When you are in the roll of the summer shows it is difficult to press the stop button and life ultimately revolves around schooling, trimming, tack cleaning and a heck of a lot of work. The night before a show always fills me with dread as I mentally tick everything off as I pack it into the car, bath a very grumpy horse and attempt to eat and make a pack lunch for the morning, while pretending I’m having a great time as my children and husband look at me with a mixture of pity and confusion.
During Balmoral Show I am very much consumed by my ‘normal job’ which usually takes all of my mental strength and on-point organisational skills, throwing a racehorse class into the middle of this was definitely verging on insanity. But I believe most of us are only a couple of bad days away from cracking up, such is the pressure of modern life, so as long as I’m throwing in my life’s passion to the mixing bowl, I find the mixture usually comes out ok.
I left Balmoral Park after a very busy day on the cattle lawn on the Wednesday and headed home to ride, bath, clean tack and pack. I had the foresight to make sure the children were looked after as I knew I just couldn’t manage any distractions, I felt like I had a mountain to climb and making it into the ring at the show would be an accomplishment in itself.
So we were ready for Balmoral, kind of. There was no doubt his ‘stress lines’ had eased and he was looking more relaxed, and I even felt like he had grown. He was 16.1hh when I got him, but was drowned by a 6ft turnout rug. Now his rugs were 6’3 -6’6, his girth had gone up four inches and he just rode like a much bigger horse. At his age I knew he hadn’t grown in height, but what he had gained in inches all over his body made him seem like a much bigger horse. I just had no idea the impact Balmoral would have on him mentally, and having been unceremoniously dumped (twice) in front of the grandstand at the old balmoral site, as part of a hunt chase team, I had no plans to repeat that embarrassment.
But let’s face it, when it comes to horses, anything can happen. Taking the advice given to me all those years ago – when it looked like I wouldn’t make it round the hunt chase course without falling off – I “put my stirrups up” and “sat on my arse.”
18 racehorses cantering around the main arena at Balmoral Park must have been a sight to behold, with many opting to try out a few handstands instead. Tag felt as overwhelmed as he had done at Ballymoney Show, but with one major difference, he didn’t shut down. He trotted and cantered around like a pro, doing his best to behave and listen to what I was asking him, but I knew he was struggling to take it all in. We were pulled in fourth and I knew as soon as we lined up that our chances of being placed were over.
He had gone past the point of no return and any notion of him standing still for the next 90 minutes had been ruled out. We circled, he bit me, he kicked out, and repeat. He was stressed. The class lasted 105 minutes in total and by the time we were leaving the arena he had resorted to rearing, we both breathed a sigh of relief as we got back to the stables. I had arrived that morning not knowing if he would even go into the temporary stables, and I left with a horse that had been through his biggest showing challenge to date.
Although we hadn’t lined up all of our dominoes, we had only fallen short by a small run, another memory in the bank and another positive outing for me and my wimp.