Competition Day: Expectation vs Reality

I suppose one of the great things about owning a horse and being involved in the equestrian world is getting the chance to compete. Whether it be locally or nationally, in-hand or eventing, there’s always something for people to get involved in.

For this blog, I thought it would be fun to compare the expectations and the reality of a competition day.

Expectation would probably fool you into believing that you will start your day with an alarm set at around 7am. As you wake up, you are greeted to the smell of the freshly washed and ironed competition gear and the scent of a full English breakfast wafting it’s way upstairs.

Oh no.

The reality of is that you will be rudely awoken by a delightful 5am alarm to the creased white jodhpurs hanging over your desk chair. Oh, and breakfast? Yeah, forget that part, nobody has the time or stomach for a banana let alone a fry-up the morning of a show.

Once you’ve made it out of the house and en route to the stables, one of two scenarios will play out. Let’s start with the expectation.

You rock up to the yard to an already packed trailer/lorry, with your horse standing on the yard crystal clean – not a single grass stain in sight. All nicely plaited, your horse loads first time accompanied by your perfectly polished tack as you enjoy a fresh, hot coffee in the front seat.

If only that were true!

From personal experience, we rock up to the yard and my Mum starts to assemble the essentials. My sister and I trek up the field as dew slowly seeps through our boots. After saying a short prayer at the field gate and preparing for the worst, we open the gate to find the horses in the first field.

Once we’ve got the horses out of the field (much to their disgust) it’s time to get grooming. After removing the rug and inspecting every single inch to make sure there’s no sign of dirt or grass stains, the grooming begins. A typical scene at around 8am for my family on the morning of a show is Mum plaiting Freckles whilst Niamh and I scrub away any remaining grass stains away with Tesco baby wipes.

Annabelle’s ‘why am I going to a show’ face!

How glamorous.

Once you’ve made it to the showground, you could say that all chaos breaks lose. As amazing as it would be to rock up and have your own personal groom tack up your horse and hand you both gloves instead of just one, the reality is very different.

Firstly, you have to unload the horses and tie them up without being dragged to the nearest bit of grass because (god forbid) they haven’t eaten grass in 20 minutes. Next, you have to tie them up and frantically baby wipe off any poo stains acquired from the journey.

The phrase ‘horses before humans’ rings true here, because once you’ve tacked up and done all your finishing touches, it’s likely that your horse will look like a model from a Shires catalogue. If only the same could be said about yourself… straw in your hair, dust on your jodhpurs and you’ve somehow got to make yourself look professional in the crammed back section of the lorry.

Once you’ve overcome that palaver, it’s time to warm up. In an ideal world, all competitors would abide by the left to left rule, but no. There is always, ALWAYS that one person who decides to canter their horse around ignoring the basic principle of spacial awareness.

I remember one time I was warming Annabelle up in a warm- up ring. There were two jumps set up in the middle and everyone was adopting the left to left rule. After popping Annabelle over the first jump, a lady on a very highly-strung Thoroughbred canters in, barges past me. I then notice that the horse has a red ribbon in its tail.

For those who might not know, a red ribbon in a horse’s tail means that they are prone to kick others.

To this day, I have never been more worried about another horse and rider in my life. I glued Annabelle to the edge of the ring as this horse began jumping around and attempting to rear. Safe to say, this experience was very off-putting, and I was glad to be out of that warm-up area after popping a few jumps.

As you walk into the ring to the sound your name and your horse’s name booming over the tannoy, the nerves in your stomach become almost unbearable. The pressure to do well is there, but it isn’t the be all or end all. Sure, it’s always nice to win but putting in a confident performance which feels good is far more important.

Annabelle is very hesitant at shows, so if we have a really forward-going show jumping round it’s far better than a red rosette. Sure, there have been occasions where a confident round has resulted in 1st place, but there’s so much more to competing than that. Take showing for example, one of the best things is hearing the judges comments about your horse.

Freckles receiving feedback along the lines of “is she really 23?”

I remember once I had a judge say to me “she’s a lovely horse, a real powerhouse” and I though yeah, you know what, she may be a cob but she’s a super cob. An overwhelming sense of pride came over me and I will admit, I was rather emotional!

One of my fondest memories was in a showing class where I was up against two very posh looking horses. However, Annabelle put in a superb show and a bold jump, placing us in first place. I will never forget the look of absolute disgust that the girl in second gave to me as she looked Annabelle & I up and down as if we were dirt off her shoe! As my Mum always says: cobs can!

After a day of competing, not all equestrians are fortunate enough to offload their horses onto grooms and head home for a slap-up dinner and a nice relaxing bath. Oh no, there’s the washing, feeding, unloading and tack cleaning to be done at the yard before we head home.

Admittedly, the tack cleaning part does usually get left until the next day… oops!

Is it just me, but does anybody else not really eat during the day? I’m not entirely sure if it’s just because the nerves squash your appetite or there’s just so much going on food isn’t really a priority, but I’m only ever hungry when I get home.

I say hungry, more like utterly ravenous! Apologies to my parents who often have to deal with the pressing “when’s dinner?” as I raid the cupboards once I’ve got home.

Yet, I can safely say that competitions do guarantee a good night’s sleep afterwards, so the 5am alarm is definitely worth it!

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