Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Memory Lane

Horse Trials...(and tribulations!)
Memories of my first O.D.E
After presenting to the judge's car....ready for our moment of truth!

Someone recently asked me if I remembered my first horse if I could ever forget! We all have to start somewhere and I can vouch for the fact I started at the *very* bottom.
At the time, I was very new to Pony Club (and had only just scraped in my requisite two rallies in order to compete). I did not see my "greeness" as an obstacle - whatever I lacked in equestrian knowledge and skill was made up for with boundless enthusiam! All summer I had practiced "jumping" over tomato stakes suspended on icecream containers...keenly inspired to jump by episodes of " The Horse in Sport" on TV. It is fair to say that my version of "jumping" at that stage did not require all four of my pony's legs to leave the ground together!
My pony at the time (christened with the orignal name of "Patch") did not share my passion for this jumping caper. He was definitely not going to break any land speed records either, as he'd plant his feet if he'd had enough (regardless of my frantic kicking) and rarely got out of second gear. Responsiveness was not a term he'd heard of (he had a mouth of iron)...but he'd taught scores of children to ride before he came to me and was extremely safe.
The fun part of entering for my first real competition was the preparation. There was a lot of terminology and rules to learn. Dressage, I thought, was a mystifying activity that we had to do before we got to the jumping phases. I spent a lot of time learning the test and pacing it out around the loungeroom. If I recall correctly, Mum had to ask someone to interpret the dressage test for me, particularly the "between A and K canter" part... as I had taken it to mean I had to canter for just that short distance - not that it was merely the transition that had to occur between those markers!
Nevertheless, I fronted to the competition on the day, ready to take on the world. I had washed Patch and even attempted to plait his mane (with rather interesting plaits, inspired by golf balls!). I didn't know that few other kids in Australia bothered to plait for Grade 5 horse trials, because I'd been reading English instructional books! Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I don't have any video or photos of my actual test, however upon cleaning up recently I found dressage test sheet from that very day. Sometimes, being a hoarder is a blessing.....!
I love the comments in the collective marks: "Too much kicking"and "nice safe combination"
According to the added scrawl on the tattered edge of the test sheet, I was sitting 7th after dressage on this memorable occasion. I think I had written that because it sounded more positive than the "third last" that was the reality of the situation!
Unlike the heroines of my favourite English pony books, miracles did not occur to see me elevated to winning a ribbon. My showjumping round started off well, clearing the first 3 or 4 jumps. For some reason, Patch refused (at a double) and I went to turn him around to re-present to the fence. Next thing I know, he was hot-tailing it out of the ring and ducked UNDER the flapping bunting surrounding the showjumping ring. To add to the humiliation, the elastic of the bunting snapped harshly across my face as he made this rather dramatic exit. Somehow, a few helpers got us back into the ring again so I could finish my round, but alas it was all too late. I still vividly remember sobbing my heart out into Patch's now tear-sodden and falling-apart plaits with oh-so-much disappointment (and shock!). It was my first experience - albeit a rather unsual one - of how easy it is to get eliminated in the sport of horse trials...for the next few years I would discover many other ways to meet the same fate!
Cross country was rather uneventful in comparison and we sedately trotted our way around. I was somehow convinced that a good round could re-instate me into the competition, not realising that a big fat 'E' on a Horse Trials scoreboard is permanent for the day!
Obviously, this experience did not curb my enthusiasm, only deepened the ambition further!

A part of me will always be that driven, horse-mad, little girl. :-)

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