Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Mucking stalls. Freelance writing. How do they differ? I discuss.

On the Sidelines

Spent part of last weekend being selfless and virtuous.  A veritable paragon of crunchy humanitarian goodness.

See, I can already tell you’re impressed.

Okay, I spent it sitting in a lawn chair in the rain, writing down which horses jumped fence #5abc cleanly, and which had refusals.  (For the record, there were a total of two refusals in the Open Intermediate division,  no falls, and no breaking of the frangible pins, which was mildly disappointing because #5abc was a fairly technical fence — the sort of thing that we used to call a ‘coffin’, though apparently that appellation is no longer politically correct and I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call them now other than vertical-ditch-vertical combinations.)  I was expecting more interesting, if not teachable, moments, since #5abc had the potential for a certain amount of mayhem.  But hey, any day that the ambulance doesn’t budge all day is a good one in eventing.

Lawnchair-occupation, with clipboard, is called jump-judging.  The average weekend horse trials or one-day event needs a small army of hapless intrepid volunteers not only to record what transpires at every jump on every course in every division of the competition, but also to fulfill a wide array of other duties, from timing their progress from start box to finish line, to writing down the words of wisdom which issue forth from the dressage judges’ mouths, to transporting brown bag lunches out to the far reaches (via four-wheel drive pickup or ATV, generally), to making sure the competitor’s gear conforms to the rules before they embark on their cross-country canter.  (This last one is called being a tack-check steward, and I did a few hours of that on Saturday before retiring to my lawn chair in the boonies on Sunday.  It’s pretty light work, though you do have to endure a certain amount of green slime.)

Over the years, I’ve done a fair bit of ‘giving back to the sport’.  I’m not the volunteer of the decade or anything, but at one time or another I’ve done just about every job you don’t get paid for, which helps make a horse trials run.  My feeling is this:  I can’t afford to give money, but at least I can give my time.

Seeing the armies of volunteers recruited for the London Olympics (can I now use those words in a blog without getting drawn and quartered by the IOC’s marketing SS?) makes one ponder their motivation for serving.  It must’ve been popular — I read somewhere that there were something like 70,000 people who assisted in one way or another, so many in fact that the volunteer committees actually had trouble finding things for some of them to do.  I imagine you get an outfit and access to at least one venue out of it, though whether you actually get to witness much of the competition is questionable.  You might also get a box lunch or two, the loan of a two-way radio, and the temporary illusion of power.  Are there other perks, or is just saying you were part of the Olympic Games, sufficient in terms of bragging rights?  Is there opportunity for collecting autographs or surreptitiously taking pictures?  (Or taking other people’s cameras away when they violate the rules and then pocketing them, maybe?  I should monitor eBay … might be a glut of cheap point-n-shoots popping up from UK sellers any time now.)

Volunteering at the Wit’s End Horse Trials doesn’t have quite the same cachet, though the site did host a three-star CIC*** which was on the calendar for the eventing World Cup series, for a number of years.   A bit too much disrespect from the FEI (the governing body for international equestrian sport, which remains convinced that Canada is a godless tundra not worthy of its estimable gaze) put the kibosh on the international level stuff a couple of years ago, but the locals continue to enjoy the facilities on a slightly less ambitious level, and I have reasonable evidence that the organizers don’t much miss jumping through the FEI’s hoops (not to be confused with Olympic rings, although there are some uncanny similarities).

These days, I seem to spend a lot more time on the sidelines — or in the weeds, really — assisting others in enjoying the sport of eventing, than I do participating.  The reason’s no mystery.  I have the horse, I have the equipment, and I have the ambition.  I just don’t have the money for all the memberships and the entry fees.  Which is a huge, huge drag, because I’m not getting any younger and neither is Spike.  Every time I hear about another Big Name Rider bringing an eight- or nine-year-old horse to compete at Rolex (or some similar multi-starred big dance) I get a little pang about now 10-year-old Spike, grazing in his pudgily oblivious way in his field.

Not that I have Team ambitions anymore … I gave those up a looooong time ago when it became clear that I had neither the talent, the time, nor the backing to make it to that level …. and not that Spike is a world-class talent who is wasting away.  (I had one of those, once, and there were several BNRs who went out of their way to make it clear to me that I was doing no justice to a horse whose cleverness and athleticism far exceeded mine … quite a guilt trip.  But no-one has yet voiced similar admiration for my gentle, solid citizen Spike.)

Just, you know, generally.  That I should be doing more with him before we’re both too old and creaky to do any of it.  That I should be out there jumping the jumps before my decrepitude finally forces me to become what most old eventers morph into — a DQ.  (That’s “dressage queen”, for the uninitiated.)  I am not quite ready to enter the pursuit for the perfect 20 metre circle.   I don’t harbour any hankerings to run at the Advanced level anymore, but I would like at least to be competitive at the lower levels and keeping up with the ‘fossils over fences’ crowd, if not the immortal twentysomethings.

Poverty sucks.

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