Friday, 8 August 2008

Horses ...

Horses are uncomfortable in the middle and dangerous at both ends.

Ian Fleming



Horses! I really didn't want them to be the subject of a topic, but I realise that you, my loyal reader, needs a break from the day to day concerns that mean a great deal to Maria and I, but which has very little direct impact on your life.

Before I go any further please allow me a self-indulgent declaration; I DISLIKE THE HORSE!

There, I've said it.

Large, evil-eyed, skittish, smelly and dangerous, what is there to like about an animal that doesn't fall into the 'cuddly' category? But I am also ready to concede that others find the horse the total opposite to my feeble attempt at describing my phobia. If you are one of those, please feel free to take me to task in the comments section. I'll read, but I cannot promise I will change my mind.

My dislike goes all the way back to the incident with the dhobi's hindi:

A washerman.
donkey, at the tender age of 13 or 14, and resurrected itself in an incident at the Badminton Horse Trials The Badminton Horse Trials is a three-day event, one of only five elite international four star, CCI****, events as classified by the FEI.

"Badminton" takes place in May each year in the park of Badminton House the seat of the Dukes of Beaufort in Gloucestershire, England. The event started in 1949.

The cross country day at Badminton attracts crowds of up to a quarter of a million, which are the largest for any paid-entry sport event in the United Kingdom.

The following pic is of Princess Anne taking a bath at 'Badminton' in 1982. This was the world-famous "Naff off!" moment.

a few years ago.

The dhobi was a freelance, not tied to any one household because he lived in a shack somewhere on the outskirts of the railway colony, close to the Arpa river where he washed the clothes of his customers. No overheads other than a slab of carbolic soap, and he could batter the clothes to a pulp, unobserved, on the shiny rocks that seemed to exist just for that purpose. His donkey was obviously his close friend and confidant, and his helper or beast-of-burden, depending on how you viewed the relationship. Several times a week the dhobi and the donkey trudged 'uptown' and then trudged 'down', fully laden with clean, pressed and folded clothes on the delivery run and soiled linen on the way back. We boys, always looking for a diversion or some form of entertainment, would sneak up on the donkey and give his tail a mighty tweak until he hee-hawed loudly in lusty protest, causing the dhobi to go into convulsions of rage! Great fun for mindless teenagers who would have merited well-deserved ASBOAnti-Social Behaviour Orders

A civil order made against a person who has been shown to have engaged in anti-social behaviour.

In the United Kingdom, an ASBO may be ordered in response to "conduct which caused or was likely to cause alarm, harassment, distress, or harm to one or more persons not of the same household as him or herself and where an ASBO is seen as necessary to protect relevant persons from further anti-social acts by the Defendant".

In the UK, there has been criticism that an ASBO is sometimes viewed as a 'badge of honour' by some younger people.

's in todays PC climate.

Then one day the donkey wandered through the colony, without his mentor, unconcernedly nibbling at anything that grew at the roadside, and some that grew in peoples' gardens. Of course this was an opportunity too good to miss. An unencumbered donkey was obligingly inviting us to get aboard and ride him! And so we approached him mob-handedadjective:

(UK) - as a member of a group, especially one with violent or threatening intent
. But to this day I swear that the donkey was seeking US out, rather than the other way round. Without his usual load he was much more agile than we remembered, and was capable of covering the ground much faster than we thought possible. Six of us soon ended up with cuts and bruises and other lumpy bits, and I was unfortunate enough to assault his rear hooves with a delicate part of my underdeveloped anatomy. Let's just say that that was the day my voice broke, going up several octaves. And raging tootache was preferable to the pain I experienced. For a while I was also tagged by my peers with the undeserved nickname of 'Big Boy'.

We never teased that donkey again!

The Badminton incident was less painful, was not the fault of the horse, more the failing of an arrogant man. Not me, a 'royal'!

I have visited Badminton many times, and that's one hell of an admission from somebody who declares that he dislikes the horse! But, as a sporting venue and a spectacle, it cannot be beaten. Where else can you walk every inch of the 'Cross Country' course, stopping at every HUGE hurdle to gaze in awe, and to wonder how horse and rider manage to get cleanly over them? Some don't! To add to the excitement, the spectators are allowed to walk the course at the same time as the competitors gallop round battling to stay upright and finish within the alloted time. Keeping the competitors and the masses apart are some quaintly dressed geezers on horseback who blow a whistle to warn you of the impending approach of a rider, or his or her departure from the obstacle. This is an audbible indicator for you to get yourself clear of the jump and position yourself behind the slim strands of rope that mark the course, or it lets you know that you can safely continue with your wandering. No steel-framed barriers and wire-mesh fences at this venue - no sir!

Which is why I had the unfortunate experience of coming into contact with HRH, The Prince of Wales. Or more correctly, with his horse! Charlie (as he is known to his close friends) was 'walking' the course, but in his usual arrogant fashion he was doing it on the back of a large gray gelding. How do I know it was a gelding? Ermmm, I asked! Even at ground-zero I was not close enough to see any scar tissue, or to observe crushed nuts.

Whilst traversing the Luckington Lane crossing, the 'take cover' whistle went, announcing the imminent arrival of a rider. Head down, concentrating on where I was placing my feet, admiring my brand-new Hunters 'Hunters' are a brand name and although they come in different colours, green is synonymous with the brand. The boot itself may be known as a Wellington boot, a wellie, a topboot, a gumboot, or a rubber boot.

It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and was fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

I've never looked quite as elegant as Kate Moss, even though she appears here covered with mud from the quagmire of the Glastonbury Music Festival.

A pair of Hunters
and the elegant Kate Moss

that I'd just bought from one of the trade stands, I walked squarely into Charlie's gelding because the supercilious sod had decided he would cross to the other side, regardless of the whistle, against the flow of the crowd. After bouncing off the gelding's lower chest I landed in a heap and the horse reared up unseating his 'royalness' who, I have to grudgingly admit, managed a sliding dismount with a certain amount of grace and elegance. Years of horsing around with Camilla, I guess!

"Silly little man," I heard him mutter, plummily, whilst some of his entourage of 'hangers-ons' (there were many) dusted him down and others ran caring hands over the horse. Not a single look in my direction. I had suddenly become invisible!

Except to the Cockney (my head was clear enough to wonder what the hell an East Ender was doing at Badminton!) who helped me get to my feet, enquiring if I was "Orlrite, mate?" I nodded that I was, surveying the rip on the right toe of my new Hunter, caused by the left front shoe of the horse when it came down to earth.

"What a dick-head," said my new found Cockney friend.

"Who, me?" I enquired diffidently.

"Nah, Big Ears over there," he said, pointing towards HRH with his chin.

Another whistle, another surge of humanity, and we were pushed backward by the crowd. Charlie mysteriously disappeared. He had managed to escape unscathed from his 'beastly brush with the odious unwashed masses', and I had no doubt that his telling of the tale at dinner at Badminton House that night would be significantly different to mine in the detail.

So, why have I been regaling you with these stories? There are a couple, or three, reasons.

  • First, this post started out to be about something else 'horsey', but got hijacked by a couple of memories. The original post idea will follow at a later date.

  • Secondly, Shrinky shows how, on her Blog, you can make a tale riveting by sprinkling around a few well-chosen expletives when the reader is least expecting it. I don't know if I succeeded, Shrinky, but I tried!

  • Third, and by no means least, was the post by Debs Lehner of her technicoloured derrière that brought back memories of my dislike for the horse! And NO, Debs, I am not implying that you resemble a horses ass! Darrafact, Scouser!!

The following vid is something I cobbled together for your pleasure. It is designed to give you a 'feel' for the atmosphere of the course. It starts with a graphic visualisation of the jump at 'Huntsman's Close', cuts to the interviewer and course builder discussing the 'how' and the 'why', then segues to a real competitor actually taking the jump.

I worked hard at this one, so turn on your sound and listen for the applause from the crowds, the sound of the horse galloping, dogs barking, AND the whistle! Listen for the whistle (double tweet) when the rider clears the jump area. I've also inserted a little audio surprise at the end. Enjoy!



'Till next time ...

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