Tag Archives: Off side

“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.

Welcome to the life of a working pupil.

“Are you actually mentally retarded?” A painful pause, punctuated by my boss, immaculate in his Pikeurs and Italian leather boots, inhaling deeply through his nostrils, eyes closed like he was willing me to evaporate. I fidgeted in my muddy wellies, and genuinely-ripped-not-by-Guess-but-by-pony-in-field jeans with grass stains. My hair was escaping my cap like it, too, was desperate to avoid the shit-out session at hand. I was trying surreptitiously to wipe the specks of blood (or manure?) (probably both) from an earlier colic off my cheek. My ego was as high as could be when one is looking like a particularly filthy (and apparently retarded) hobo, standing in front of one of the country’s top riders, who you have just managed to piss off on your second day of work.

Was he… Was he actually waiting for an answer? I wasn’t sure. It seemed that absolutely anything I could say would be the absolutely wrong thing in that moment.

There is nothing that can quite prepare you for your first job in a big yard. Here I was, nineteen, bright eyed and annoyingly bushy tailed, full of optimism and love for horses and three years worth of theory that I was itching to apply. You imagine the glossy docile horses that adorn the pages of your BHS books, the perfect step-by-step application of bandages, the immaculate running of your feed room, the neat client records and paperwork, rows of oiled saddles, impassioned dedicated grooms…

“No, I’m not being sarcastic OR rhetorical. Seriously: Are. You. Retarded.” It seemed there was no way out of answering this. I demurely averted my eyes and mumbled in the negative.

“THEN WHY ARE YOU ACTING RETARDED??? Is this candid camera? Has someone paid you to give me a stroke? Then WHY, for the love of baby Jesus and all his angels, would you put sugar in my coffee? GO AND MAKE IT AGAIN.”

No. This was most definitely not what I had imagined.

Welcome to the life of a working pupil.

Welcome to:

  • The end of your social life
  • Caffeine dependency
  • Wine dependency
  • Desire to have a drug dependency…
  • …but no money to afford such a thing
  • Bruises
  • Tears
  • Profanity

What you need to succeed:

  • A thick skin…
  • …and a paradoxically huge heart
  • Passion
  • Mental illness (and very likely retardation)
  • High pain threshold
  • MASSIVE and really dark sense of humour
  • People skills, almost more than…
  • …horse skills, because they are owned by people (sadly)
  • Ability to perform on minimal sleep a bonus
  • Humility – but if you don’t have this, some will be provided for you
  • Determination
  • Friends
  • A dog (or five)

But the best part…

  • Horses! All. Day. Every. Day. Horses <3
  • Horses noses
  • The smell of horses
  • Baby horses
  • Hairy horses
  • Pretty horses
  • Big horses
  • Little horses
  • Even ugly horses

Because at the end of the day, this one reason – this one, big, beautiful, makes-your-heart-burst, reason – is what pulls us towards this career. Certainly not fame or fortune. If you love horses, there is no cure. You will be broke and broken, and if you choose this path you will still be the happiest person in the room. IF you really love horses, and you try choose a sensible career, you will die a slow death.

But if you choose this, you will be living the dream, waking every morning with a smile, because the reality is that every job has ups and downs, but very few jobs have ups like these. And it only takes being the first person in the world to touch a newborn foal, or watching your favourite horse jump his first grand prix, or to be sitting in a room full of your favourite people, laughing exhausted at the end of a rare but rocks-your-world-in-a-way-that-you-are-high-for-months competition to remember why we can so easily tolerate the abusive hours, abusive bosses, and abusive mental demons.

Because, horses.

Follow our weekly working pupil’s blog for an insight to the equine industry, the seventh circle of hell, and ascending with the angels, right here on www.equilife.co.za/blog *****

The Offside


Read next week for – who knows? We can’t imagine. Because, horses.