Young event horse classes, terror, humiliation and future stars… Maybe?



Young event horse classes, terror, humiliation and future stars… Maybe?

Ireland is a nation of young horse producers, and in order to showcase our top products, we have a series of young horse classes that provide us with an education system and a shop window. The Showjumping system is pretty good-by and large, once a horse is comfortable jumping around a track, the variables he will experience in his competitive life are not that extreme. The young event horses however, obviously have a lot more to cope with-especially if they are produced through the age classes. Whilst these contests are big business in Ireland-and vital if you are to be commercial-they are a big ask for some horses. The standard is high, the jumping questions come up thick and fast for inexperienced horses, and those who qualify for the final at The Royal Dublin Horse show in August are sure to have a lot to mentally digest afterwards.

When I was (much) younger and dreamed of being a hotshot commercial producer, I decided to have a go at contesting some of the young event horse classes. What followed was honestly akin to an absolute train wreck. I was thorough in my preparations, I did my very best each time but somehow it just never seemed to work out…

My first dalliance with what was then known as ‘The Future Event Horse League’ (aka FEHL) was aboard a very nice five year old chestnut gelding, who went by the name of ‘Flash’. He was indeed as his name suggests, very flashy. He was also remarkably dim. He had a decent enough jump, he moved well and he was a very nice person-it’s just that the neuron pattern fire that might have linked these attributes together was somewhat lacking. His nickname was ‘goldfish’, which was not inaccurate. Goldfish did a lovely dressage test on the day, as my horses do tend to do. We then struggled over a few fences in the derby-style jumping test, before Goldfish’s brain fell out in the middle of a sunken road. Any locomotive trajectory that wasn’t vertical and panoramic deserted him, and I think I possibly had to dismount in order to get out of the arena. Yet another mortifying occasion that resulted in me crying in the horsebox, and muttering about cat food and knitting…

As if that wasn’t a bad enough day out, things were about to get a whole lot WORSE. Enter Rocky, one of the most dangerous, psychotic/criminally insane and ‘enigmatic’ horses I have ever ridden in my life. Rocky was an exquisite jumper, and he was straight up certifiable. When it came to jumping, he either cleared the obstacle or he made an attempt on your life. Off we went to a FEHL competition,along with a very green four year old mare-who was a catch ride for me. Having walked the track, I had strong reservations about the catch ride, but I thought Rocky ought to be ok. HAHAHA. Rocky duly performed a sort of ok test, and then after a conformation assessment and trot up, we went in to jump. All was going swimmingly, and the mad bastard was jumping with aplomb. Until. We arrived at a sort of ‘U’ shaped arrangement of hedges. Said hedges were plain, wide and inviting, and cornered by some large, mature trees with low branches. All Rocky had to do, was stay straight and jump. It was the OBVIOUS route, unless your brain is hardwired to some sort of alternate technicolor quantum universe run by bunnies and tree elves. Which his did appear to be. In mid air over the first hedge, he without any warning turned hard left in the air and attempted to make a very wide corner of the hedges. He went STRAIGHT INTO THE TREE. I was garroted by a tree branch, and left dangling in mid air by my throat. The horse fled the scene, jumped out of the arena and headed at warp speed for the hills. I fell out of the tree, and to my deep embarrassment, I was frogmarched into an ambulance. I was there alone so I had no one to attempt to retrieve the stupid horse from the neighboring parish, and the ambulance man was too concerned with my blood injuries to listen to my protests of needing to leave at once, in order to prevent Rocky from maiming or mowing down anyone else. The worst part about it was that ALL of the eventing cool kids-and a few show jumpers too-witnessed the entire thing. I was eventually freed from my overzealous medical captor, and unfortunately some kind soul had by then caught the prick of a horse. I managed to get Rocky untacked and put away, before crying for a good half hour in the horsebox. I was just so embarrassed and humiliated. Again.



The day wasn’t done with me yet, though. I headed off to do dressage on the catch mare, who had never seen a dressage arena before. After refusing to enter the arena, she then proceeded to rear her way up the center line. I saluted, retired and went home. FUCK THIS SHIT.

By some magical occurrence, I had not yet been banned by the powers that be at the FEHL. I decided to give it another go with Rocky (Do I NEVER learn?) so off we went-in torrential rain and a hurricane. We parked beside a hunt kennels with hounds in full cry-positively IDEAL if you’re about to get on an equine Ted Bundy who had hunted all the previous winter. Said no one, EVER. Being a good Irish horse, Rocky actually did a great test in utterly diabolical ground and weather. The fancy foreign horses were all feigning horror and death at the conditions, but not my lunatic. After the conformation assessment, we went in to jump. He was actually going quite well, until he slid into an oxer-my giant pencil studs were no use in bottomless ground. We represented and finished with an awkward jump into the water. Rocky pulled up on three legs, and he missed the rest of the season with an avulsion fracture of a hind fetlock.

My final attempts at abject public humiliation came aboard a horse called Number 12. This horse was a lovely chap, not the bravest but a genuine sort all the same. On our first day out together, we contested the five year old section and we led after the dressage. He jumped really very well for the most part, coping with ditches, difficult combinations and even an actual proper owl hole. However, his ‘brave’ ran out when we got to the water, which was a fast flowing, natural river. Thankfully for once it wasn’t a ‘walk of shame’ as I was still actually on board the horse, and I was very proud of how hard he had tried. Had he jumped clear, he would have qualified for Dublin but in hindsight, maybe it was for the best that he didn’t. He went on to win his next one day event with me, about which I was ecstatic. We had one more go at an FEHL competition, which saw the dressage judge screeching at me about neck straps not being allowed (they were), and then we were eliminated when the horse hesitated at a coffin before jumping from where he was. I asked why I had been eliminated, I was glared at and fobbed off and I then decided that I had had more than enough of this shit for one lifetime.

I can’t say why this venture never worked out for me. Most of the horses had placed eventing or jumping with me previously, they were well prepared and I had my homework done. I thought about it all for a long time, but it made my brain hurt and my ears bleed. In the end, I decided that whatever ‘IT’ is that makes a rider into a supercool, badass age class producer, I don’t have it. These days, I avoid these formatted classes like the plague. No point looking like a damn fool. The FEHL has been nattily renamed since as the ‘YES’ (Young Event Horse) series. I’m afraid it’s more ‘probably not, thanks’ than a ‘yes’ from me…..

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