It’s been a little over a month since I last reported in and continued to bare my soul on my decision to return to riding last year!  Dudley’s appearance in my life and how this big-little horse has transformed my outlook on riding has been nothing short of a flipping miracle.

My outward appearance when Tiny was around was very much one of  ‘the show must go on’ or ‘it’s all rosie in the garden’ but the reality in my head was more like ‘how hard can it be, or how hard am I actually making this’.   Now, I’m feeling totally true to myself with him and it’s flipped over into other aspects of my life.  

I’m a much happier person these days.  My life wasn’t bad before he came along, let me get that bit straight!  However when you wake in the morning and you genuinely want to ride, or you genuinely want to be shouted at in a riding lesson, then you know things are much healthier.  Altogether more ‘tickety-boo’.

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Tiny NEVER did anything wrong as such and I certainly never fell off him – I very nearly fell off him getting on once and there was the time with a gate at home where I was neither on the ground nor on him and quickly I found myself very much on the ground – but I can’t count that as a fall off him as I just wasn’t on him!  Dudley though just fills me with confidence and it’s a very welcome feeling.

I very soon knew with Duds that I wanted to give showing a go again.  He’s a nice sort and well put together and although his colour and his wall eye would potentially put off a few, there’s nothing in his general conformation that would go against us.  So it would only really come down to his ride and way of going and judges personal preference really.  At least that’s the theory.  Those who have shown will know that theory and practice are often not arm in arm!  That said I’ve been on the arena edge enough times before watching my youngsters compete with those that produced them for me to know very well that opinions are there to be ignored some days and it very much is a case of ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’.  If you want to show you soon have to learn that some days you could be at the top of the line-up and the very next day skulking about at the bottom.

I’ve always been happy to accept that so long as I believe my horse has done the best it can do.  Now it was also my turn to add to that aspect.

Flip me the products available to wash, brush and tart up a horse for the show ring have MASSIVELY changed!  It’s been about 13 years since I was last in the show ring with Patsie, my coloured mare.  Yes there were potions then too, but today, it’s a booming and bulging market for all things whitening, buffing, shiny and enhancing.  What I am very very glad to see (controversial bit…) is that make-up on horses is nothing like it used to be.  That’s one area I’m not a fan of.  I’m happy to enhance, but the minute I see the very look of a horse change through extreme make up, then I think it’s a step too far.

Thankfully with my commercial photography work I’ve done in the last year or so with Smart Grooming I’ve had a bit of an insight into show preparation products.  What to use and how to use it, so I’ve been able to purchase wisely and with some knowledge.  That’s been a saving grace because if I’d walked into a saddlery and started looking I’d have been blinded and very unsure where to start!  I’ve said it before, I can’t plait, but thankfully Tony is a master at it so between the fab team at Smart Grooming and Tony I knew I have a horse turned out nicely, even if it was possibly lacking in finer detail.  That would probably come with time if I felt showing was a summer ‘hobby’ for my winter mudlark hunter!

I went in brave and deep because time was against us with some of the bigger shows.  I wanted to do those rather than local ones, so we rather rapidly made some class decisions and entered Honiton and Melplash shows before the closing dates which were both looming.  Tony was set the task of making me a new double bridle and in the mean time we decided it would be a good idea to go to a little show just to see how Dudley behaved really.  We picked one on a Friday night with a semi suitable class and rolled up Sunday morning as total nobodies.  We went in the ring, he behaved, I learnt a lot and we went home again. No frilly but it wasn’t expected as it was a little show.  The judge didn’t ride and didn’t assess conformation either and there were horses and ponies of all sizes in it with riders ages equally ranging.  Everyone knew everyone, including the judge, bar us and we stuck out a bit really.  However, we learnt what we needed to learn and it was onwards to Honiton 10 days later.

Washing a very white horse is a job no-ones likes and sadly Dudley’s white bits are very VERY white, so it takes some homework to get the green off his knees and hocks.  However on the morning of Honiton show, a fairly decent sized agricultural one day show in Devon, Dud’s was scrubbed to an inch of his life and even his wayward bushy forelock was relatively tamed thanks to good product and a very skilled plaiter!

I wasn’t in the slightest bit nervous until a few miles away but actually that butterfly feeling soon disappeared and our warm up was pretty good.  It was a super hot day sadly so by the time we were in the ring I was a melting beetroot faced alien.  However Dudley gave me a peach of a ride.  We cantered and cantered and cantered in the HUGE hunter ring (we were in a local hunter class) and his extended canter was great.  At least to me it felt great but I could have given myself a bit more space from the one in front, so our moment of impulsion was quite possibly missed.  Hunter classes are renowned for solid colours taking the major honours but times have changed quite a bit and there are more and more of them appearing at county level.

He gave the judge a respectable ride and went well enough for the conformation judge.  After all the judging I was over the moon when we were pulled in third.  I don’t think I stopped grinning from the moment we went in the ring to when I got off him back at the trailer.  An hour or so later we were back in the ring for a coloured class.  Sadly I made a bit of a hash of that and didn’t get a canter lead on my individual show (the judge didn’t ride in this class).  We didn’t get a frilly but the judge made a point of coming over and telling me that without that error I would have been in the top 3 as she really liked him.  I thanked her for the feedback, walloped myself internally for my own error but also was happy that another judge approved of him. I just needed to brush myself up a bit and not let the pony down!

So my first proper experience of being back in the show ring was just bloody brilliant (sorry, not sorry).  I was like a kid in a sweet shop afterwards and knew that I’d have some fun with him.  Next stop for us with showing would be Melplash show and because both Tony and I decided that a 7.45 Local Hunter class was just a little too early to be legal, I had entered him in a Working Hunter class instead.

That meant jumps!

We’ve done a fair bit of pole work in our lessons, often ending with 2 or 3 little fences and it being OK, but we’d never done a course before.  That needed to change before Melplash.  Which meant the girl that really wasn’t enjoying her jumping at the end of March would seriously have to put her Bridget Jones pants on and get on with it. However it didn’t really worry me, so far everything we’d asked of Dudley he done.  I’ve said it before, he may not be a world beater and he won’t be a lot of people’s idea of a great horse, but for me he’s given me so much back and I feel that anything someone throws at me I’m actually either just saying yes, or at least considering the options.  Before I’d have been reaching into the ‘excuse jar’ and backing out.

True to form, one Monday night Tony and I were chatting and decided we’d go to Chard Equestrians Tuesday night unaffiliated show.  Taking both horses.  We’d both heard good things about the Tuesday nights and they sounded like the ideal place to take a gangly raw 4 year old and then Dudley for both of us to get to grips with our respective needs.

Find out what happened that Tuesday night soon….

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Until next time…

Rachel xx