When the rain is driving down and it’s dark at 4pm, you may wonder why you’re still competing in the depths of winter. But these stoic characters offer a glimmer of hope, says Catherine Austen
The stoic characters we would struggle without at winter shows
THE BURGER VAN MULTI-TASKER
JEAN runs Freezing Farm EC’s burger van on autopilot. She can flip a fried egg, make a flat white and cut a piece of carrot cake simultaneously while calculating your change. This does mean that she always gives you onions, despite you shouting NO ONIONS in answer to her question every time. But the traditional onion scrape-off is a Freezing Farm tradition and well worth it. Jean’s portions of cheesy chips are massive, she’ll do the egg in your breakfast bap as runny or hard as you like, the sausages actually contain meat and the brownies are amazing. She’s the only person at Freezing Farm wearing a T-shirt in January; it’s pretty hot in that van.
THE SHOWJUMPING WARM-UP QUEEN
IN the seventh circle of hell, otherwise known as an indoor showjumping warm-up, Lisa is queen. She has been a showjumping groom for 15 years, and no one is faster with a flat cup. She can put a fence up or down in a fraction of a second; anyone fumbling in a panicky way and dropping the cup earns a cold, condescending stare. No one dares cut in front of her rider into the practice fence; she’ll probably deck their groom. She’s got four horses here — the three her rider isn’t currently sitting on are standing patiently in the corner being held by Lisa’s five-year-old daughter. They won’t put a foot out of line — Lisa has eyes in the back of her head and doesn’t brook bad behaviour.
THE SUPPORTIVE HUSBAND
NEIL is a nice man. He has absolutely no interest in horses, but is kind enough to believe that husbands and wives should support each other in their hobbies. Hence he spends most weekends at Freezing Farm EC in the winter, waiting five hours for his wife Jenny to jump in the British Novice. He reads The Telegraph from cover to cover, refolding it and putting it down to hold Jenny’s horse while she walks the course, and patiently reverses all her friends’ trailers for them. He listens to Jenny reliving every yard of her two rounds several times on the way home, then unpacks her kit and cleans her tack while Jenny fusses over Tiger, telling him what a good boy he was only to have three down. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be time these days for Neil’s own hobby, cycling — the road bike is buried somewhere in the garage beneath a pile of numnahs.
THE COLLECTING RING SAINT
MARION should, actually, get a damehood in the New Year’s Honours List. She manages to act as Freezing Farm EC’s collecting ring steward without ever receiving death threats or indeed murdering anyone herself. She somehow accommodates the local dealer, who has 10 on the lorry, all jumping newcomers, with one set of tack between them, yet makes sure poor nervous Jenny Flutter doesn’t continually miss her turn, shoved out and cut up by pushier riders. Forty Marlboro Gold a day really isn’t that much, considering — local “big-time” riders often bring her back dutyfree, which isn’t really a bribe, more of a token of appreciation.
‘No one dares cut in front of her rider into the practice fence; she’ll probably deck their groom’
THE SOFT TOUCH
THE thing about Daisy is that she’s a soft touch — and everyone knows it. She’s never late to the yard to do her horse; she’d hate the thought of him having to wait while other horses are being fed, or not having exactly the right rugs on for each change of temperature. So everyone else at her livery yard is always texting her, saying, “Stuck at work — could you just… feed Molly/get Foxy in/hold Jerry for the vet?” Daisy sighs and always texts back, “Of course”. Out she trudges into the dark, rainy night to catch Foxy. It flashes across her mind that Foxy’s owner might be settling down in front of the telly, knowing perfectly well that Daisy will never say no because she’d hate the thought that Foxy might have to spend the night out, but feels guilty and dismisses it.
The vet is an hour late, so Daisy thinks that she may as well sweep the whole yard, empty the bins and get tomorrow morning’s feeds ready while she waits.
THE FROZEN MOTHER
WHY, wonders Alice, did she let India become so keen on dressage? If only she had been quicker to get rid of that horrid little 12.2hh that kept stopping and dumping her. Then India would have gone hunting with the Old Blankshire with all her Pony Club mates every Saturday, and Alice could have driven round in a cosy car with her fellow non-riding mums, eating fruitcake and having the odd swig of port. But no. She’s at Freezing Farm EC yet again, watching India warm up her pony for the 60-starter prelim 18. It’s then a three-hour wait for the novice 21. Through bitter, numbing experience, Alice has gradually accumulated a polar wardrobe of which Ranulph Fiennes would be proud — only the tip of her nose is exposed. But if India does show any signs of talent with this new, eye-wateringly expensive German dressage pony, Alice is making damn sure they get to go on the Sunshine Tour, the only-slightly-cloudy Tour and any wretched Tour that isn’t in England in January.
Onions? Yes, no, maybe? No matter — your order may be unpredictable, but the burger van multi-tasker is a show stalwart, providing warmth and a ‘healthy’ dose of chips as needed
mustn’t grumble — the supportive husband is happy to provide back-up and peruse the paper while his other half pursues her competitive dreams