At Woodside this past weekend I finally figured out what has always made the pre-Stadium back-gate experience feel so odd to me. For a long time I had thought it was the ride times that felt weird. In Hunter/Jumper land, there are no ride times. This means you can spend a long time waiting at the back-gate to go jump a handful of jumps. Sometimes you get stuck waiting for what feels like a decade because someone’s trainer is on the other side of the show grounds, in the other ring with some other client and it’s very rare that someone will go in to the ring without the trainer there to observe. In contrast, at the Events I’ve been to the back-gate is quite efficient and riders are generally on time. It isn’t overly crowded with people milling about in a perpetual state of waiting.
Stephanie and I had come to Woodside to cheer on Team DF and were lucky to arrive just a few minutes before Mia headed in to Stadium. She warmed up well and was called to the gate. As Mia trotted in to the ring a wave of guilt and anxiety hit me, like I’d failed to do something mission critical. I twirled my keys in my fingers to try and soothe the weird discomfort and watched as Mia put down a spectacular round – one that would have been at home in any Medal or Equitation class. As she came out of the ring, she was beaming. My anxiety passed before I was able to figure out what had sparked it.
Amanda’s trip came a short while later and as she headed in to the ring I noticed that same anxious-guilt come washing over me. She also laid down an incredible trip and left the ring all smiles. As we were walking back to our stalls I noticed another horse heading in to the ring, his mouth lined with a soft green foam. Some of the foam had blown back to land on his shoulder and his rider’s boot. I blinked at this a few times and it finally clicked in my mind what was throwing me off – the absence of “the ring-bucket.”
At a Hunter/Jumper show you’ll generally have a legion of friends, family members, grooms and barn-mates milling about at the back gate with rags, hoof polish, spare spurs, extra gloves, maybe a crop and a bottle of water. Before you head in to the ring, even if it’s for a Jumper round, your boots will get a once-over, your horse’s nose and mouth will be wiped clean and his hooves given another coat of Fiebing’s. This little ritual often happens without any request, an automatic process that is almost impossible to avoid and it is generally viewed as a high-crime to go in to the ring having skipped it.
Now, this is not to say that Eventers don’t care about appearances – because we most certainly do, helmet covers and cross country colors any one? It is more to highlight that the generally more time efficient process of posted-ride times eliminates a good portion of the stand-around-and-wait that leads to this obsessive ritual of last minute fiddling and primping.
Much like my feelings about hunter braids vs button braids, I suspect that it may take a while longer before I feel comfortable without a ring-bucket. I have to admit that I was rather thrilled when Stephanie’s Dressage test at Camelot came back with the comment ‘nice turn-out!’ as I’d been the one to braid Owen and I kind of maybe made a fuss and would not let her go in to the test without the boot-nose-hoof ritual. I love the ritual, it soothes me. It’s part of what puts me in the right frame of mind whether I’m the one heading in to the ring or there to support a friend.
Then again, hoof polish doesn’t make the trip – the planning and the preparation does. Besides, have you ever tried to get Fiebing’s out of white breeches?
Go Team DF. Go Little Details. Go Eventing.