Shows have well and truly resumed and a lot of riders are finding they are facing more challenges than just those designed by the course builders.
I was apprehensive about getting back to competing. Everywhere I looked, there were differing opinions. Some had written the whole season off completely, while others were keen to get straight back to it. I changed my mind a lot before finally deciding I have lovely horses, all keen to be out and about and as long as I was able to do what made me comfortable — i.e keep clear of busy areas, wear a mask, etc. — then I needed to get used to the ‘new normal’ and crack on.
I find most of the Covid-19 procedures put in place really beneficial; parking bays so you aren’t crammed in and worried about other horses being too close and more room to tack up is lovely.
I was initially worried about getting sorted in the tighter time frame for warm-ups. Most show centres are organising an area to warm up on the flat where a small number (five) are allowed and then a jump warm-up area where another five horses are permitted. This means you only get to have a jump with five horses to go before it’s your turn and while for most this is adequate, each horse is an individual and warms up differently. There is usually a set fence being manned by a steward who has to expertly manage five riders on horses at different stages of readiness and adjust the fence accordingly. This as unbelievably brave and patient person — it’s slightly different for anyone who might be used to having their mum standing in the middle of the warm-up shouting “leg!” at the appropriate moment, but I actually feel like the warm up works super well once you’ve got the hang of it. It’s far more relaxing than having people rushing to use the fence you need, one horse before you go in.
I think we are all still getting our heads around this new way of things — at some shows it was bang on and everybody was able stick to the guidelines, but on another occasion, I have to admit I started to feel a bit uncomfortable with the numbers of people and the impact this had on being able to social distance. And let’s be honest, for me this is about fun and can you really have fun if you feel uncomfortable?
The competition itself extends beyond the ring. It’s on before you even get there. It’s a case of fastest finger first when it comes to entries and being super-organised, and entering in advance is essential. Some shows have found the demand is such that they are sold out or fully subscribed within hours of the schedules going live. You need to monitor entry opening and closing dates and times to make sure you don’t miss out.
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The days of showing up and entering on the day seem gone. Thinking about what classes to enter so far in advance was challenging and nerve-wracking and I found it particularly so with the horses having come back from a long break away from competing. But they had all been jumping well at home and in training so I bit the bullet and went with what I thought would suit them best. Looking at international shows is also daunting — there are so many what ifs and the quarantine rulings are a whole new factor to consider.
Overall, I think the Covid restrictions have forced us to review the way we run shows. While I hope we won’t totally lose the wonderful social elements of equestrian sport forever, I hope that this ‘new normal’ will be of some benefit to us all in the long run.
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