Dreams, humiliation and Young Event Horse classes – Sponsored by MD Barnmaster

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Dreams, humiliation and Young Event Horse classes – Sponsored by MD Barnmaster

Ireland is a nation rich in consummate young horse producers, and this is an exciting time of year as shows get underway again. All eyes are on emerging new talent, with many riders focused on age classes for the season ahead. Producing and selling is the backbone of the sports horse industry in this country, but it isn’t always smooth sailing… As a rider who has had good success educating young event horses and exchanging them for profit, you might imagine that I would be a regular figure on the four and five-year-old event horse scene. And you’d be wrong. There are many reasons for this, the ones that most readily spring to mind are shame, humiliation, regret and ambulances.

The Future Event Horse League (now known at The Young Event Horse Series, abbreviated to YES!, complete with an exclamation mark – who thinks this stuff up?) has been in operation in Ireland for a number of years now, and it is – in my opinion – a strong test of a horse. First comes a dressage test, followed by a suitability and potential assessment in hand. Next comes the jumping phase. The courses typically contain solid and knockable obstacles, water, ditches and so on. The first two highest placed horses in each section then qualify for the Dublin Horse Show in August – a prestigious achievement in and of itself – and an excellent opportunity to turn your horse into big bank. It all sounds simple enough.

My first dalliance with the FEHL was aboard a particularly beautiful but relentlessly stupid chestnut gelding, who went by the name of Flash. He was more commonly known as ‘Goldfish’. Things had been going well in the run up to our first (and last) attempt at this competition. Goldfish had been schooling like a pro, he turned in a lovely dressage test that day and aced the suitability and potential assessment. I can’t quite remember where the wheels came off the wagon, but I think it might have been about ten yards before the first fence. Which ironically, was a wagon. We proceeded around the course with stops, napping and quite a lot of rearing, before Goldfish ground to an absolute halt in the middle of a road crossing and had to be led off course. So far, off to a bad start.

My next attempt at a FEHL competition was probably one of the worst days I have ever had at a competition, and believe me that’s quite the accomplishment. Rocky was a bay sports horse gelding, with a short fuse and an alarmist imagination. He was a brilliant jumper but he was an absolute bastard, and one of the most dangerous horses I have ever ridden. He performed an ok dressage test, and he got through the suitability and potential assessment. The jumping was actually going well, and he was really giving an exhibition of class around a very difficult course. As we approached the double of hedges, I began to set him up. I had paid no attention to the enormous tree on the left of the combination when I was walking the course. The tree was not in the way. Or at least, it hadn’t been until Rocky-for reasons best known to himself – suddenly dived left in midair whilst jumping the first hedge. A stout branch of the tree hit me square in the throat, and left me suspended-dangling sadly-from said tree. The horse vanished over the horizon and I Fosbury flopped off the branch, bleeding from my face and neck. I began the walk of shame to the ringside, harbouring some concerns as to how I was going to catch Rocky. I was purple with embarrassment, made all the worse when I briefly looked up and saw a guy that I had a raging crush on, surveying the whole scene. Bollocks…Things surely couldn’t get any worse.

I then became vaguely aware of someone flapping at my elbow as I stomped off in search of Rocky. The flapping became ever more fervent until I had no choice but to address it. It was the dreaded ambulance man, demanding I head at once to his vehicle of doom. I refused and tried to explain about the psychotic killer horse on the loose. Ambulance man wouldn’t take no for an answer, and he frog-marched me back past the super hot crush guy, and into the ambulance. I eventually escaped, found the horse and got ready for my next ride. I don’t remember the name of this next horse, but she was a big bay mare who hadn’t inspired me at all when cross-country schooling the week before. I knew the minute I got on at the competition that I was in big trouble, as she planted herself and refused to cooperate at all. I believe she holds the record for the shortest ever performance at a FEHL event – I entered the dressage arena sideways and backwards at A and retired at X. I handed her back to her owner, had a lengthy cry in my Jeep and then went home. I subsequently found out that the mare went on to chew through an electric cable in her stable some time later and electrocute herself. I chalked it up to natural selection.



Rocky had one more attempt at the FEHL, and actually gave an excellent account of himself in bottomless conditions and pouring rain. Having hunted, he made light work of the going whilst the fancy foreign horses tiptoed and hesitated in disgust. He slipped badly at a big oxer and had it down, but soldiered on to the second last fence which was the water. After deluges of rain, it was deep and uninviting. He hesitated on take off, jumped in and then galloped on over the final fence. He pulled up hopping lame behind and I thought he had broken his leg. It transpired that he had suffered an avulsion fracture of the fetlock joint, and that was his summer over.

My final attempts at the FEHL came aboard a tall black Irish gelding called Number Twelve. He was a super horse, not always the bravest but I had managed to win a four and five-year-old event on him. The logical progression was to try and qualify him for Dublin. His first attempt was a very trying occasion. Like many riders, I use a neck strap on my horses most of the time. The dressage judge on the day was quite adamant that I was not permitted to use such at an FEHL event. On threat of elimination, I removed my neck strap and performed my test. I was furious, as it was later confirmed that I was indeed quite entitled to use my neck strap. Twelve then sailed around the jumping part until he hesitated – and then jumped – a coffin ditch. I was eliminated. Challenging the decision was entirely pointless, and I went home incandescent.

My final ever attempt at winning the war was also aboard Twelve. He was in second place after the dressage and the suitability and potential assessment, and he jumped brilliantly until he got to the water. He just ran out of brave, and could not be inspired or encouraged any further. By this stage, I had readily accepted that myself and young event horse classes simply do not go together, no matter how well I do my homework. I had suffered such humiliation over all that I wasn’t even embarrassed doing the walk of shame back to the trailer that day. I was pretty proud of the horse, and that was good enough for me. I have long since given up on any dreams of going to Dublin, and although ironically I currently have a four-year-old that would be perfect for the qualifiers, I just can’t bring myself to go through it all again. Ever. Einstein’s theory of stupidity, and all that…

As a side note, I should add that Rocky went on to contest two Young Rider European Championships for Italy. Twelve competed at one-star level, also in Italy. Flash enjoyed life as a riding club Goldfish until he was quite old, and as above, the mare fried herself. So even if things don’t begin well, they can turn around eventually. Or not. That’s a whole other article, though.

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