It was Max's birthday yesterday. He is 13. I have had him for six years. Not bad going, considering.
We got up yesterday and went for a walk up the road to see if it was icy, before getting the lorry out. It just had a thick frost on it, so we decided we were going to the TREC competition.
I'd better quickly explain what TREC is:
It was set up in France as a way of examining candidates for taking out rides in trekking centres, but it developed into a competition, which is now quite big in England.
The competition has three phases. The first one is an orienteering section. Obviously if you were leading out a trek you wouldn't want to get lost, so this is the test for that. You go and copy the master map onto your map and set off along the route. Sometimes there may be obstacles to complete along the way, for which you get points. At level one you're looking at a distance of 5-7 miles, and you are timed.
The next section is called Control of Paces. This is to test that you have control of your horse at all times. A track is laid out. You have to do the fastest walk you can manage without changing pace (ie breaking into trot) and the slowest canter (again without going back to trot). This is also timed.
Then comes the obstacle phase. A variety of obstacles are laid out, in a field or maybe using a cross country course. There may be a gate that you have to open without dismounting or letting go of the rope, a bridge to lead your horse over, riding under low branches etc, all things to simulate natural obstacles that you might encounter on a hack.
Yesterday we didn't have the orienteering phase, fortunately, just the control of paces and the obstacle course.
All the horses were walking up and down calmly, waiting their turn to go in the arena. Mr O was on before me, so he was warming Barnaby up. Max was snorting and staring at everything. I got on him and he kept trying to drag me back to the lorry. It took all my strength to keep him where he was. I did the gate obstacle, which was outside the arena, while John was inside. Max actually did it quite well, without taking my leg off against the gate post, which is unusual!
I got off after that as Max was still straining to go back to the lorry. I don't know if he thought Barnaby was there, or what was going on in his head, really.
So I led him into the arena when it was my turn, and took our little mounting block with me, but Max kept spinning in circles and wouldn't stand still. In the end a woman very kindly offered to hold him for me, and I mounted from the ground.
The canter test was first. I wanted to warm him up and establish canter before going down the track, but I was told not to go near any of the other obstacles, so I just about managed to get him going in a tiny space, and he set off quite well, but in the far corner were some strange bins like enormous dustbins, so he spooked at those and went back to trot, before we'd reached the end of the timed section. Mr O was told he could use all of the space in the arena, and didn't have to start until he felt he'd established a canter he was happy with!
Then we got to the first obstacle, which was a bridge. I was fully expecting to hop off and lead him across it, when the judge said, "No, you have to ride him across it." Grrr. Max was having none of it and kept backing off. I asked the judge if she could move out of the way, in case Max swung round and bumped into her, which he is very likely to do, but she just stood there. I was so put off by this I didn't want to risk it and had to go onto the next obstacle. It was two poles on the floor, a horse's width apart. I had to walk in, halt and rein back. Last time I did this Max was immaculate. This time he kicked a pole.
We had a test where we had to get off, leave the horse to stand within a circle painted on the ground for 10 seconds. Max decided that was his cue to head for the door.
After that was a little corridor on the floor, and I had to lead Max along it, with me in front of him, which we did successfully.
Then we had to walk into a square painted on the floor, where there was a mounting block and get on the horse within 15 seconds. I'm not sure if I did it actually, they never said.
The weaving poles were next, which were perfect, BUT we only walked and found out afterwards that you got more points if you trotted and even more points if you cantered, but nobody told us at the beginning, which I think is a bit of a cheek.
Then we had the low branches test. As I walked up to it, on foot, I touched one of the poles with my hat. There is no way on this earth Max would have gone under that. If I'd pulled him, he would probably have had a fit and smashed the thing to pieces, killing innocent (and ignorant) bystanders, so I lost all my points on that, too.
After that I ran out of time to complete the obstacles, and had to finish with my walk test. Max walked really well, but remember, you are not allowed to change your pace. A few yards from the end Max stood stock still and decided to have a poo, so I lost all my marks again. I bet that's never happened in the history of TREC.
The last time I did a TREC competition, I had such fun, laughed my head off and really enjoyed it, but this was all so strict and serious, it was like doing the manouvres in your drivng test and I didn't enjoy it at all. I think the organisers could have relaxed a bit, as if that was your first experience of TREC, you wouldn't go again. I was so cross with Max's attitude, too, he was totally bonkers. Barnaby did everything and was in 3rd place by the time we left, but I don't know what the end result is. I think Max saw the indoor arena and thought he was going to show jump, so psyched himself up for jumping, then when he got into the arena and it wasn't jumping at all, just a bunch of scary objects, it totally blew his mind.
So folks, I am back to selling Max. I am so fed up with dithering that I have phoned Lorna and asked her to put feelers out. I am also fed up with people saying, "Oh you can't sell Max, he's lovely!' because the fact is, he isn't lovely. I know he's cute to look at, but he isn't a dog, he's meant to be ridden, and some days he's an absolute nightmare.
What are the two things you never want from a horse? Rearing and bolting. Max does at least one of those, with style.
Mr O and I have realised that the crux of the matter is this: Riding is supposed to be a pleasure, right? When I ride Max, I hack out, and I am always relieved to be home. Even in the summer, when he is calmer. When I ride Barnaby, I get to the turning for home, and I think, 'Just five more minutes' and add another leg onto the journey because I'm enjoying it so much I don't want to come home. And you feel like you're Joan of Arc on a magnificent white charger at the same time. That's how it's supposed to be. Riding Crispin was like that.
So I am going to play with Max and enjoy him as best I can until he is sold. I really thought we were getting somewhere last year when he was hacking out quite calmly. At Lorna's I could hardly get him to go out on his own. He seemed to really understand, and be happy with, what I required, which was really very little, but now he seems to be back to square one and I have to start again.
I am going to put a couple of adverts up, in Thomas Irving and Stable Mates and see what happens. It's not fair on him either, I don't think, as the thing he does best is jumping, and I don't want to do it any more. He excels at it, especially cross country, and jumps like a stag. So that's that. My mind is finally and firmly made up.