Sunday, 1 May 2011

27. The Hollowcroft Show

‘Five strides, four strides…’ ‘…three strides…’ ‘…two strides…one…’ As Kerry leapt over the practice jump with more than his usual exuberance, Lisa began to wonder why it had taken her this long to enter a jumping class. Since the annual one day event at the big Hollowcroft Show – a popular occasion for all young and would be eventers in the area - had been cancelled due to a combination of bad weather and poor ground, Abigail had offered the organisers the chance to hold a smaller version of it at EAE to save disappointing all the people who had been planning and looking forward to it for weeks. The dressage and showjumping was to be held in the main arena and the cross country in the fields and hills of the surrounding countryside. David had originally intended to take part but as Tamarind had well and truly run away with him only a few days before at full gallop along the roadside, he decided to leave it for another day, lest his unruly stallion accidentally (or intentionally!) kill something. Lisa had originally only agreed to take part in the most basic of events because Jenny and Mitchell would be doing the full course and didn’t want to do it alone, although now that she was starting to enjoy herself, she felt much better about the whole thing. Kerry wasn’t really made for jumping but he enjoyed it immensely and threw himself over every obstacle as if his very life depended on it. As he touched down after the last upright, Lisa brought him back to a jittery trot and rejoined the group at the other end of the paddock. ‘Good lad! You know, I really think he likes jumping. Perhaps I should do this with him more often!’ Jenny laughed. ‘He’s a nice little jumper, although I think his technique could do with a bit of a polish!’ She glanced over to the paddock and nodded, shortening her reins as she spoke. ‘Alright, that’s me off. Mitchell’s a bit fresh so we won’t need too long to warm up’ She smiled and gave the gelding a light nudge with her heels which sent him off at a swift canter. Their Dressage had gone well earlier on and aside from a tiny bunny hop as she asked him to change legs, he had behaved himself perfectly. She held him in as they approached the first fence and his ears pricked eagerly. He loved jumping. Mitchell bounded around the paddock like an overgrown spaniel – tail swishing excitedly as he galloped his way around the S shaped course. Seemingly oblivious to his insane capacity for energy, Jenny sat quietly over his withers and gently brought him back to a more controllable speed, murmuring sweet nothings to him under her breath. Good boy! Bring on the Cross Country!’ ‘Oh well done Jenny!’ said Abigail, patting the gelding’s gleaming neck proudly. ‘He looked marvellous coming over the last there. How long until you’re called in?, do you know?’ ‘Not long I shouldn’t think. I’ve seen a couple of people heading off already.’ ‘Oh good, it wouldn’t be very nice to keep you waiting. Oh hello, who’s this then?’ At her words, everyone looked up to see another horse and rider enter the paddock. ‘But I thought you were the last person to go in?’ said David quietly. ‘So did I – I wonder who they are.’ Abigail frowned to herself for a moment before her memory kicked in. ‘Ah yes, I remember now! That’s Dawn…Wilkes I think with…err…’ She fumbled around in her pocket for a moment and withdrew a rather crumpled piece of paper with the names of all the entrants on it. Beside ‘Reckless Breeze’ and ‘Two Eyed Gatekeeper’ lay the attractive dun’s show name. ‘Oh yes, here we are - ‘Cool Crusader’ – he’s an Irish Draught cross if I remember correctly.’ She looked up at the pair and nodded appreciatively. ‘Nice stamp of a horse she’s got there. Looks like a bit of a handful though.’ The girl was gripping her reins so tightly that her knuckles were going pale, and she hauled at her horse’s mouth as she lined him up with the first jump. Mere inches before the fence, the big gelding slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop, his rider clinging on for dear life. ‘NO!’ she hissed and yanked his head round. ‘STOP IT!’ He snorted in a mixture of fright and confusion and reared, tossing his head in an attempt to escape the intense hold she had on his face. She managed to sit the rear but smacked him, hard, as soon as he hit the floor, before bringing him round again. She held her arm out this time so he could see the crop and legged him on. ‘Come on Roscoe, git ON!’ This time, although he looked decidedly edgy, the gelding popped over the upright without any problems. Jenny pulled a face. ‘She really seems to be struggling – just look at the bit she’s got him in! No curb chain or anything!’ Lisa nodded. ‘…and he’s such a lovely looking horse as well – why do all the nice ones get ruined?’ Abigail shook her head. ‘Don’t be so quick to judge – he might just be getting a bit excited over all this jumping and be absolutely perfect at home!’ Almost as soon as she said this, the dun clattered into the next jump, sending poles and bits of filler flying. ‘You were saying…?’ David muttered. Jenny bit her lip as the girl landed another smack on her beautiful horse’s quarter and kicked him onto the next. After he jumped the last, she lowered her whip and gave him a pat, finally relaxing her grip on the reins. Now that the jumping was over, she looked a lot less controlled. As she made to go back out, David stepped forwards. ‘Sorry to bother you, but are you ok? It looked like you were having a few problems with him.’ The girl shook her head stiffly and barged past without saying so much as a word. She looked quite close to tears. ‘What was that all about?’ asked Lisa. ‘Can’t she even accept a bit of help?’ Abigail said nothing and shrugged. She didn’t want to get involved. ‘I’ll talk to John in a moment about it – he’s the course vet - perhaps he can keep an eye on them’ said David. ‘Come on Jen, you’re up next.’ ‘Ok then, wish me luck guys!’ ‘Good luck!’ ‘Break a leg!’ ---------------------------------------------------------- ‘Well there isn’t much I can do about it – when I saw them last I saw no overuse of the whip.’ John Lowe frowned to himself as he and David stood outside the starting box at the start of the XC course. ‘Then again, he did seem to be fighting for his head rather a lot. I’ll have a word with her before she sets off.’ He glanced at his watch and then up at Jenny, who was sitting nervously on Mitchell behind him in the box. ‘Alright Miss Paterson, that’s you. Get going whenever you’re ready.’ She nodded simply and kicked Mitchell on. -------------------------------------------------------------------- ‘Steady, steeeeady, good boy Mitchell, good lad…’ As they galloped up the hill and towards the narrowest obstacle on the course, Jenny couldn’t help but feel full of pride. Mitchell hadn’t put a foot wrong and as this was his first ‘big’ event, it was all the more rewarding. He popped over it effortlessly and they galloped on. The next fence was more troublesome. It was straightforward enough to jump but it looked quite imposing to an inexperienced horse and she hoped that Mitchell would show the same positive attitude towards it as he had the rest of the course. His ears flicked forwards when he spotted it and he ploughed forwards eagerly. He got in too deep and made a bit of a mess of the landing but otherwise came out unscathed. As they raced to the finish, mane and tail streaming in the wind, Jenny could think of nothing else but of how proud she was of her horse. The plight of the horse and rider from earlier didn’t even cross her mind… ---------------------------------------------------- -------------------- The steady rumble of an approaching horse made David look up from his magazine and gape. ‘Whoa there boy, what are you doing here?’ He reached up and grabbed the dun’s reins before he could go any further. ‘Steady, steeeeady. Good lad’ He gave him a pat and led him back to the starting box. ‘Look what I found!’ Abigail clapped a hand to her mouth. ‘Oh no! I really hoped this wouldn’t happen! You’d better send word out that there’s a missing rider – we’ll look after him.’ David nodded and jogged off in search of a steward, leaving Roscoe with Abigail and John who put him in the starting box just in case he tried to escape. ‘Poor thing’ she said softly, rubbing his velvety nose gently. ‘It’s really not your day today is it? I do hope his rider’s alright. She really didn’t look happy on him during the warm-up.’ John didn’t reply verbally, but made a vague sound that at least acknowledged that he’d heard her. Suddenly there was a cry of ‘Its okay, she’s here!’ from David and he reappeared with Roscoe’s humiliated looking rider in tow. ‘Are you alright?’ Dawn sniffed and hung her head in shame, tears beginning to trickle down her face. ‘Where is he?! Is Roscoe okay? It’s all my fault, I’ve been so stupid!' Abigail patted her on the shoulder awkwardly and steered her in the direction of her horse. ‘He’s fine – a bit jittery but otherwise fine. What I want to know is how you parted company!’ Dawn took her time in answering. Although she was sure that everyone knew that she was in the wrong, she still felt terribly guilty. ‘Well’ she said quietly, almost choking on the words. ‘Everything started out ok. We had a couple of near refusals but I kept him straight and we cleared the lot with no problems until we got to that big log pile up the hill. He looked like he was really going for it, then the next thing I know he’s put the brakes on and off I went.’ She sighed and reached out to her horse, who sniffed her hand and lipped at it, as if expecting a treat to suddenly materialise there. Her top lip quivered and she broke down completely. ‘Oh I wish I’d never bought him! I love him to bits but I just can’t cope with him anymore. He’s so strong and difficult to handle and no matter what I try, I’m just not good enough to deal with him!’ ‘Oh come now, I’m sure you’re much better than you think – you just need a bit of help, that’s all. Have you had any professional schooling with him at all?’ She nodded. ‘Yeah, I have weekly lessons with a so called ‘expert’ just south of Cairbre.’ ‘So called? Who is it?’ Dawn told her and Abigail scowled. ‘I should have known. She’s a terrible instructor – far more concerned about getting results than actually training the poor animals. I bet you she was the one who told you to push him on like that and to take the curb chain off!’ Dawn nodded. ‘I didn’t like her methods at all, but someone I know recommended her so I thought I’d give it a go and at first Roscoe seemed to be listening to me more so I stuck with it and I…’ She paused and took a deep and faltering breath as the full consequences of her actions finally hit her. ‘…and I kept going, even when I could see that it was making him worse, oh god, what have I done?! The seller told me that he was ‘forward going’ and needed a bit of strong handling but I thought I could cope with that. I’d never ridden anything over 15.2hh before I got him and when he decides to do something, I’m powerless to stop him.’ ‘Tell you what, come up to the yard after this is all over and I’ll book you in for a couple of lessons and we’ll see if that helps at all, ok?’ said Abigail, with a warm smile. The girl sniffed and gave her a weak attempt at a smile in return. ‘That would be wonderful, thank you so much.’ She ran her fingers through Roscoe’s thick, chocolaty mane and sighed gently. If she could learn to ride him properly then perhaps things between them would improve…

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