The key to competition success – Equestrians’ downright weird superstitions

Eastern Hay 770x170-March


The key to competition success – Equestrians’ downright weird superstitions

I recently read an article called ‘Ten Habits of Competent Riders’. It was a well written and insightful piece, detailing points such as persistence, open-mindedness, patience and so on. Of course, we all aspire to follow the examples set by our peers, it’s just that reality doesn’t always lend itself to the ideal. It got me thinking, though – Event riders across the board have many habits, ranging from ‘questionable at best’, right through to ‘downright weird’. I decided to do a bit of research, just in time for the start of the European Eventing season. The results did nothing to dissuade me as to the general lack of mental stability of the average event rider…


Eventers are a freakishly superstitious bunch, putting the average pirate to total many-prongedis a many pronged fork, but the most common findings were as follows –
Never using anything new at an event, saluting magpies, having a certain number of plaits in the horse’s mane, wearing lucky underwear (presumably washed between events, but I didn’t like to ask), and putting one boot or spur on before the other. There were others, such as one girl needing to kiss someone before she left the start box, a mother who stands on one leg the entire time her daughter is riding and another person who needs to see three sevens in a car registration on the way to the event, in order to have a good day. When you see it written down, you’d say these people are straight up certifiable but I’m a little torn in my opinion.

On the one hand, I find it almost a little sad that many riders fail to bank their successes – rather than acknowledge any achievements as their own good riding, sensible decision making, sharp reaction time and ability to produce and train a horse to do its job well, there are folk out there attributing a favorable result to a pair of novelty boxer shorts, or to their parent attempting deep vein thrombosis from living as a monoped whilst their offspring rides. On the other hand, the sport is dangerous and difficult. Sometimes, it is easier to falsely attempt to guarantee your safety and success by ‘controlling’ some part of the whole palaver-be that frilly knickers, or collections of magpies. Being superstitious doesn’t hurt anyone (apart from possibly the eyes of the attending paramedic, when faced with an Iron Man thong) and if it makes riders feel better, then what harm?

On the topic of the attending paramedic, a surprisingly high number of ladies (and a few men) cannot leave the house to go Eventing without all and any… erm… areas… being neatly landscaped. These folk harbour a deep-seated fear of falling off at an event, being injured and then being found to be ‘untidy’ in the event of their clothes being cut off. I did check with some Eventing paramedics who assured me that they have never yet noticed the ‘tack and turnout’ one way or another – but if being carefully pruned makes people feel a little better, well then surely that’s a good thing. Having your nether regions aggressively waxed is a great preparation for the pain and humiliation you will ultimately suffer when attempting to event a horse.

The incredible advances made in the field of sports nutrition in recent years are entirely wasted on the average event rider. The majority prefer to take a sort of Hunger Games approach to competition, unable to stomach any food at all until they have disembarked their last horse of the day. There then follows the rapid consumption of approximately six thousand calories, mostly in the form of doughnuts and chips. Other riders prefer to carb and sugar load ahead of ‘enter at A’, one lady after my own heart insists on at least twenty four Jafpre – event for her pre-event breakfast. She ate two hundred and forty Jaffa cakes during the 2017 season. Some riders are religious water hydrators, where others prefer the ‘Dutch courage’ approach to the sport. Let’s hope breathalyzing in the start box doesn’t catch on…



There’s no point in beating about the (hopefully nicely landscaped) bush here. For some riders, the Portaloo is their spiritual home at an event, and being too far away from one when competing is a bad idea. As the body prepares to perform, it responds to fight or flight stress impulses. For some folk, things that are ‘in’ may suddenly and in an alarming fashion, need to be ‘out’. A fond memory of mine from the good old days Eventing was passing one of my best friends in the Portaloo queue. Both in full cross-country garb, both green about the gills, both normally quite chatty but now barely able to utter a ‘hello’… it happens. It is simply part of indulging your time, money and interest in an extreme sport. I’m sure Formula One drivers and skydivers have the same issues… probably…

Some people take things to a whole other level. One lady, I know used to combat her nerves with a bit of ‘how’s your father’ in the Lorry with her husband before going cross-country. Perhaps if I tried this, my own husband would be more keen on coming along to support… Another lady insists on circling the judge’s car twice before going into the arena – perhaps a dizzy horse is a more submissive beast? Others keep all of their double clear bib numbers in the actual bib for the remainder of the season-it might work for me, but for someone like Andrew Nicholson, it’d be a no go. Sooner or later, he’d be weighing out heavy and any mishaps at the water could result in some sort of papier mache olympian…

Other quirks and oddities include riders insisting on tacking up their own horses, fiddling endlessly with saddles, boots and nosebands, chain-smoking, giving their horses a pep talk (HAHAHAHA), blessing themselves, handing out lucky fist pumps – I could go on and on. I’d say that event riders are mostly totally berserk and more than a little warped, but there’s no need to. We all know what we are, even if the only time we get to truly express the weirdo within is at a congregation of other fellow weirdos, in a big field with at least one ambulance present.

Embrace the weird. You are in a glorious minority. Here’s to a kickass 2018 Eventing season.

Sincerest thanks to the good (weird) folk of #TwitterEventing for your contributions!

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