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20 January,2018

Solo Eventing: Top Tips

In a previous blog I wrote, Essential Eventing Kit for Wobbleberries, I completely forgot to include A GROOM!  This is probably because I rarely have one.  The lack of a groom: be it a family member, friend, fellow livery or Other Half has dogged me throughout my equestrian life.  So, most of the time, I compete SOLO.  With a little planning and practice, it’s not only doable, it’s fun.

I am not from a horsey family so I’ve no idea where the desire came from, but from the age of 3, the ONLY thing I wanted to do was ride horses.  My parents said I could have lessons when I was 10… TEN????  By the time I was 5, they had capitulated thanks to the ‘power of the pester’.  Boom – I was hooked.  At primary school, every Monday, we had to write an essay about our weekend.  Every week, my essay started with the words “On Saturday I went riding”.  My poor non-horsey parents were actually called into school to discuss the depth of my obsession.  

For the next 5 years, all I wanted was a pony.  Each year, without fail yet failing to win, I entered the Win a Pony competition in Pony magazine.  Once again, I employed the proven technique of the pester! Every time a sum of money was mentioned in conversation, I would pipe up “I could buy a pony with that”.   When I was 11, Prince joined the family.  Now I had my own pony, the inevitable happened – I joined the Pony Club and started competing.

In the distant past, we hacked to shows… anything up to about 7 or 8 miles.  As my parents didn’t need to transport me and the pony, they rarely came.  I would set off, with sandwiches in a pocket, in my show gear on a pony with frankly gruesome plaits and I would stay at the show all day.  Poor pony, but I was in heaven.  The pattern continued when I outgrew ponies and went into horses.

Fast forward several decades, and my non-horsey OH and I quit the big city and moved to Lincolnshire.  I had an inkling I’d like to start riding again after a 20-year hiatus.  Maybe I’d get a horse again.  I reassured non-horsey OH that I just wanted to be a happy hacker.   Yeah, right!  As soon as I was back in the saddle, I wanted to compete.  

I bought a horse… followed by a trailer… and a vehicle that could tow, I started entering local dressage and little show jumping competitions.  Long-suffering OH came with me until he realised this was happening every weekend.  Fair enough… so, despite lacking the devil-may-care attitude of my teens, I grew a pair because I would rather be competing alone than waiting until I could drag someone along with me.

I’m glad I stuck with it because last year I hoisted up my brave-pants and signed up for the Wobbleberry Challenge.  Three BE80s and 3 unaffiliated ODEs later the H-Bomb, who is not renowned for his easy-going nature, and I are becoming dab-hands and hooves at solo outings.  So, here’s what I’ve learned along the way (eventing specific):-

  • Packing:  Load the lorry (or trailer) in reverse order of what you need for each phase, so XC kit behind SJ kit, with dressage kit closest to hand.  Try to put everything in the same place each time.
  • Refreshments: Take plenty of cold drinks (non-alcoholic!) and food with you.  Nerves might suppress your appetite before you ride, but you’ll be ravenous afterwards.  I take several bottles of water/squash so I can keep myself hydrated through the day.
  • Walking the Course: Try to walk both the cross country and show jumping courses the afternoon/evening before which saves time on the day.  I usually have time to walk the SJ again before or after dressage.
  • Dressing: Get into your competition gear at home.  I put on my jods, show shirt, stock at home before loading and wear joggers/hoody over them.
  • Timing: Give yourself plenty of time… when you’re on your own, things can take longer.  Don’t add to the stress of the day by having to rush.
  • Tell People:  
    • On arrival, get your number and tell the Secretary you’re competing alone.  They will take details of your vehicle, contact numbers, etc or, to save time, have that info in an envelope and leave it with them.  I write my name, section & number on the outside.  It is useful to note down where you are parked, too.
    • Leave a note on your dashboard with your mobile number (in case your horse freaks out in the lorry/trailer while you’re not there), emergency numbers and horse details.
    • Introduce yourself to your neighbours.  I have found that eventing folk are nearly always friendly and helpful, especially if you’re on your own.  I have met some lovely people at events and even met up with some again for schooling, or sharing xc course hire.
    • In the dressage warm up, when you tell the steward you’ve arrived, also mention you’re on your own.  I also ask them to remind me to collect my whip when I’ve finished my test.
    • Likewise, tell the show jumping steward.  SJ warm up on my own has never been an issue – the jumps are always at an appropriate height.  I do feel guilty I don’t have anyone to put up a pole if we demolish one of the practice fences, but I do always apologise!
    • Tell the cross-country starter that you’re on your own… that way, in the event you part company, they know no one is going to collect your horse.
  • Final Prep at the Event. Establish a routine that works for you.  This is mine:
    • Last thing, before tacking up and unloading, I get myself ready & I put my whip/gloves on my mounting steps.
    • Before I mount, I make sure his headcollar, lead rope and cooler are in a location I can reach easily with one hand on my return from each phase (he doesn’t tie up safely to the outside of the trailer).
  • Stay Organised:  put kit you will not use again that day somewhere separate the rest of your stuff.  Once I’ve finished with something, e.g. tendon boots for show jumping, it goes in the boot of my car, leaving the front of the trailer uncluttered.
  • Medical Armband: Although it is no longer mandatory to wear a medical armband at BE, I always do when I’m competing alone.  As well as including the normal emergency/medical info, I also include my vehicle details, the location of my car key and the fact I am … you’ve guessed it… alone!
  • And finally – have fun!  

Yes, there are downsides to flying solo.  It would be nice to have someone to chat to, but I end up wittering non-stop to the H-Bomb which keeps us both sane.   The drive home at the end of the day is when I feel most lonely – whatever the result, I’m always buzzing and want to share with (or bore) my companion.  And having someone to point an iPhone would be a bonus.

However, there are upsides too.  It really is about you and your horse together – I believe this time we spend one-one-one in different environments has helped me deal with is foibles and improved my confidence.  There is also a tremendous sense of achievement.   

Going it alone is FAR better than not going at all!  And it gets easier with practice.

Written by Emma Busk. Please visit: A Wobbleberry Graduate’s Eventing Adventures


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