So this week the giant orange and I went to Balmoral to ride side saddle. I entered the show during an emotional month and after a few drinks about 10 weeks ago. It seemed like a great idea at a the time and seemed like a terrifying and ambitious idea on the day. I learned a lot.
Firstly I learned that whatever can go wrong will go wrong before a show. A week before the show I fell off the horse for the first time and for the first time side saddle at a side saddle lesson. I’d like to claim it was very dramatic but actually she was trotting and spooked and I bailed out the side door. There is nothing like going arse over head and shouldering the ground to throw a shadow of doubt over plans. I decided to ride side saddle each day to rebuild my balance and confidence. I managed to do such a good job shoving my right shoulder back last weekend that I pulled a muscle in it and spend an hour on Monday evening with my spinologist getting it all sorted. My new habit went AWOL in the post and the lovely lady who made it was frantic trying to get it to me on time (it arrived the day before the show I was delighted!). I only realised Wednesday morning that the exhibitor schedule said we had to be up at the show Wednesday night. The stable manager said we could come Thursday morning but had to be there by 8am – eek. I checked parking and realised that my date dyslexia meant I booked parking for Wednesday and not Thursday. One thing I was reminded of through this week was how incredibly helpful side saddle ladies are to each other. When I was stressing about getting up to the show people offered to meet up with me if I was by myself, to help on the day, to lend me a cane/gloves/saddle/habit and on the day I even had people helping me out while warming up their own horses for classes.
We got everything ready Wednesday night and headed to bed. At 4am after about five hours sleep I dragged myself out of bed and put the confused looking horse into the horse box and set off with my groom and mentor on the road. I have never seen a show as well organised as this. The drive took 2.5 hours but it was all main roads, everything was sign posted and all staff were helpful and friendly. Entry into the stables was painless and parking is right beside the stables which is a huge relief as there was no stress about parking and no long walks back and forth. With the horse eating away in the stable we met up with fellow competitor Sarah and her groom Rose and we walked up through the stands to get breakfast through an eerily quiet show grounds. Everything from the stands to the arenas is perfectly co-ordinated, spotlessly clean and accompanied by friendly helpful staff. After breakfast we headed back to the jeep for a well needed sleep.
I took the horse out in her regular saddle to the warm up arena for a spin and she was quiet as a lamb. Even the water carrier that came in to water the arena only warranted a half hearted dragon snort. She was calm and lazy and as a result I just did a half hour with her and took her back in. I would later live to regret this decision! I got a hilarious text off my (very non horsey) mum to ask was I sure I was in Balmoral as Balmoral show was on the tv – yes mum told you it was a huge show and thanks a million to you and Dad for my present of the gorgeous new habit I was wearing! The rest of the day flew by in a blur of plaiting, studding, tacking and dressing and before I knew it we were in the warm up ring waiting to go in.
Inside the ring things got very exciting and I am sure I made every mistake in the book in the go round from being too close to a slower horse in front to having to circle to almost missing a change of rein. The horse who had previously pretended to be calm was strong as an ox and dying to show off her fancy trot and her gallop. Going up for the gallop I was quite honestly terrified and a quick look at my grooms face showed how I wasn’t alone. I got to the corner and my god did the mare go I could hear her hooves hitting ground. Thankfully once I circled her she remembered what she was at and came back to a walk. I can safely say we did indeed show our gallop. We were called in sixth in a class of thirteen which I was delighted with considering the mare had been quite strong and I am sure I hadn’t the best position at times! The horse went okay for the judge but I learned that I need to practice with my hands higher because I always carry mine very low and didn’t realise they would be higher for hunting as the judge’s were so the horse was a little confused by this. The judge gave me feedback on the mare and advised that she was very nice but a little too attentive to all the attraction going on outside the ring – in fairness to the mare it was the first side saddle show for us for the year and I’d brought her to a huge one so that’s something we can work on.
Conformation and trot up went brilliantly. The yard manager had the horse in fantastic condition for me. I was delighted that all of the practice on that at home paid off and that I didn’t manage to fall over my habit. I only wear one half chap when riding side saddle and realised yesterday that if doing so I need to wear dark socks – I had to leave my habit hanging down until my groom came in with the other one as I’d a lovely black habit on, two black jod boots, one black half chap …….and a bright blue sock!! The final walk around was nerve wracking but a good result in the end as Sarah had moved up to fifth and I had retained sixth place. The horse was delighted to be in beside Sarah’s horse Ralph who was her pair at the Borris House display last year and who seems to love her. Everytime we have been out with the horses they have placed close together so I knew I was in good company. We were invited to take part in the grand display but decided to head for the hills as it had been a very long day. I left the yard close to midnight and slept like the dead last night.
For anyone considering entering Balmoral next time round – do it! The entry fee is so much lower than some of the other big shows and it is the most professionally run well organised show I have been to. The office staff were exceptionally helpful any time I rang them with a query or question prior to the show and everyone we encountered on the day was the same. The stalls pretty much all took both sterling and euro and even took euro and gave change in sterling so we didn’t even have to go to the bank machine. The whole place is just beautifully designed and maintained and the main and horse arenas looked amazing. Travelling to the show is easy as the roads are very good and there is full signage. The horse box parking is so close to the stables that it is just so easy to manage everything and there is no stress about finding a place to park or having to lug everything about for a long walk. I am looking forward already to going back next year!