In March 1985 and just sixteen (and two weeks) my show jumping career had put paid to any academic future. My father gave me an ultimatum, I either stuck in at school and sat my exams or I got a job. Step forward John W my trainer of the last 12 months. A position of working pupil had become available at his yard and this opportunity was too good to turn down. I never liked school anyway!
My father agreed, reluctantly, and I was about to leave home for the first time. Back then it never occured to me how hard the next few years would be. I was a confident, head strong teenager who thought she knew everything… well dont we all at that age?! I had been competing at Senior level BSJA (BS) for over a year and all I wanted to do was ride horses and win! Who ever said its about taking part that counts? No, its about the winning! My sixteen year old self was very competitive and I guess deep down Im still that same sixteen year old girl.
So off we went to my new job and new home me and Tec about to start the greatest adventure. His new home was a competition and producers yard mine was a 20 year old caravan you couldnt swing a cat in. It did have a light in it and a small dodgey gas heater, in fact my first abode for one month was our old wooden lorry. Thank goodness it was nearly summer!
The big bad world didnt seem that bad to me! I worked six and a half days a week, lived in a derilict caravan all for 20 quid a week which was spent on fags and mars bars! We had 14 horses on the yard of varying ages and levels. As I was the youngest and smallest I was put on all the nutters that came over from Ireland, a baptisim of fire Id say! I also rode the grade A’s which was amazing.
We competed every weekend either at home or in England it was a busy life. Tec was progressing well and now regularly jumping Grade C’s. During one busy weekend where we had two shows running over the Friday Saturday and Sunday I was given the biggest test. We had jumped the Friday at Rowallan taking two lorries with 7 horses we got home around 7 pm after all horses had been sorted brushed and fed etc John said get Taxman out you’re jumping him tomorrow at Muirmill in the Young Riders Qualifier for HOYS. What???!!!!! It was now after 9pm and after competing all day and grooming for John and his partner I was knackered but tacked up Grade A, Taxman and got in the school.
I might point out at this juncture I had never ridden this horse before and was about to jump him in HOYS qualifier! I warmed him up, he was light and balanced with such a powerful canter. After I popped him over a couple of fences (3.3ft 3.6ft 3.9ft) Then John whacked them up, I was horrified. Id never jumped this horse before and here I was coming down to a double of monster fences! I couldnt show my nerves, John didnt go in for emotions and stuff. Taxman ballooned it, nearly jumping me out the saddle. Right, John said, your jumping him tomorrow put him away and get to bed.
I did jump the next day at the Home International, Muirmill, we came third and didnt qualify but I knew John was really pleased and that was enough for me. Id proven to him I could do it!
We had a successful year, John sold on many good horses, my Dad bought me another novice and I met my first love (of the two legged variety) I grew up pretty fast, aquired a Jack Russell when the other groom left asking me to look after him for two days… she never came back, got regular bollockings for being thrown off nutjobs, survived on mash potato and gravy everynight (Johns partner couldnt cook) oh, and shhhh… the odd vodka and lemonade 😉
I cant say I loved every minute of it as at times it was real hard nitty gritty tough going for my 16 year old head. But I wouldnt change a thing. I had such respect( and fear of the bollockings) for John that all I wanted to do was succeed. There were no airs and graces back then, it was more workman like than what I see at shows today. No fancy lorries, no designer gear and no bling (thank god) We just got on with it……………. It was the making of us.