Two weeks ago today (as I start typing) I had just finished warming Chunky up in the outdoor arena at HOYS. It was a great deal more crowded than it had been the night before with a good mix of people working in – showjumpers on their phones and showing riders trying to avoid the piles of poo which would easily ruin a clean white leg in one fell swoop.
The alarm clock had been set for 4am, to allow us time to get Chunky ready for a familiarisation ride in the main International arena at 5am. I heard the alarm and poked my head through the top of my warm cosy sleeping bag where I had been nestled, to feel the dampness and chill in the air and hear the sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the horsebox. In my semi-awake state, I quickly came to the conclusion that to bring Chunky out in this weather and walk him through puddles of watery manure enroute to the arena, would spell disaster. So I returned to the warmth of the sleeping bag and committed to a 9am warm-up outside instead, by which time I prayed that the rain will have stopped. If we made it through to the Supreme Championship in the International arena later that day, we would just have to cross that bridge when we came to it!
The stabling area is a hive of activity regardless of the time of day it seemed. As we headed to Chunky’s stable to give him his breakfast, there were already riders returning from their classes. We made some fuss of him but frankly he was more interested in the food and getting his Snuggy Hood off! He seemed fairly happy and had obviously slept well, but best of all, he wasn’t covered in poo stains and was still relatively clean.
My friend Pip arrived at around 8.30am – she had been on a VERY early train from London that morning to join us. By 8.50am it had stopped raining and we were at the ringside of the outdoor arena waiting for the lungers to stop lunging before being allowed to enter at the alloted time of 9am. It’s organised like clockwork at HOYS and the working-in sessions are kept to time with military precision.
Returning Chunky to his stable we then proceeded to get him show ready. Pip did the fetching and carrying, Hubby covered each leg in copious quantities of chalk and I followed rubbing it in by hand and creating a cloud of fine white powder. The lotions and potions came out one by one – leaving a gleaming, shiny, polished cob that you could almost see your face in.
We then led him – gingerly around the remaining puddles – back to our horsebox where I tacked him up with Lynn Russell’s ‘lucky saddle’ and changed into my show gear while Pip and Hubby oiled and polished his hooves – the finishing touch!
Now on board we walked the long walk down to the Caldene Arena and arrived around 10 minutes later in the collecting ring. I was nervous! The curtain through to the main arena was open and I could see crowds of people. We could hear the commentary and intermittent applause from the appreciative audience. It was the CHAPS Native Horse/Cob final – always popular. Chunky seemed a little edgy when he first heard the clapping and all I could do was just walk him calmly around the collecting ring until he settled and became accustomed to the noise and above all the atmosphere. It felt quite different to how it had the night before. There was definitely more of a buzz in the air – he could sense it and so could I.
There was a massive cheer from the crowd. The Champion was announced – Jayne Webber and the ever popular The Humdinger had won again! This could only mean one thing…we would be on soon!
I circled Chunky near the curtain, hoping to be the first to enter. Not to show off, but because he has been known to be a little naughty when following other horses into an arena – jogging sideways and upset with being held back. But I was beaten to it and had to be happy with being the 2nd to walk through the curtain.
The Search for a Star music was playing as we entered. The crowds seemed enormous to me. I fixed a grin on my face, took a deep breath and hoped for the best. Scanning the faces around the arena, I knew there would be people there supporting us, some of whom I’d never met before – followers from Twitter and horsey friends – as well as Hubby and Pip. They were all there somewhere but I couldn’t see them! I did spot Fiona from Local Rider Magazine though as she pointed an enormous camera lens at us to produce some lovely photographs, including the one below
The go-round happened in a blur and Chunky didn’t put a hoof wrong. He was settled in his trot and gave a wonderful smooth controlled canter. I could have set the gallop up a little better, but he showed a good extension I thought and obediently came back to me at the end.
Richard Ramsay was on the commentary and as we were pulled in 3rd initially he explained that the preliminary line-up would change considerably after the ride judge and conformation phases.
We all dismounted and waited for our horses to be ridden one by one. The officials came to talk to us and put us at ease. The ride was so brief. Chunky did everything that was asked of him but maybe just a little sluggish in the extension again.
Then on to the scrutiny of the conformation judges and I think they liked him. I remember hearing them say he showed a “good length of rein” and “excellent hind limbs” followed by saying he was “a good example of a lightweight cob”!! Chunky was becoming a little too relaxed though and decided to rest a hind leg – not looking at his best for the judges! I straightened him up and then on cue, he rested the other hind leg! This bit wasn’t going quite according to plan!! The walk away and trot back went well though.
Then disaster! OK, maybe not quite disaster…but a pain nevertheless! I was offered a leg up by one of the officials.
“On your count or mine?” he asked.
“On mine” I replied, offering him my leg. “One…two…three” I counted, bobbing up and down in time and expecting a lift on three, but nothing happened. Then a second after the momentum was lost he hoisted me up. It was like scaling a cliff. I heaved and he pushed….it can’t have looked very elegant. As I clambered up into the saddle I heard something go ping. It was the tape around my waist which must have caught on the saddle flap and snapped as I winched my way up and now my number was on the floor
The official and I spent the next few minutes trying to reattach the tape to my waist – his hands in a slightly compromising position. It must have looked strange, but we managed to tie a knot in it in the end.
When everyone was safely back in their saddles we were instructed to walk on and then we were lined up again along the long-side of the arena for the judges to take one last look. The places were announced and I was delighted to be called forward in 4th. Actually it was more a feeling of total and utter relief! Pleased on the one hand to have been placed…ecstatic on the other hand not to have won and had to go through to the Supreme Championship. I was done and could now relax and go and drink bubbly!!
A few final words on Chunky. He behaved impeccably. Beyond my wildest dreams perhaps, and I was so proud. HOYS is an occasion which is so difficult to prepare for. The atmosphere is absolutely electric. Bright lights, music, crowds, noise and a nervous jockey – so many strange sights and sounds to expect a novice horse to take in his stride when he’s never seen or experienced anything like it before. I think he grew up in the two days we were at HOYS. He certainly reached the cob equivalent of the ‘age of maturity’ there and showed immense courage and trust in me for what I asked him to do. It may be a clichéd saying, but he truly is my ‘horse of a lifetime’ and I feel lucky and privileged to have found him.
Ironically, the lady I bought him from 2 1/2 years ago was there too, although I didn’t know at the time. She came to find us as we were packing up to leave on Saturday morning and said how well he was looking and wasn’t I pleased to have bought him?
“Yes I am!” I replied emphatically. “I’m very pleased indeed…”