We looked up our start times on Saturday, and I was delighted to see we weren't on until twenty past one. This meant I could have a lay-in, actually eat some breakfast (not nervous for once - if only I'd known!) and bath me 'orse before we set off.
The nights are a lot warmer now and the horses are too hot with rugs on, so Max slept naked on Saturday night. I'm not sure what he slept in (and I don't mean pyjamas) but it made very unattractive brown stains on his white bits, so I took him outside for a bit of a scrub down. I also washed his tail. Let's just say it took a while for the water to run clear.
We loaded the boys into the lorry and set off to Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire. We were going to Brooksby College, and it was quite a distance. We put the postcode into the Satnav and set off in good faith. All was going swimmingly until we got into Melton when my written instructions started to differ from the Satnav's instructions to Mr O. Then we turned off the road, onto a tiny lane, which led to a field, and the Satnav announced smugly, 'Destination.'
We were stuck. In the end we managed to drive over a little bridge, and up a track full of pot-holes, with the horses shouting, "Steady on!" from the back. We stopped a jogger and asked him if we were anywhere near Brooksby College. "Oh no," he said, "That's miles away," but thankfully gave us quite good directions, and we set off again, full of hope, but slightly mystified by the Satnav's blatant treachery.
After a while, we'd followed all the jogger's directions, and the college was still nowhere in sight. We asked another passer-by who said it was another three miles and we couldn't miss it. Fortunately he was as good as his word, and soon we were chugging up the long, winding drive to the college buildings.
We were pretty relieved to find we were in plenty of time, so we went in to register and decided to walk the course. We'd learned a great deal from our previous attempt at this intriguing sport (intriguing because it looks a doddle and plainly isn't). I'd had the idea of bringing a pen and writing each obstacle with its corresponding number on my hand, as once you set off you've got to know where you're going, as you have five and a half minutes to complete all ten obstacles, and in Doncaster I ran out of time. This turned out to be a master stroke, as we will see.
We went and tacked the horses up and brought them into a little warm-up arena. Max was amazingly calm. The holes in the walls didn't bother him, he wasn't desperate to be with Barnaby, and worked in very well, really listening to me and responding well.
Mr O was number 29 and I was 30, so obviously he was called in before me. I waited quite a while, and then took Max out to see how Mr O was getting on in the main arena.
Barnaby was being very well behaved, and did most of the obstacles. Mr O went a bit fast under the low branches, but you get more points if you do it in canter. Afterwards he said instead of keeping his head down, he looked up to see if he'd missed the branches, and then knocked them all off!
So this is the course we had to do:
- Control of paces: canter round the outside of the arena, as slowly as possible, without going back to trot and without stopping until you reach the cones at the end.
- Four strides later there was a small jump.
- Ride on round to the low branches, and ride underneath them (which involves laying down on your horse as the branches are very low). More points if you trot, most points if you canter.
- Ride between two poles (with pigs at the front to scare your horse).
- Dismount and lead your horse through an S bend of wooden poles on the floor (I've only ever ridden this before).
- Dismount, run stirrups up and walk horse into circle. Horse must halt in the circle.
- Lead your horse over to the mounting block in the corner. Time starts when you walk inside the white painted circle. You must walk in, put stirrups down and mount from the offside in under 15 seconds.
- Ride up to, and along the wooden bridge.
- Ride through the weaving poles. Cantering gets most points, then trotting, then walking. Nobody told us this last time, so we walked.
- Walk between two poles. Halt level with the cones, and rein back, without touching, knocking or stepping outside them.
- Go forwards between the poles, turn and jump the blue water tray and the brush fence.
- Finish by doing the fastest walk you can manage, without trotting, round the edge of the arena in the same place you did the canter test.
(Mr O showing us how to do the jump properly.)
Anyway, I got back on and this is where I was glad I'd written the course down, so I could gather myself and ride round to the next obstacle, as I was quite disoriented, as you can imagine.
I rode round to the 'low branches' (really some canes on very high jump wings). I laid down on Max and tried with all my might to get him to go underneath, but he was having none of it. He nearly went in sideways, but soon backed out again. I passed on that obstacle in the end (which gives me zero points, you can't be eliminated in TREC) and went on to the straight poles on the floor. Max had a good look at the pigs, but I'd had enough by then, and kicked him on. He realised I meant business and set off in a good trot. Nobody told us last time that you could trot or canter along this, so I got minimum points. This time we trotted and Max was fine.
I hopped off quick, ran Max's stirrups up and took his reins over his head. I lead him into the S bend poles, and he followed me quite happily. He did it perfectly, so that clocked up a few points.
Next was the stand still in the circle. Max stood still for quite a while before very slowly making his way towards me, but he was much better than last time.
I led him over to the mounting block, put his stirrups down and tried to mount, but he kept swinging away from the block. He kept looking at me as if to say, "What are you doing?" as I never normally get on from the off-side. Barnaby had done it perfectly, but afterwards I was surprised at how many horses didn't like it. It's not Max's fault at all that I can't get on from the off-side (duffer!) but he could have stood still for me.
Then came the bridge. There wasn't anything spooky in front of it like last time. Instead, there was a set of teddies on a blanket on the left hand side. Max looked as if to say, "Do you want me to...er... rub them out?" There were children present. I couldn't let it get ugly. Max wouldn't go near the bridge and I moved on, but at least no soft toys were maimed in the process.
(Barnaby doing the bridge, without hesitation. Can you see the innocent bystanders?)
Next came the weaving poles, which I decided to do in trot, and Max was perfect. We only walked last time, so I was very pleased. Then it was the rein back. Max started off okay, but then his back end swung out until he'd gone right outside the poles. Oh well. Number 10 was the water jump and the brush fence, and I decided to pass, as I didn't trust Max after the fiasco at the first fence. He is so reliable at jumping normally, I'm quite phased by this.
All in all, though, Max was much better behaved than last time and I enjoyed it a lot more. It wasn't as formal as the one in Doncaster, and I do like the photos. TREC is unlike any other horse sport. We decided it was too far to travel just to do some obstacles, but we will do some more outdoor TREC in the summer, which will involve the orienteering phase as well.
It was a beautifully sunny day, so when we got back we turned the horses out so they could run round and roll and have a drink. Zak came dashing up to report in. "I've been in charge while you've been away Sir Barnaby, and it's been absolute chaos!" I'm glad I wasn't the only one who'd had a challenging day.