Behind every great rider, there’s a great groom, whether that’s a paid member of a professional team or a parent/other half doing it for love.
So, congratulations to supergroom Georgia Pitcher. Georgia, who works for Feedmark-sponsored rider Will Furlong, has just won the Shapley’s best turned out award at Blenheim Horse Trials for ensuring Cooley Zest looked a perfect picture.
Photo credit: Adam Fanthorpe and SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials
Don’t dismiss awards like this as superficial, because there’s a lot more to them than perfect plaiting. Cooley Zest had a great hair day, but his glossy coat owes more to correct nutrition and management than to spray-on shine. Best turned out awards recognise skills behind the scenes, all of which require teamwork, as well as window dressing.
Non-horsey people think we must all be mad to take such care turning out horses for a matter of minutes – or, in the case of a horse trials trot-up, seconds – in the public eye. A friend’s husband once worked out a complicated equation which equated the time spent plaiting a mane to the time spent performing a dressage test.
According to him, it was a waste of time: he reasoned that if a judge could be persuaded by the symmetry or otherwise of plaits that a horse wasn’t bending correctly, he or she shouldn’t be judging. What he didn’t recognise is that turning out a horse to the highest standard you can achieve helps sharpen your focus, shows your pride in your partnership and is a compliment to the person who gives time and skill to assess your performance, usually without payment.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional who can achieve perfection in minutes, or a first-time pony owner struggling to secure golf ball plaits with rubber bands. You’re saying “This is my partner, and we’re going to do our best.”
That’s why children should be encouraged to help as much as they can, as soon as they can. Someone brave enough to judge at local shows tells me that one of the first rules of judging any junior “best turned out” class at a local show is to ask young riders how much of the preparation they have done.
If they have a pony turned out to professional standard but say “My Mum does it all” she is less likely to give them a red rosette than if they have a row of uneven plaits but are obviously being truthful when they say they have done it themselves. If they’ve been primed to say they’ve done it all themselves but don’t seem too sure about it, that too is noted when the rosettes are handed out.
You might disagree; in most cases, schedule wording means that the final picture is being judged, without taking into account who produced it. However, my vote goes to the judge who rewards children’s efforts, because practice makes perfect. It must be a bit embarrassing if you get to the age of 25 and still have to ask your Mum to plait up for you.
Putting in the effort gives you a psychological boost, too. It’s all part of gearing up for a performance and bolstering your confidence. If you can ride down that centre line or enter a competition arena feeling reasonably confident, your body language will transmit that to your horse.
And guess what? If you both feel reasonably secure, you’ll probably turn in a better performance. From the brain down the reins, as a friend who is a professional rider puts it.
When you’ve put in the effort to ensure your horse is well turned out, you know you’ve done your best. That, whether you’re preparing for your first walk and trot dressage test or a national championship, is all anyone could ask for.