I once met a man whose hobby was hot air ballooning. This seemed fascinating and I was keen to hear all about it. To me it conjured up glamour, excitement and adrenaline.
“The thing is,” he confided, “the real hobby isn’t ballooning at all. It’s hanging around waiting to balloon.” He said that it required a team, with the jobs shared out. It wasn’t always your turn to actually go in the balloon.
On the days when you were ground crew, you could spend hours getting the balloon ready, then watching someone else having fun ballooning. Your role was then to drive around the countryside at length looking for where the balloon had landed so that the packing up process could start. The exchange rate of faffing to fun was generally very poor.
This was music to my ears. Far from being from a different and more exotic species than me, he and I clearly had a lot in common.
As a pony mad mum, I have perfected the art of hanging around. Lots of people say that showing especially is like watching paint dry, but I think that’s unfair. There is every bit as much hanging about involved in other disciplines, more in some.
With dressage and eventing, you have the benefit of a specified start time so you can plan your day accordingly. The main hanging around part happens if you want to stay for the results. But for dressage especially, the ratio of faffing time (bathing/grooming, cleaning tack, travelling etc) to time actually in the competition arena is fairly excessive. You can drive hours each way for one five-minute test. We have tried entering two different tests to make it more of a day out, but the net result was that our rider forgot them both.
The Pony Mad Mum gives a special mention to those who make pony-filled summer days possible
In showing, the occasional big show runs to a precise timetable, which is fantastic. But the vast majority of smaller events have less of a shape to them. You can take a rough guess from the schedule as to the start time for your class and turn up accordingly, then one of two things will happen.
Either a: nobody has turned up for the classes before yours and you have to scream round like an idiot to make it to the ring in time, or b: the previous classes are packed to the gills and proceeding at a pace so glacial you could have stayed at home and cooked and eaten Sunday lunch/written a couple of chapters of the novel before loading the lorry.
So you do your hanging around, only to discover that the judge has found her second wind and suddenly started to motor on through so fast that you have miscalculated completely and have to resort to a: anyway. (This reminds me of my secondary school years when I lived about two minutes walk from school, yet was invariably late for assembly). The days when the timing works out just right are few and far between.
However, from our own experience, my top pick for the discipline most like ballooning is showjumping. When the class is massive, and the pressure on the collecting ring high, you get a cursory warm up followed by two minutes in the ring. Then, if you are foolish enough to jump clear, you wait for an inordinately long time to do it all again for the jump off.
Obviously it is very pleasant to mooch around, chat to like-minded friends and watch other people, it’s just that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. These days we tend to pack a book or two for the spectacularly long gaps.
Learning patience is a great lesson for life. I’m glad riding hasn’t modernised to pander to our 21st century need for instant gratification. However, these lessons in patience do start painfully young. I have seen anything up to three rows of very small children in a mountain and moorland HOYS lead rein qualifier and I do feel for them.
It strikes me there’s a chance to make a bit of cash by setting up a crèche in the corner of the ring, stewarded by a pony-friendly Norland nanny, with each tiny child called forward to do their individual shows one at a time before returning to their Lego. It would have the added bonus of sorting out the genuinely bombproof ponies too.
Do you think the idea might catch on?