For a pony-obsessed child, Olympia is probably the most magical place in the world. Nothing beats the combined excitement of horses, shopping AND Christmas, especially when it’s set among the bright lights of London.

For a horse-obsessed young woman, Olympia has no less appeal. I hadn’t been to the show for a number of years when I stumbled across the flyer in a magazine, causing me to suddenly have the genius idea — why not return to Olympia, but this time as a grown-up…and for a date? Surely the horsey-plus-one would love it and appreciate the magic as much as I did? And since city-living often made horsey pursuits quite difficult, it would be rude not to make the most of this equine opportunity that, for once, was right on our doorstep.

Of course, to avoid any disagreement over this, I did the mature thing of booking the tickets before telling Him. And when I did tell Him the plan, I was generous enough to insist it was part of my Christmas present to Him (whether He wanted it or not!). He was less than enthusiastic about the whole thing (to say the least), especially when He found out we were going to one of the dressage evenings. Yes, He had enjoyed His flatwork lessons, but no, He explained He had no desire to watch hours of ‘boring dressage’.

Nonetheless, the day arrived and I felt the familiar child-like excitement build. We met at the station and walked to the foyer, and I could tell that even He couldn’t resist the infectious enthusiasm of the crowd that evening. The magic of Olympia started there and then at the box office, as our tickets had somehow been upgraded from the ones we bought, meaning we now had access to the members’ area and some of the best seats in the house – as well as the swanky new restaurant and bar…

Once inside, I found the show and set-up was just as I had remembered as a youngster, and after a quick browse around the site we settled in our seats as the classes began.

“Don’t’ worry,” I said. “I’ll explain it as we go along — watching professional dressage can be complicated for a newbie.”

Secretly, I was a bit smug — He and I had mainly been to watch polo matches together, where I generally had little clue as to what was actually going on and so had nothing useful to say during a game (I later realised the bulk of my confusion arose from the fact that I had watched a number of matches without twigging on that they swap ends after each goal). His experience of watching ‘dressage’ had mainly been my feeble attempts at prelim level, so I relished the chance of sounding less clueless than usual!

The main performance started, and we watched, spell-bound. Towards the end of the class the ring fell silent, as a well-known British combination entered the arena. As they finished their test, the crowd erupted into applause.

“Shame,” I said in a loud voice. “I think that test looked a bit sticky — definitely not their best performance. I don’t think they’ll win.”
“Really?” He exclaimed. “I thought they looked fantastic — the best so far by miles.”
Poor boy, I thought, not understanding how complex and subtle dressage is. One day he’ll learn…

Continued below…

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How wrong I was. The pair not only won the class, but their test then set a world record. To make matters worse, He went on to predict the other top three finishers in that class, while only one of my picks were placed, causing Him to conclude that “this dressage malarkey was actually quite good”. After my earlier gaffe, I quite rightly kept my comments to myself for the rest of the evening (and the year!).

Perusing the shops and stalls for a bit longer (He was rather oblivious to my heavy hints and exaggerated lingering around the jewellery and horsey-holiday stands), I reflected how the evening hadn’t gone as I had imagined, but had been better for it. Olympia was still magical, even as an adult. Plus, it now seemed He was a budding dressage diva!

As we headed for the tube, He asked matter-of-factly when WHEN we came back next year, could we please make sure there was dressage that evening?

HH