Tag Archives: The Offside

“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.

People are very brave when they are on the ground….

The only people who do not display false bravado from the floor are usually grooms. The jury is still out as to whether this is because they don’t want their pay check to be paralysed, or because they have insider information on how badly the horse you are sitting on behaves.

Work riding is not for the faint-hearted, but even the stoutest (or most alcoholically-courageous) heart will at some point encounter a sadist who pushes the boundaries. My favourite phrases to come out of trainers’ mouths are things that never crossed my mind up until that point, like “Oh, just sit down reeeeeeally carefully when you get on. And, er, don’t sneeze.” This is assures that you spend the next hour not breathing, not moving, as the half ton under you twitches every time a leaf crackles under foot. Death is imminent at every hoofbeat. Or “Did the groom tell you to ride him in two running reins? No, I only did that because I, um, couldn’t decide what colour I liked.” Yeah. Sure. I’ll have that put on my gravestone. And my favourite: “By the way, do you have a body protector? No? Oh, no, no reason, come hop on.” Bastards.

In fact, I find that if you want some honesty, the best person to ask is the groom, especially when they blanche a little as you ask them to fetch number twenty-two. I think it’s partly because they take pity on us – surely the only thing worse than cleaning up behind a dealing horse is being on top of one?
One of the skill sets they don’t teach you in the EQASA courses is psychology – I’ve become an astute reader of that first reaction. There is disbelief (“The boss really told you to ride this one? It had saddle on for first time yestaday?”); amusement (“Ey! You crezy! This one jumped out of the lunge ring this morning!”); or on the odd occasion irritation at my trusting enthusiasm (“Why do you think we wait two days for you to come ride? We had four grooms holding just to clean the back feet. But sure, good idea, let’s ride. Where is your medical aid card?). None of these are good. Stay on the ground.

It’s easy to romantise being a working student. In reality, freelance work riders are in many ways worse off than grooms: they get no set salary, so are cannon fodder – if they are injured the employer is under no obligation to look after them, and they don’t earn at all. As they are usually paid per ride the temptation is to get maximum mileage out of them for minimum cost, so horses are often rushed. The riders aren’t on any medical coverage from employers, such as grooms who are on workman’s compensation, or have any other coverage (oh, like a roof over their heads). In the meanwhile, dealers or trainers just load another cannon and find another kippie to hop on.

It finally landed up that the person I rode for the longest was the one who would ride everything first. This was a stamp of approval and respect for me, despite the fact that she was an adrenalin junkie, and would do three rodeo rounds through the garden and then dismount, grinning, and hand me the reins – “You’ll love this one!” Oh dear lord.
I suppose the moral of the story is this: it’s easy to be brave from the ground, so always take those folks with a pinch of salt and put yourself first. If you want riders to suck it up, they better see you being brave from on top. And if all else fails, I remember this quote from Stephen Leacock:

“It takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required.”