The diary of the home-made livery yard: are exams the best time for inappropriate jokes?

  • At some point earlier in the year, I thought it might be a good idea to book a BHS (British Horse Society) exam pretty close to my due date for our third child. I was aware that the baby could be as young as seven weeks old for the exam day, but seeing as I enjoy working under pressure, extreme levels of stress and anxiety so intense it could make a person grind their teeth down to nubs. I went ahead anyway.

    So, on Thursday 26 October 2017, I found myself driving the nearly three hour journey to Summerhouse Equestrian Centre in Gloucester, through thick fog, to take the Intermediate Teaching Test (ITT) exam, now to be known as ‘BHS stage 4 Teach’.

    I woke up at 5am on the morning of the exam after five hours of intermittent sleep, leaving nine-week-old baby Monty with a quick kiss and cuddle and a bottle of formula milk on daddy’s bedside table. I quietly crept out of the house, trying not to wake the others.

    I was nervous. But it was excited nerves, not the filled-with-dread nerves that going to the dentist can incite. I have taken enough equestrian exams now that I could probably run the day myself and I really do enjoy them. If you are not familiar with BHS professional exams, imagine a small scale Britain’s Got Talent audition, but the judges are even more fierce and every contestant is wearing tweed.

    Now, it might be just a rural myth, but I have heard that sometimes, just occasionally, candidates actually go to these exams well prepared! No, I kid you not.

    This is not something I am familiar with myself. I usually have a mild panic about two weeks before an exam, book some emergency training with one of my coaches (who will despair that this is definitely not a SMART goal as it is neither ‘agreed’ between us, nor ‘realistic’ in the given ‘time scale’), and sit at the dining table at home drinking wine, with a book open in front of my face, hoping some of the information will teleport from the pages into my brain.

    This time I had excelled myself in the procrastination stakes and I was relying on the day prior to the exam to learn pretty much the whole syllabus, type up all nine lectures and all five lesson plans. I was worried I didn’t have enough wine.

    Post-exam car selfie

    The day started well. Really well. I took my ‘coach a rider on the flat for competition’ session and I was on fire. Seriously, it was an excellent lesson. Hester and Dujardin would have been proud of me. Considering all the pressures (first lesson of the day, the fact that I was presented with an intimidatingly blinged up to the nines advanced medium competition rider when the scope of the exam is only up to elementary level and the fact that you have 25 minutes to build rapport with your rider, find out their life history and show improvement in the horse/rider combination), I was really pleased with my performance.

    I went from the indoor arena, feeling like a rock star, to one of the outdoor arenas to meet my ‘coach a rider over fences for competition’ combination. I hadn’t had time that morning to walk the showjump course before the exam begun, so I had to wing it. Here my brain helpfully decided to let down in every conceivable way.

    After the initial niceties and warm up, my mind went completely blank and I panicked. ‘Was that a four stride distance? Oh my God, I’ve just sent that poor girl down a four stride distance when it should be five! Christ, she’s going to die! No, it was four strides. It was four strides, wasn’t it? Oh, look, she’s still alive. Yippee!’

    I mentally froze, much like a rabbit in head lights, ‘Um… what was I going to do next? Where’s my rider? What was her name again? What did we just do? What am I doing here? Who am I?’

    Let me tell you, the middle of an arena is a very lonely place when you are feeling like an idiot.

    Thankfully, the examiner came over at this point, as they sometimes do, to give me a little nudge in the right direction. ‘Have you asked your rider for any feedback, Katy?’

    Hallelujah! I came to my senses, got my head back in the game and managed to claw back what I could of what I felt was a pretty dismal performance.

    My lecture went well. I was the first to go, so I got up and channelled my inner Oxford and Cambridge professor and did a pretty good job, I thought. Amazing, really, as public speaking used to make me quake at the knees.

    Next up was equitation theory. An area I am confident in. The wine had worked. I knew my stuff, having learnt the relevant parts of the FEI dressage judges’ handbook inside out and I felt I would make a pretty good Mastermind contestant on the topic of the scales of training.

    At home with baby Monty

    Feeling the section is going pretty well, and following the heady success of my lecture, I start to get a bit comfortable. Cocky, perhaps. Oh, God. Here we go…

    I’d already made an inappropriate joke in front of the examiner and chief examiner about taking the Pony Club kids down the pub for a bonding ‘sesh’ (what is wrong with me?). Now I offer a perfectly good answer to a question about the definition of impulsion, but then ruin it, as my inner tourettes sufferer surfaces, blurting out far too enthusiastically and with too much volume, ‘THRUST!’

    At this point the examiner giggles and tells me to, ‘Calm down, dear.’

    I went on to teach a perfectly good class jump lesson, despite spending most of the session trying to remember everyone’s names. The lunge lesson, I really have no idea. There were lots of bits I wasn’t happy with, but whether they were deal breakers, I don’t know. By the time we got to the final section, business management, I really was out of energy. I was so tired I was seeing three of the examiner and I started hearing things.

    When people say the ITT exam is like the PTT exam, but on speed, they are not wrong. Personally, I’m not accustomed to taking speed. But I did once have a few Red Bull and vodkas in Ibiza. Same thing, I reckon. The whole day my mind was racing and I was talking garbled nonsense at a rate of knots. Finally I collapsed in a heap in the car to go home, looking haggard and bedraggled, in desperate need of a cup of tea and some toast.

    Continued below…

    All that is left to do now is wait for the results and find out which parts I need to re-take. The dreaded 10 day wait. It is excruciating.

    I’ve done my best and I didn’t give up, even when I felt it had gone down the pan. I don’t think I embarrassed myself, at least. Wish me luck!

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