‘Congratulations! You’ve qualified for The Sunshine Tour!’ beamed the lady judge, as she pinned a rosette to my horse’s bridle. I don’t know what The Sunshine Tour is, but it sounds like it has nothing to do with equestrian pursuits and everything to do with putting old people on a bus and taking them on a day trip to the seaside. Whatever it is, it must be very undiscriminating because I qualified for it by coming last at my local horse show.
It was my first attempt at ‘showing’ and wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t put in so much effort. The Builder Boyfriend and I had got up at 6 a.m. on Sunday to shampoo Grace, the skewbald hunter pony. After careful scrutiny of the unfathomable schedule, we entered classes entitled ‘In-hand Coloured’ and ‘Ridden Coloured’. Now, what I know about showing I could write on the back of an eggbut snaffle. But the coloured pony has impeccable breeding and so for years I have felt rather guilty that she has never been near a show ring.
So at 6 a.m. on Sunday, instead of having a lie-in and a croissant, or something, we were shampooing Gracie and plaiting her mane. Small problem. Grace doesn’t like standing still. In fact, she is the pony equivalent of Violet Elizabeth from the Just William books. She makes it quite clear, if you make her stand still, that she is quite prepared to thqueam and thqueam ’til she’s thick. Or neigh and neigh until she is sick, as the case may be. She neighed and neighed and pounded the ground with her hooves and swung her head violently from left to right until, in the end, I had to kneel and plait her mane as she grazed a patch of grass.
The results were, if you ask me, a minor miracle. The judge, however, did not think so. After all the entrants had paraded their ponies around the ring, primped and buffed and gleaming, the judge lined us up in the middle and walked around each horse.
‘Hmm,’ he said, circumnavigating Gracie, ‘these plaits…’
‘Ye-es?’ I said, smiling sweetly as I prodded her shoulder with my elbow to stop her lunging for the grass. The side of her mane I could see looked pretty darn good. Unfortunately, the side he was looking at, and the side the entire showground had seen, being the side facing the audience, was littered with plaits that had sprung out of their little rubber bands and come unfolded into curly ringlets so they made her look like, well, Bonnie Langford.
‘Very naughty,’ he said.
I wanted to say, ‘You want to know what naughty is? You try plaiting up this mare. I was crouched on the ground for nearly two hours. I’ve got repetitive strain injuries in both ankles and I’m going to need a new right kneecap.’
‘These feathers,’ he went on, looking down at the wispy bits of hair around her feet.
‘Ye-es…’ I was hoping he was about to say, ‘they’re fantastic!’ but he said, ‘They need to come off.’
We were placed second to last — last being a big fat white horse who wasn’t even ‘coloured’ so should have been disqualified — and it was back to the trailer for a rethink.
‘Team huddle!’ I said, trying to inspire The Builder. ‘You hold her, I’ll get the scissors.’
We snipped off the wispy bits and replaited her mane using about 750 rubber bands and I cantered purposefully into the ring for the next class. The same judge called me into the line-up third this time. Unfortunately, he then decided to get on each horse and ride them before he made his final decision.
‘Oh well, it’s been a day out,’ I muttered, as he lengthened my stirrups. Grace’s ears went flat back as he landed in the saddle.
‘I’ll thqueam and thqueam…!’
She took off and bolted around the show ring and, let’s be honest, made a holy show of him. He dismounted and ordered us to re-enter the line-up in the second to last position. (Thank goodness the big fat white horse was still there.)
In a forlorn attempt to end the day on a higher note, I entered one last class. Best Riding Club Horse only had four other people in it, all aged under nine. They whupped my ass. They were right little International Velvets, whereas Gracie cantered off on the wrong leg and insisted on trotting over the jumps. For the crowning insult, I forgot to salute the judge.
So when she lavished on me a huge rosette and informed me I had qualified for The Sunshine Tour I didn’t get too excited. I assume it involves a coachload of old dears watching me and Grace give ‘donkey’ rides on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
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