Tis the season to be… off??

The off season. Well named really, since starting back feral event horses can involve quite a lot of impromptu offing.

The close of the European season in October generally sees riders (try to) escape for a quick holiday, and horses are let down and rested. The eventing juggernaut will soon be underway again, and you need to be fit and ready to withstand the frenetic, relentless pace.

Some riders don’t do well on box rest though, and plenty of them are seen out hunting and team chasing to get their winter jollies. Picking a holiday destination can be a difficult occupation. Some riders are sun bunnies, and can forget about horses whilst lying on a sun lounger in Barbados. Most of them though, are nutters in need of constant adrenaline fixes, and those ones seem to enjoy things like skiing or bungee jumping in obscure locations.

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As long as it is dragging a toe along the life and death line, it’ll do. Package holidays are a definite no no. I once ended up in Fuerteventura with a 3* rider. By the second hour of the first day, we were so bored we had purchased a beach ball and we spent our time running after it like two complete lunatics. We climbed a volcano, looked at some chipmunks and then asked if we could go home early……

It will soon enough be time to get down to the real work again. The season never really ends at a good time for anyone – some finish up with a brilliant last run, and wish there was another event to keep up the momentum. Some head back to the barn with disappointment, and nowhere else to go to solve a problem.

It’s 4* or dog food, with little in-between. Never mind.

Either way, most people will have forgotten all about your horse bolting through five dressage arenas or winning by twenty points come next March, so it’s really a clean slate for you. Dressage, showjumping and combined training competitions will give you the best chance to hone your skills over the winter, and lots of lessons are a must.

Lessons on the flat and over fences are all very lovely, but I’m talking about the REAL lessons that make you into a proper eventer. Lessons in shame. Humility. Embarrassment. Positive reframing. Delusions of grandeur. These are the ones that count. Being able to feel delighted at your horse’s perfect bascule as he sails out of the dressage arena, experiencing a thrill like no other at his impromptu four time changes in a prelim test, or having no brakes or steering but not caring a whit because he showjumped clear around the course – albeit in the wrong order and sometimes backwards – these are the moments that maketh the man and you must learn to embrace them.

Christmas is always a welcome stop-gap for eventers, marking the half way stage of the winter break. The distraction of mince pies, booze and shopping for fabulous things on line can be considered a good thing.

This is a chance to upgrade your competition wardrobe, buy some new tack and have yourself all spiffy come March. If your horse is going to be a knob in the dressage at the first event of the season, well then you might as well look good at it. I’m pretty sure a well-placed sunbeam-to-diamanté-browband dazzle effect has often been the difference between a 5 and an 8, anyway.

The New Year is a time for new resolutions, and for fresh hopes and ambitions. It is a lovely time of the year, so much anticipation and excitement. The horrors of last season are just about forgotten; events are planned for the upcoming renewal and everybody is filled with motivation and enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter if it’s wind, rain or shine. Every day is a day closer to the first weekend in March, and it’s ‘eyes on the prize’ from this point on.

Hunting-in-Ireland Hunting-in-Ireland2


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Article by Christa Dillon. Images with thanks to Louise O’Brien Pix.

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