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“Where for-the-love-of-all-things-holy ARE you?” ~ Georgina Roberts

I breathed through my nose and resisted the urge to yell into the phone at my boss “Oh, I’m eating cupcakes and painting my nails,” and instead looked folornly at the selection of socks on the Sportsman’s Warehouse floor.  In all my dreams of working for a top rider, I never envisaged arguing about his underwear. Let alone with anyone other than him.

The salespeople were now giving me a wide berth as I sat on the growing heap of softness, agonising over the length of said socks as well as the thickness, for they had to be plush enough to keep my mentor’s feet comfortable for the whole day in his Italian (probably made from baby seal) leather boots while jumping the World Cup, but not SO thick that his toes were being crushed, which had led to the morning’s training session ending abruptly and him peeling off the offending footwear and lobbing them at me with agonised yelps that chastised me, the sock sellers, and the people who had made them.

 There are many things that you never ever envisage yourself doing as a working pupil. And oh my, there are SO many things you are going to do that you cannot tell anyone about…

Like buying a variety of thrush medication at the chemist for a horse’s canker, smiling sweetly as the alarmed pharmacist rings up sixteen tubes at arm’s length.
About the KY jelly tubes that your housekeeper took out of the kitchen, where you had left them conveniently for the next time you needed to artificially inseminate a mare, only to place them discreetly at the bottom of your underwear drawer. Little does she know we are too tired for supper most nights, let alone the level of kink she imagines us indulging in.
And let’s not mention trying to shuffle space in your boot amongst the spurs, whips, and leather straps for the shopping as the car guards (or once-off guests) try to look everywhere BUT there.

The worst is that there is no way to include this in a job description without terrifying twenty year old girls into a convent, so it really is a trial by fire of all the “added extras” you weren’t expecting to do as a stable manager or aspiring championship-winning rider. But, as anyone who has been in horses for years comes to realise, horses have a way of taking over your life, from your heart to your car to – apparently – your underwear drawer.

 Right, the socks.

“I can’t find the right ones,” I whispered into the phone.
“What?” he bellowed, “No, no, I need you here now, the vet is here to AI that client’s mare.”
“Well, the, er, stuff, is in the ice box in my car,” I hissed back at him.
“Are you drunk? What are you talking about?”
“The STUFF,” I muttered, “the STUFF… the… OH, THE SEMEN IS IN MY CAR.” It was too late to take it back. The entire store froze.
“Well why didn’t you say so? Hurry up and get back here.” Click. Sigh. Curse under breath.

I gathered the shreds of my dignity as the staff muffled laughter. It was only when I got out the parking lot that I realised the two pairs of socks I was agonising over were tucked firmly under my arm. There was no time to go back, and in any case, I felt that it was my deserved fee for being mocked.

I flew into the yard, the semen stowed safely in the Equitainer in my one hand, socks in the other.  My boss was about to berate me loudly in front of the vet and the client when he saw them, and whipped them out of my hand in delight, exclaiming loudly as he skipped away that I was the best stable manager he had ever had. The vet was already irritably examining the sperm motility, and the groom moaned at me for making his lunch run late.

 

Still, I felt that warm glow of pride in my chest for the rest of the day. We inseminated the mare, and it was only later when I was lying on the sofa arguing with my housemate over who’s turn it was to cook, that I realised getting praised for a job well done, especially when it involves sock theft and another tube of KY for your maid to find in the kitchen (“Wena, dis one!”), is kinda like wetting yourself in dark breeches: you may have a warm feeling, but no one else really notices, and you sure as hell can’t tell them.

 

Still, kinda tempted to add it to my CV.

“Wow, a professional rider?! That is, like, SO glamorous!” ~ Georgina Roberts

Let me give you the short answer first: no. And the long answer? Hell no.

This came as we were celebrating a successful show with the usual mix of Horsey meets Normal people. The normal people were breathlessly labouring under the illusion that we – the professional riders – were living examples of Jilly Cooper’s ‘Riders’, the fast living, high flying, leather clad elite.

Oh, how wrong they are.

 

The first excellent example was when it came up that one of us had won a provincial title at the championship show.   ‘Amazing! Let’s have champagne!’ … Let’s not.
In reality, shows cost the professional riders, because they miss out on a week of work to compete, entry fees accumulate quickly, and even IF you do take some prize money home … ‘Er, who’s paying? Because I only won two hundred rand. And my entries were six hundred.’

The bankers and lawyers look at us blankly. The obviousness of the bad business model flew over our heads as we revelled in our triple (!!!) tier rosette and pretty sash.

It doesn’t really make sense, we know. It especially doesn’t make sense that we don silk top-hats and tailored tailcoats, but three year old jeans with holes in the crotch and a t-shirt of dubious colour – it could be tie-dyed, it could be a mixture of hoof varnish and grassy gob, who knows?

 

And then we have the second round of Riders-Induced Disillusionment – drugs and riders. As my friend limped in I opened my bag and furtively offered her a tablet. Half the guests’ eyes widened (“You see, I knew no one would ride a horse unless they were on drugs”) and the other half prepared to sidle closer… relax. When riders DO strip their clothes off, the bruises, scars, and bizarre tan lines reveal a history of Myprodol and Cataflam dependency. We WISH we could afford hardcore uppers: they would be cheaper than eventing, and less dangerous to our health.

Furthermore, if our horses so much as trip we call the physiotherapist out, but we will nurse a limp for months before spending a cent on ourselves. And as friend of mine said recently, ‘We don’t always fall off, but when we do we ride before the doctor says it’s okay.’ That’s because our horses can’t afford to have a day off before competing, and we can’t afford to take a day off from earning. As it turns out, irony is not a drink best served stirred.

 

The third example of the Jilly Cooper Myth was my girlfriend from varsity (money well spent, mom) ogling a dashing rider as he strolled past, flicking his forelock for the appreciative crowd. “So, who is…” she giggled before we all bellowed into our Savannahs in unison, “GAY”. Some heated discussion ensued, which was mitigated by him sitting down and flirting outrageously with her startled brother, who had been insisting not a minute before that it was a fallacy that all hot guys were gay. Really, Mark? The only phone number I get asked for is my beauticians.

 

And the third example – aka “The Nail In The Coffin Of Fantasy” – was as we walked out of the marquis just in time to see an impeccably manicured woman shriek as her child’s grey show pony started to poop… then cup her hands and sigh with relief as she caught it. Can’t have manure stains on those hocks before the championship! She pointed toward her Dior handbag and calmly called for a wet wipe. Someone’s friend dry heaved. I offered them a Myprodol and a swig of vodka to wash it down. They promised to come to Derby, but haven’t been returning my calls…

 

So before you joke that horse ladies like cat ladies with more money, remember this: not only do we have less money, but there is even less testosterone at a horse show than at a pet store. And the testosterone we DO have is coming from one of the aging dressage aunties who is trying to get her horse into the box.