10 things I have learnt about eventing...
When I boldly entered my first BE event last October, completely underprepared, on a wing and a prayer, there were a few pieces of insider info I wish I had been told. To prevent you from making the same mistakes I did (or to provide you with some entertainment and amusement!), here are the 10 things I learnt very quickly about the wonderful world of eventing...
1. No matter how sunny it is the day before the event, it will inevitable turn grey, cloudy and wet on the big day.
The wonderful UK weather WILL conspire to ruin your day, make the sandwiches you thought to pack soggy, the ground slippier than an ice rink and your horse look like he has just had a bath. However, despite said bath, he will be covered in mud, because rain = wet Glastonbury-reminiscent ground conditions.
2. Leave plenty of time for walking around the event grounds.
The secretaries tent will be a short marathon walk away from the horsebox parking and the cross country start is in the next county. Remember to thank your ground support (aka boyfriend that you have dragged along with the promise of coffee and unlimited food from the food vans) as it may feel a long way on horseback but, trust me, it feels a lot longer walking on foot!
3. Check the numbers of the jumps when walking the cross country course.
It may seem obvious, but you do NOT want to be the poor competitor who was leading on some impossible dressage score of -2354 (yes, minus) and a clear show-jumping round but missed out the tiny little log that was second to last and was then eliminated. BE does not allow a disclaimer next to your score for 'rode like a plank', sadly (I should know).
4. Studs. Heaven in small, metal form.
These are the magical screws that enable your horse to navigate all sorts of sharp and slippy corners smoothly and safely in the worst of conditions. I had never used studs before eventing but they are worth looking into - our first go was ruined slightly by a fine mist of rain on an otherwise lovely morning and Sid did a wonderful impression of Bambi on ice (the judge was not impressed). No-one wants to see you skidding out of your test early between the dressage boards.
5. But how many, and where?!
Following on from 4., be prepared to read countless arguments back and forth as to whether 1 or 2 stud holes per shoe is best, and whether you should use smaller studs in the front. Everyone is an expert, and everyone has scientific studies to back their view up, and everyone uses different methods with a similar level of success - so there you go. You will inevitably be told 'you are doing it wrong' by someone (but I comfort myself with the reflection that I can usually say that about most things I do, and I would hate to break with tradition on this - play to your strengths, am I right?)
6. You will suddenly become an expert at assessing the lie of the land...
"Jump 5 is on a real downhill slope"..."The camber towards Jump 7 will really drag you to the left"..."Be careful of that dip there - he might lose balance." Put simply, doing anything on grass (ironically, where the horse began) is much more difficult than on those nice, even, bouncy surfaces we have all gotten used to. Be prepared to walk courses with dread and feel as if you are jumping around the Andes (feel free to substitute for any other equally mountainous range).
7. Tack is king.
You will see so many horses that cannot possibly go cross country without an exciting noseband, a 5-point breastplate and martingale and various boots and tape. It may once have been achievable to go cross country in a bridle and saddle but those days are, apparently, long gone. You will certainly stand out as a newbie if you try it!
8. An hour between phases is really not THAT long.
You get your times through. 09:30 dressage, well, it will be an early start but at least you'll avoid any sign of civilisation (namely, cars) on those horrendously narrow lanes you have to get your trailer through. 10:30 show-jumping and 11:30 cross country. Great, you think, I'll have plenty of time to change my tack, sip a leisurely coffee, eat one of those snacks I had the forethought to pack in my lunchbox next to those icepacks for his legs, maybe even check the results board and have a natter to a friendly lorry neighbour.
Next thing you know, you are running with your horse towards the collecting ring, jumping one cross-pole before being hurried in 5 minutes late to start your round. We've all been there (sorry to all of the stewards who have to put up with this!)
9. BE membership is complicated.
I mean, a whole other language. You may need a day pass, you may need a training pass and/or a day pass for your horse and a membership and a ballot sticker and/or a super-ballot (whatever that may be - I'm not sure but I think it's like the VIP tickets to a club with a bottle of Grey Goose thrown in and skipping the queue?!). The rulebook is fantastic, but you may need a translator. To me, it looks like a lot of numbers and words and references and confusion. If in doubt, ring BE. They are wizards.
10. It's meant to be fun...right?
Last, but not least, if you are anything like me (or even remotely normal and un-godlike) it will probably not all go right on the same day. I have had good dressage days, I have had good cross country days, I have had (rare) good show-jumping days. We have yet to combine these into a single event. Even so, the feeling when you cross the finish line at the end of a day eventing is like nothing else. Enjoy and bear in mind that there is always another day (hopefully when the good riders have moved up a level and stopped taking all of my rosettes)!