The mysterious shrinking saddle — and other disastrous pre-competition discoveries

  • The days are lengthening, you’ve motivated yourself to bring the mud monster that used to be your horse back into work and the show season beckons. It’s full steam ahead, right? Wrong — there’s always the minefield of disastrous discoveries to be negotiated first

    1. An unexpected barber job

    Tubbs the mini Shetland has been a god-send when it comes to keeping your highly-strung show horse, Prancer, calm and rideable; a stoic companion in the field, stable and on the lorry, he’s a veritable four-legged guardian angel. Pity, then, that he found his devilish side just before the first show of the season and decided to chew Prancer’s tail off. Cue the hair extensions.

    2. The mysterious shrinking saddle

    Tired of endlessly searching for the perfect saddle, last year you swapped your annual skiing in France for a staycation in Skegness so you could treat Prancer to a brand new, made-to-measure saddle in luxurious calf skin — and all fully adjustable, the saddler assures you. Odd how it seems to have shrunk over the winter and why is the saddler shaking her head sadly when you ask about widening it…?

    3. Hmm, I don’t remember my horsebox making that sound

    Not for you leaving your horsebox to slowly rust in the driveway over winter — diligently, you’ve kept the oil and anti-freeze topped up and even treated it to a run round the block once a week to keep your mechanic happy. Yet when you take Prancer for a training clinic with the producer de jour, no amount of turning up Radio One will hide that ominous, expensive-sounding clunk coming from the engine.

    4. Did someone put my show jacket on a hot wash?!

    Ok, so Christmas this year was a proper family blow-out and maybe you overdid the selection boxes. But weeks of mucking out, poo picking and exercising a horribly fresh horse (not to mention chasing him round the paddock at bringing in time) must have been better for your waistline than a gym membership. So why does your show jacket appear to have shrunk in a similar fashion to the made-to-measure saddle?

    5. Horses can do pliés, right?

    That brown envelope you left unopened (“nothing good ever comes in a brown envelope”) is a reminder your show society membership is due, as is Prancer’s annual JMB height certificate. A hastily-borrowed measuring stick reveals — when he finally deigns to stand still long enough — that Prancer appears to have had a winter growth spurt. Still, how hard can it be to teach him to bend gently at the knees like a ballet dancer?

    6. Farrier emergency

    Saddle sorted, tail extensions ordered and crash diet completed, it’s time for that last-minute, night-before schooling session to make sure Prancer won’t ‘accidentally’ put the ride judge on the floor to celebrate his first outing. It’s not until you go to put him back in his box — washed, rugged and bandaged within an inch of his life — that you realise that strange clinking noise you heard while practising your show-stopping extension was a front shoe pinging off over the arena fence. Time for some heavy-duty pleading with the farrier.

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    7. But I definitely sent them…

    Finally, after four hours in the clunking wagon with Prancer pawing the floor the whole way, you’ve got to your first Royal International qualifier. You’ve washed your show gear, redone the plaits which mysteriously undid themselves overnight and even polished your boots. Pity the show secretary can’t find your entry sent in the post… Perhaps you should have tried using Equo events online entry system instead?

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