Julie Templeton: A muck heap fire and why some need a lesson in sportsmanship *H&H VIP*

  • After a wonderful week in Mexico, we returned with batteries recharged for six days of showing. The weather was glorious on holiday and at home, and once we were back on the circuit, ponies and riders were on top form.

    However, the heat stayed on in a way we could have done without. When we returned from Staffs County, we found wisps of smoke coming from our muck heap, so took the safe option and called 999.

    It took 10 hours for two shifts of fire crew to put it out. Those wisps of smoke came from a fermenting centre that one of the officers measured at 300°C.

    He said we hadn’t done anything wrong, but the combination of dry bedding, muck and hot weather came together in the wrong way. Fortunately, our heap is on a concrete base, away from the stables — there’s a good reason for old-fashioned horsemanship.

    It was excitement that we could have done without, but it didn’t detract from a great week. It’s so lovely to go to proper county shows and compete on established showgrounds — and it’s good for young riders.

    Atmospheric pressure

    Most children become used to competing on surfaces at equestrian centres or fields with roped-off rings, so have to learn to raise their game in the atmosphere at a county show. There is more to distract or spook their ponies, so they have to be more aware and more proactive. They can’t doddle along on a loose rein; they have to think ahead.

    Ponies can often go better because they feel the atmosphere and are more forward and alert. The proviso is that their riders have to keep them calm without losing that spark, so it tests their skills.

    Our riders also learn that when the atmosphere ratchets up from a show in a field to one where you have everything from livestock classes to loudspeakers blaring, you have to prepare accordingly. They learn why you have to get there two hours earlier than you would for an “ordinary” show, why you need to see where your ring is and what’s around it, and why you need to hack the ponies around to get them acclimatised to the atmosphere, see where the flags are and so on.

    While we all love to win, showing is about much more. It’s about encouraging youngsters to enjoy themselves and take pride in the fact that they’ve given themselves and their ponies every chance by preparing correctly and riding to the best of their ability.

    It’s wonderful to take home red rosettes and trophies, but young riders who try their hardest to get the best from their ponies are all winners, wherever they finish in the line-up.

    Sportsmanship is part of the learning curve. Children and, it must be said, some adults have to learn that if you disagree with what happens, you hold on to your emotions until you’re back in the lorry.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 16 June 2016