forward to my dressage competition the week before the Area Festival. Our trot work is good, canter work has improved, groin area feels suitably stretched to confirm that I’ve been riding in the dressage saddle correctly and more importantly I’ve learnt my test!

The morning of the competition I am up early, all my tack had been cleaned the night before, along with horse bathed and lorry packed. All I needed to do was plait, using quick knots of course so they look good, and drive myself to Prestige. On competition day the build up was perfect and I arrived with ample time to watch a couple of my competitors complete their tests, get ready in an orderly fashion and warm up properly. In my head I’m thinking I am going to break the 70% barrier today, what a great achievement ahead of the Area Festivals – hurrah, my horse and I have finally managed to deceive everyone into believing we know what we are doing.

I go into the warm up at Prestige where you can hear the traffic, it’s loud, and my horse instantly leaps 6ft sideways, not a great start. I continue warming up with bucking and side darting being a regular feature. The saying confidence comes before a fall was close to being more than literal.

One lady sat with phone in hand on her sane and sensible cob smiles at me and says that I’m lucky the judges don’t mark what goes on in the collecting ring. All I can muster is a fake laugh as acknowledgment of her terrible joke when something much stronger was on the tip of my tongue screaming to be released. At this point I knew I was screwed.

The bell rings and down the centre line we go. The test I learnt we enter at A in working trot and proceed in working trot down the entire centre line before tracking right at C. My horse must have read a different test that said just before X leap into canter. Remembering this isn’t showjumping, I tell myself it’s just one part of the test and to keep to the original game plan. However, It didn’t get much better if anything it got worse.

The comments on the sheet for each movement look like this; looks tense, unsettled, a little tense, far too exuberant, disobedient, very unsettled, unattentive, unsettled and not relaxed, with lastly a well finished. My scores ranged from a 2 to a 7.5 to firmly put me in last place with a 51.25%. The judge’s comments at the end read “Quietly ridden under tricky circumstances with the horse not focused on the job in hand”. The only victory I won was after decades of it always being my fault I can finally blame the horse

I phoned my instructor who also happens to be my sister to tell her my score, apparently she already knows – how exactly is beyond my knowledge, but they do say bad news travels fast. My personal worst (PW) of 51.25% was apparently highly amusing to my dressage trainer who couldn’t stop laughing down the phone. This is the point where I start thinking, well, there’s always next year, maybe we should regroup and try for next year’s Area Festivals, I don’t think 51.25% is going to put us in contention for a place in the final at Hartpury.

Emergency lesson with my dressage instructor

As Prestige is down the road from my instructor, we box there instead of home for an emergency riding lesson the following day to inspect the damage. It’s the day after the PW and the little you know what didn’t put one hoof wrong – angelic, relaxed, and listening. Murdering an animal isn’t technically a thing but the thoughts going through my head whilst riding would’ve definitely been described as animal cruelty. He behaved like a saint!

My dressage instructor asked what on earth happened the day before and if I had changed anything. That was when it hit me. Although he’s been ridden as usual he hasn’t been out in the field for four weeks and is usually turned out daily. I explained this to my instructor who again laughed and called me an idiot – great confidence builder. The advice I received was to still go to the Area Festival this weekend as I have a slither of a chance. I nod my head, drive home with a small beam of hope that we still might be able to pull this off. We arrive home and before I unload the lorry or doing anything else, my youngster is offloaded, his heavyweight rug put on alongwith as many boots as I could find to throw him out in the field, if there were such a thing as ear boots he’d be wearing them. He’s been out in the field every day since.

Here’s hoping it’s enough, wish us luck, we are going to need it!