Chapter Thirty six – Life’s Faux Pas

Now that Tag has his hooves firmly under the table, I suspect he doesn’t feel like the newbie any more and is a bit more relaxed by the familiarity of his surroundings, routine and people. As I’ve mentioned I’ve had a bit of experience at being the new kid on the block, which taught me how to quickly assess new people and situations, a skill that I would like to think I’ve kept with me as an adult. But the problem is that you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs, and you have to judge situations wrongly before the lessons are learned.

The consequences of this can be tough, as I found out in my first year of high school, when we moved from a small country village on the West coast of Scotland, to a big town, just outside of Edinburgh. Everyone knew each other in the village I was leaving and my spare time was spent either walking my dog or riding a pony called Frosty that I borrowed from the girl up the road. It wasn’t quite ‘Little House on the Prairie’, but compared to what we were moving to… oh boy was I in for a shock.

My best friend from school – you know the one you can’t fall out with because she knows way too much – recently came over from Scotland to celebrate Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve for the unacquainted) and it gave us an opportunity to compare notes and reminisce on what was a rather colourful few years at secondary school. Her personal favourite story is the one about the first time we met, when the school vice principal introduced me to my new class and asked my friend to look after me and show me around the school. New school nerves are rotten but the excitement of new friends and the fact that this school didn’t have a uniform, was all helping me to look forward to starting afresh. But as I looked around the classroom – like a rabbit caught in the headlights – I saw the amusement in everyone’s face, felt the vultures starting to circle and realised that I had badly misjudged my new audience.

Opting for familiarity over fashion, I was wearing my favourite jumper (which had a galloping horse and the words ‘horse power’ on the front of it), horse head earrings and a horse head necklace, all set off with a semi-beehived hairdo and questionable footwear. With a class full of ‘trendy teenagers’, I did more than stick out like a sore thumb and my friend now describes her role as my babysitter as a quick way to be excluded socially! Of course we now laugh hysterically at all of this, but at the time it didn’t feel quite so humorous. But you know what, although I still get teased about it (in an affectionate way), it didn’t stop me from going on to become part of a class, which although we were a very diverse group of teenagers, we were a pretty tight-knit group and memories (if not qualifications) were made.

So, I don’t like to be taken by surprise – if I can help it – and do as much research on new places, events, restaurants, that I plan to visit, so when I actually go, it’s like I’ve been before, because I know so much about them. When I was a show jumping groom in Australia, geography and logistics meant that every weekend could have been a new show. And sometimes we were away for up to four weeks at a time, so ‘home’ became the horsebox, which was my mobile base for all of our adventures. The nomadic lifestyle can be unsettling, but I found routine to be my saviour and seemed to follow the same habits every time we arrived somewhere new.

Me and my favourite boy, Diamond B Ego, at Sydney Royal Show in 2000 after he won the World Cup Qualifier.

On our arrival at a show we firstly unloaded the horses into their stables – all big shows have stabling for some competitors and when you have ten horses or more competing, it is about the only way you can work the rotation of classes – even when you are there just for the day. After cleaning out the back of the horsebox, often with a hose if we could (this doubled as my bedroom at shows too), I would then empty out all of the tack lockers putting everything in piles according to horse/class/owner, just ready to lift when the horse needed to be tacked up. The ringside rucksack would be packed with extra boots, a different whip, a sponge (I hate dirty noses), an extra curb chain and sometimes even a whole change of bridle. For me this took a bit longer, but set me up for the day/week/month, making sure that we were settled for the show and organising my mind for where everything was. When my swag was rolled out at night, that was my home set up (all be it only short-term) and the anxiety of being somewhere I didn’t know would soon evaporate.

I still do the same now and when I go to a show with Tag, I like to have my grooming kit hung up at the front of the trailer and everything laid out in the boot of the jeep, in the order it will be put on or used. A bit different to the huge 10 horse semi-trailer that I was using in Australia, but the principles remain the same. Of course when I see my daughter packing her boot bag and show jacket the night before a competition, I’m delighted that some of my better traits have rubbed off on her. And at least now I will know when she gets ready for her first day at high school, no matter what she does with her hair or what shoes she is wearing, she should be happy that she is herself and she should be liked for that regardless.

#lifeslessons #experienceversusyouth #fashionversusfamiliarity #justbeyourself #therapyofathoroughbred








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