• Christa Dillon

From lockdown to competition ready

Christa Dillon takes a light hearted look at the challenges of dragging ourselves back into civilisation

There is no doubting the fact that we are living through a strange and unusual time. The arrival of Covid 19 into our lives has changed everything for everyone and, there has been little choice other than to just keep on keeping on – one day at a time. Some people have suffered horribly as a result of the pandemic and for many, it has been an emotional juggling act. Giving voice to our feelings of frustration and disappointment over the subsequent show cancellations and shelving of horsey plans, has at times felt somewhat superficial when compared to the experiences of those who have been far worse affected. There is finally a little light at the end of the tunnel though – thanks to the monumental efforts of our frontline workers, the development and rollout of various vaccines and of course, the patience and commitment of each and every person throughout three lockdowns. We are beginning to see a return to a ‘new normal’.

The equestrian calendar for 2021 had made for bleak reading at the start of the year. The loss of Badminton and Burghley so early on was demoralising for many but, suddenly things have taken an upward turn. Shows and training days are beginning to fill up the calendar and, we now have things to aim for again. Morale and motivation are on the up. New plans are being made. Entries are opening. The world that has felt monochrome for many months, is regaining its colour at last.

This is all wonderfully exciting, of course – but living the lockdown life on a long term basis isn’t necessarily all that easy to escape from……

Having reevaluated your plans for yourself and your horse, you consult the new calendar. You pick some dates and work backwards, mapping out your preparation. You run your plans past your coach, and you arrange your training schedule accordingly. Today is day one of the new plan! And then you stop, and you look around at your current situation with fresh eyes; and immediately wish you hadn’t.

Your normally fastidious horse care routine has somewhat….slackened. Your horse is looking decidedly portly about his person, and it has been quite some time since he saw a mane comb. His forelock is covering his eyes, which is actually quite handy when it comes to catching the now mildly feral beast – if he can’t see you, he probably won’t run away when he senses an approaching head collar. His once pulled-to-perfection tail now resembles a hedgehog with mange, and his hairy heels give a little nod towards his more native ancestors. You cannot anywhere find your poxy mane comb, and the scissors have disappeared. He could also surely do with being shod, but you can’t choose between paying for those motivational stud holes all round, or chancing it until next time and looking uncool…..

You then take a look at yourself. It doesn’t do to be your own harsh critic – we are all just doing our best. However, the realities of enforced hibernation cannot be denied. Your breeches are a bit….snug. Your own mane could do with taming. The last time you saw your competition jacket was a year ago, and you vaguely recall having shoved it into a cupboard in the lorry after a particularly wet and mucky show. You retrieve the jacket from its place of abandonment. It stinks to high heaven. You regret your life choices, and take both your regrets AND your jacket to the dry cleaners. You find that you can just about get your boots zipped up but, realise that utilising an impromptu pony club kick any time soon may spell disaster for those zips. You throw some electrical tape into the lorry as a precaution.

Eventually, you drag yourself and your horse out of lockdown, and back into civilisation. The first trip away with the horse in over a year was always going to be eventful but, finding yourself in an episode of ‘Man Vs Wild’ hadn’t exactly been on your agenda. Luckily, the show ground is full of horses doing handstands and jazz hands. You pass fellow competitors at previously unimagined altitudes, at an assortment of speeds and velocities.

You fleetingly and very sportingly have a go at a tango in between the white boards. You think that you probably jumped all of the show jumps, although you aren’t sure if you did so in numerical order or, in the required direction. The cross country passes in a blur, as you attempt to direct ‘No Brakes Bill’ around the course. You finish with your arms feeling like they are at least a few inches longer. Your nerves are shot to pieces and you could use a strong drink. You are overjoyed to be ‘back out there’ of course – but today has been a stark reminder of how completely berserk we horsey folk actually are.

You allow yourself the dubious privilege of checking the score board before you go home. And you discover that to your great surprise, you have somehow…….won!

Welcome back! 2021 IS GO


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