“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.