Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: the term ‘needle in the haystack’ was likely to become a literal scenario

  • Hi all and welcome back,

    With a roadmap to normality now in place here in the UK, things have been busy with planning for the months ahead. We spent so much of 2020 in a stagnant state, so the possibility of regular outings is exciting. But I’m getting ahead of myself – we have to get there first.

    I have come to the conclusion that the easiest part of being a “professional dressage rider” is the actual riding. That’s the part that we enter this lifestyle for, and the bit we love most. If I loved balancing finances or calling the vet, I would have been a secretary.

    Recently, I had a day that really cemented this for me. We started the day with assisting the vet (aka super-human Robert Oulton) in castrating three of our young horses. This was needed after a series of tussles between the three-year-olds resulted in a kick-turned-abscess shoulder wound on one horse, that Samantha and I had to flush out twice a day. Spending half an hour morning and evening with various warm waters, antibiotics, syringes and a semi-wild youngster was testing enough, but the culminating flush liquid exploding back all over Samantha was the final straw. Now isn’t that a lovely image?

    Anyway, the boys were being castrated. With two horses done – involving one nearly falling on top of me, one escape attempt and equal amounts of disgust and fascination on my behalf – it was time for the last. However this one was smarter than the rest and had been eyeing the proceedings warily. Bribery via Baileys Horse Feeds Fibre Nuggets worked the trick and with headcollar in place, the second vet approached to inject. Needle in… and the horse was gone. Cue horse and still-attached syringe flying round the pen; my heart was in my mouth in horror. Thankfully, Rob swooped in to capture and inject said horse, looking every part the super-hero with his mask still in place (is Rob actually Batman? As yet unconfirmed but the possibility remains…).

    Vet Rob Oulton with broodmare Seramai.

    With the three horses safety castrated and left to enjoy their doped up daydreams, it was back to the main yard with Rob for an MOT on another horse. Now, we all know that horses are a liability when it comes to injuring themselves, so they should be pretty used to vets. In fact, Apollo loves Rob so much, we sometimes think he creates phantom ailments simply to see him. However, the horse in question on this particular day wasn’t going to play ball.

    As we were swung around the stable with Rob attempting to retrieve a needle from the horse’s back leg, the term “needle in the haystack” was likely to become a very literal scenario. Upon finally pinning said horse in a shavings-free corner, I gently soothed him while it suddenly dawned on me that I’m not actually the biggest fan of needles, and I was coming over rather faint. Fainting while in charge of a horse isn’t advised, so I tried to calm my breathing and swallow the revulsion. With the task finally achieved, Rob and I took a breather to comment on our frayed nerves. Having such a good team around us is vital, and having a vet you can laugh off the trauma with is also a key to success.

    A short-lived sense of calm

    I then hopped onto my first ride of the day (starting the riding at 1pm… it was one of those days) and as I rode, a great sense of calm washed over me. I was struggling with some movements – it wasn’t a perfect ride — but it was such a relief to be in the saddle and doing the thing that I love.

    After my ride, I looked down to the fields to see another of the horses (who most certainly shouldn’t have been doing anything but eating) performing some sort of street dance in the field. So I performed the “drop and dash”, in which you drop whatever you are doing and dash to get the horse before he injures himself or goes through the fence. Having just dismounted, I was still in my tall riding boots, and while these are beautifully comfy when in the saddle, there is a reason Usain Bolt didn’t race in dressage boots. Momentum and long legs got me down the 200m stretch in record time and I captured said cartwheeling horse before any damage was caused, but I then realised with horror that from the knee down my legs had turned to jelly as my circulation was being cut off. Wobbling, I tried to unzip them to let my legs breathe, but bending down was no longer an option with an excitable horse in tow. Five minutes later I finally hobbled back onto the yard, cursing the circulation returning as now I could feel the full extent of the aching toes and rubbed ankles.

    Continued below…

    After all that, as I sat on the yard massaging my poor calves, I came to the conclusion that training horses really is the easy part of being in this industry. I wonder if anyone else agrees?

    Finally, a book recommendation. I was honoured to be contacted by Ali Kentish and asked to read her book It’s all About Me before its release in May. It’s an account of life from a a horse’s point of view, and I devoured it in under 48 hours, laughing along while also tearing up. It was such a fun read and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to lose themselves in a great story. One to pack in the lorry for those upcoming shows…

    Until next time,

    Joanna x

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