When Tony and I decided that a round of proper show jumps was in order I don’t really recall batting an eye-lid.  Putting my head to where I was just a couple of months previously and the idea of jumping then it’s a huge change.  It’s insane the change.

It’s not like I’ve swallowed a book on positive thinking…

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As I write this update on my return to riding I also found myself looking back on those carefree days when jumping was LIFE! I loved it.  I was competing week in, week out and school was a right pain in the scheduling!! I was recently tagged in one of those random/annoying Facebook posts, the sort that get you to do something for a number of consecutive days.  This one was about 10 equine pictures that represent a point in your life.  I don’t normally get involved in many of those things on FB, the cynical part of me believes there’s usually a hidden agenda lurking in the background somewhere on them and although I enjoy reading the posts from friends I usually refrain.  However after being tagged a few times I sat back and thought it would be really great to look back and help me move forward too.   The first picture I posted as of me with my first pony, Blue, at some jumping competition.  Think it was called Expo ’88 or something and the fences look to be somewhere around the 1m 10 – 1m 20.  Big enough for a 13.2.  Whilst you aren’t really supposed to look back in life, just keep moving forward, seeing these pictures reminded me that I could and I did and why shouldn’t I again?

You might recall that first lesson with Dudley (2 days after he came home) was meant to be a flat lesson.  I was just going to gate-crash Tony’s previously booked lesson and potter about on him, getting a little bit of input from Tony’s instructor, Gaynor.  One of the first things Gaynor asked that morning was whether I wanted to jump.  Nope, not today thank you, but I don’t mind some basic pole work… but as you know by the end of that lesson I’d done just a bit more than poles and was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.  First steps with him achieved simply and in a positive manner.

Since then pole work has been a regular feature, along with 2 or 3 small fences too.  Nothing big, mostly around the 70-80cm and always done to fit in with Moose’s education as a 4 year old. Dudley is always a willing partner, he knows his job well and this has been fundamental in my mental state with it all.  Gaynor now regularly laughs at my ‘nope, not today thank you’ response to jumping.  So when we unloaded at Chard Equestrian that Tuesday night I wasn’t nervous at all.  In fact I warmed up without too much care, waited patiently for a nice cross pole and did my own thing.  We’d planned to do the 80cm and then possibly the 90cm, depending on time and how Moose went really.  Walking the course I did think that this was the biggest 80cm track I’d ever seen though!  It was a fair, nice course, but it was well up to height and width and had plenty of spooky fillers.  This one even had inflatable champagne bottles!  The arena there is big though so there was ample physical and mental head space to set up for each line.  So I just kept walking, had a quick chat with Tony then refreshed my warm up as we were pretty early in the start list. As I stood by the side of the arena waiting to watch Moose do his first ever round I was very relaxed.  I held my hand out to someone and there wasn’t even a murmur of a shake.

Before long we were cantering around and then the round was over. 12 jumps, 13 jumping efforts in total.  He went from fence to fence and I was looking up for my next fences too. We had a couple down, basically where I over rode, but I was thrilled. It felt normal, it felt good, it didn’t feel like it was about 20 year since I last competitively show jumped. I grinned and grinned as I headed back.  80cm to one person maybe insignificant, but to me it was about the net result and the feeling.

The class was full and we knew by the time the 90cm would start it would be grim light, so we called it a day.  Moose had jumped incredibly well for a 4 year old seeing fillers, inflatables and a full course.  He kept going forward and took on each fence and that’s all you can ask from a baby.

This set me up so well for Melplash show, another local agricultural show that had a big reputation.  I’d been last year to support Tony in the Inter Hunt on his old horse Hugo, but that was all.  I’d entered the Novice Working Hunter and so having that showjumping round under my belt was great.  I also now knew that Dudley turned really well and clearly enjoyed his jumping, so I agreed to be part of the team for the Inter Hunt Relay  – a main arena event that the crowd loved.

Melplash show arrived quite quickly and once again Duds looked fabulous before we went in the ring.  You have to do both the jumping and the showing part in the same tack, everything should be workmanlike really and all you can do is remove any horse boots if you are called back into the ring once everyone has jumped.  I didn’t want to jump him in a double bridle and as I’d jumped him at Chard in a simple snaffle I went with that.  I certainly wouldn’t be hunting him in a double so keeping him in tack that was most relevant to his ‘job’ also felt right.   The ring was really small.  Now I know it’s the same for everyone and a decent hunter should be able to turn and jump off pretty much anything but the approach to the 1st, 3rd and 5th fences were directly off the ring edge with little more than 2-3 strides before.  The lessons with Gaynor in the arena would prove to be very beneficial here but I’d still need to be very aware of my line.  The first in went clear and I went forward next.  Jeezuz it was tight in there, and with the crowd at the top of the ring hanging over the metal fencing it felt even tighter.  Dudley was as honest as they came and jumped clear for me.  I dumped him in twice and he got me out, but I was beginning to learn that a stronger canter delivered a much better approach and jump.  Basically, KICK ON girl!

After my clear the poles started to fall for others and eventually there were only 4 clears from all the starters.  I was over the moon to be clear and then pulled back into the ring for the ride/conformation aspect to the class.  There were a couple of nice greys in with me and another coloured.  I was really pleased with how Dudley went for me and also for the ride judge.  We were pulled in 4th, so last of the clears, but I’d set out that morning to get a clear round and anything else would be a bonus.  I got my bonus with a nice frilly.

A quick change and into my hunt coat and I was soon standing outside the main ring with my 2 team mates for the Inter Hunt.  I was thrilled to be representing our hunt and even though we’d only had one quick practice together earlier in the week one evening, I knew we’d have fun if nothing else.  It’s a really fun knockout class to watch, somewhat chaotic though.  Two teams go head to head riding over identical courses that run side by side.  Poles fly, change over’s get mixed and eventually after numerous head to heads a winning team found.  Thank god we didn’t take it too seriously as we didn’t get past the first round.  A couple of poles down, a fence jumped backwards and one jumped from the opposing teams course!  I can’t begin to tell you how quickly things happen in there but basically all 3 horses go round in about the same time it takes one horse to do a ‘normal’ showjumping class round!  I was gutted we only did one round for two reasons.  Firstly I felt you almost needed 1 round to get the hang of what on earth was going on… like a warm up round!!  Secondly because I felt I’d let our hunt down with the poles down.  However I had a great experience, I now know fully what’s expected and I’m looking forward to volunteering for next years competition now.

Melplash signalled the end of my showing/fun stuff with Dudley as our hunt season was due to start. Amazing early mornings that goes with Autumn hunting were just a few days away.  Alarms at 4.30 are harsh but seeing the world so peaceful at that time is worth the bleary eyed starts.

I knew that I’d built a good relationship with Dudley over the last 2 and a bit months.  I knew he’d hunted quite a bit before too.  He was rock solid to me.  An easy snaffle ride and an honest and willing partner.  We’d shown, jumped and hacked our way into a lovely base to our life together, hopefully.

But I also knew that horses can regularly change character when they hunt…

Just how much would Dudley change?

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Until next time…

Rachel xx