Let’s hear it for helpers

Schooling your horse is only the start, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. Unless you have an endless supply of horsey helpers, you must also train your nearest and dearest.

That way, you get the help you need, avoid arguments about the time and/or money you devote to your horse and keep everyone happy. It takes skill and stealth – but it’s worth it.

With apologies for blatant sexism, men are usually more responsive. The secret is to find something they know more about – or think they know more about – and make them feel indispensable.

It doesn’t matter if you can reverse a trailer full of hay into the tightest space and keep your cool, knock up a set of jumps to professional standard and fertilise a field like a pro. If these are jobs that take you away from your horse, persuading that special someone to do them gives you time for the important things in life, like riding.

At every show, you see fathers, partners and spouses supporting wives/partners and daughters. Some get to the stage where they enjoy being part of the action and become as competitive as the riders; others are just filling in the time until the return journey.

Showjumping has most to offer, especially if you’re as inventive as one of the Feedmark team. She persuaded her father to time her jump-off rounds, just to check that the show’s equipment was accurate.

Keeping dressage dads happy isn’t so easy. If they don’t ride, then as far as they’re concerned, you’re going around in ever-decreasing circles. Even if that’s true, never admit it.

Instead, give them a checklist. Get them to check that bridle straps are in their keepers, your number is in place and you’ve removed your horse’s tail bandage.

Hint: Every now and then, allow an extra ten minutes for your warm-up and leave the tail bandage on/’forget’ to affix your bridle number. It helps to keep them keen.

If you’re a showing competitor, hard luck. If you’re showing the family lead rein M & M pony, double hard luck. Only true aficionados enjoy watching showing…and even they can run out of steam when there are 30-plus M & M lead reins in a class, as happens at some county shows.

Hint: Give them a few phrases that they can deliver at the ringside, thus impressing other spectators. “Nice horse, but perhaps slightly back at the knee” is a good one. It doesn’t work, of course, if your man happens to be standing next to the said horse’s connections – if he’s that unlucky, the get-out-of-jail answer is to blame the unlevel ring.

Seriously, do try and get your nearest and dearest hooked on horses. It’s a blessing to have someone who will bring in your horse when you’re working late, calm your nerves before a competition and (I put my hand up for this one) tell you to keep breathing while you ride a dressage test so you never again halt at G and nearly pass out.

They deserve medals, because we couldn’t manage without them. If you’ve got someone who deserves to stand on the virtual winners’ podium, do tell us. All secrets will be gratefully shared.