I’m a bit of a believer in fate, and I think that most horsey people carry some superstitions with them; lucky shirt, lucky jodphurs, lucky pants. But sometimes the desire to do things the same way can be restrictive and it is good to try and refresh your outlook from time to time.
This happened at Saintfield Show in 2017 when, ‘I was going to the show anyway’, so I decided to enter everything I could. My confidence had been bolstered by Balmoral and as our dressage was improving, I decided to do a dressage test in the morning followed by a ridden horse and a racehorse class in the afternoon. Nothing like getting value for money out of the diesel, but Tag was now at a stage where he could be pushed a bit, so my instinct told me to go for it.
I had never done a ridden horse class before and didn’t know what to expect, but I was prepared to give it a go. Our dressage in the morning was a bit ropey and a passing troupe of pony club ponies saw us nearly exit the ring prematurely, but it got Tag (and me) into the right frame of mind for working. In sharp contrast to Gransha, the sun was splitting the trees and my main concern was that my helpers would get sunburn rather than trench foot.
Finally at 5pm the ridden horse class started and my friend said to me “go in there and ride like you don’t care, like you’re really fed up”. Well that wasn’t difficult after hanging about for six hours, so fed up we were, and Champion Ridden horse we were crowned. We weren’t fed up then, and more so than at Gransha I think Tag had a realisation of winning and being a good boy, so another drop of confidence was added to the glass. Following our high we were then placed last in the racehorse class, which by then didn’t matter so much, but a good lesson in how a small change to your outlook can make a big difference to your success.
When you work with horses, you can rarely get ‘too cocky’ or ‘carried away’ with yourself as behind every red rosette there is usually some tale of hardship, which ensures that every win is coupled with dramatic celebration as no one knows when they’ll get the chance again. But when the confidence is up it is easy to see how a trainer has a winning streak. It’s not because they are cocky, it is because they feel more confident with every win. Indecision fades, as choices are taken that the trainer always knew in their heart were right, but maybe didn’t have the confidence to see them through.
Being a wimp of a horse is tricky, and confidence levels can be blown away with the wind, but with every show Tag grew, and although a new environment still made him nervous and wonder what was coming next, he was definitely improving and I was learning. The previous year I had confidently entered the Dublin qualifier at Armagh Show, but a year down the line I decided I didn’t want to take that route – not yet anyway. I entered for Castlewellan Show where there was a qualifier for Tattersalls July show, which was a qualifier for Aintree’s retrained racehorse show. So of course in my mind, I was already boarding the ship to Liverpool, but I continued with a practical and sensible program that would suit Tag.