You know when you have a brilliant idea and think it’s infallible, but then it is just a huge letdown on every level? That about sums up the Royal Adelaide Show for me this year. 

Entries close for the Adelaide Royal, way back in May, so it is months between putting entries in and going, so it’s very easy to think ‘oh I have plenty of time to get organised’. In short, I was not at all organised or prepared and I have learned my lesson big time. 

My intention in entering was mainly as a marketing opportunity. I mean, how many people go to the show, and want to see and pat the Clydesdales? I know I always did!! My idea was to enter classes spread throughout the week, but between classes stand at the stables with a ‘carriage of Occasion’ sign up, allow people to pat them, and hand out brochures. We also had scheduled a nursing home visit, to Wayville eldercare for Monday afternoon. It was all looking like a great idea. 

I had my sign, made up brochures, and set up a promo code, and all looked sweet. 

My harness and carts are lovely, but they are commercial vehicles, not suited to the show ring. Some very generous friends offered all of the gear I needed to compete, I decided (back in May) that Henry would do the singles classes, Angus would come down for the pairs classes, and it would be all smiles, marketing and ribbons, not to mention bookings and exposure. 

The Royal show arrived much quicker than expected, as time does, and Henry and I arrived the day before our first class. He was reasonably settled and seemed content in his stable, so we set up our bed in Angus’s stable and started thinking about the week ahead. I bathed him, then realised I brought the wrong rugs that didn’t fit him, but that was to be the least of our worries. 

We then found out that we were expected to participate in the grand parade. It was here that I realised how big my oversight was. Henry is a very easy content horse, when in his comfort zone. At this point, it dawned on me, how far out of his comfort zone we were. I was expecting henry to work in a different style of harness, with an unfamiliar cart, in a completely new environment, without Angus next to him. 

It was never going to work. 

We obtained an exemption from the grand parade, but then I realised I could ride him in it, which would ultimately allow him to see the main arena, in a much more reassuring situation.

I tacked him up, then mounted, and we waited for what seemed like an eternity. He started flicking his head and doing funny things, but I figured it was just the atmosphere. 

Grand Parade was fun. A led steer got loose and started heading straight for us. This unnerved Henry slightly, so we stood and looked at it for a bit, but then he found the braves to carry on. We did a couple of laps of the arena at a trot, but I noticed he was holding his head to the right a bit, and I can’t say that I had noticed this previously. Again I assumed it was just the atmosphere.

We settled for the night, with lots of reassurance through the fireworks, then again at 2:30 am when a street sweeper sounded like it was coming through our stable. 

Work time for harness horses in the arena is 7-8 am. We were up bright and early to feed, bearing in mind our class was at 9:20, so we had lots of cleaning and plaiting to do to get ready. 

We harnessed him up and headed to the main arena. He was ok, but the tension was increasing. He was very unsure of the ponies in viceroys trotting past, the tractors moving judges’ boxes, just everything really. He was getting more and more upset and started chewing more and more on the bit. 

He then saw another clydie trot past in a cart, and he gave me the sign that he was not going to cope. At that point, I pulled the pin. Initially, I just pulled out of the class on Monday, intending to see if he would settle as the week went on. Unfortunately, when I untacked him, I noticed that he had chewed through his bit. I drive him in a rubber Mullen mouth snaffle. It has a metal core, so it couldn’t fail completely, but the rubber being broken left sharp pointy bits that would be poking him in the mouth. 

His bit was a special order with a 6-week wait, so replacing it wasn’t an option. I couldn’t find any bit latex (a material that can be used to wrap the bit to fix it). I contemplated driving him in his riding bit. 

In the meantime, I had my nursing home commitment to fulfil, so I put the saddle on him, chucked the small kid on his back, and led him across Wayville to the nursing home. He wasn’t as engaging with the residents as usual, but he was still calm and polite. 

I could feel Henry’s tension climbing as we returned to the Showgrounds. When back in his stall, he did 3 wees in half an hour. While he was still eating and drinking, I was worried about him stress colicking. I decided to go home, so I called my husband and asked him to bring the float.

I have gone through different scenarios in my head over and over. Perhaps I should have stayed, taken Angus down too, and Henry would have settled. Then I could have competed in most of my classes and done the intended marketing, I could have driven him in his synthetic, but familiar harness, but what I keep coming back to, is I didn’t have his familiar bit. 

Hindsight is a funny thing. 

This week I had the dentist out. It turns out, that during the week of the Royal show, Henry was teething. He had a Right-hand side top Canine tooth erupting  (something that happens around 8yo). Even if I did have the dentist out before the Royal, the same thing would have happened, as teeth erupt in their own time. This explains to me why he was doing unusual things with his head, regardless of the bit, and also reassures me that I made the right decision to come home. 

An expensive lesson, but I am pleased I can listen to my horse, regardless of my disappointment. 

2 Responses

  1. I think you coped extremely well with a circumstance (teething) that, as you said, could have occurred at any time. I think you read all Henry’s signals perfectly, and did all the right things. The only thing I would have done differently would be to take his mate with him. If you could take them together to a couple of smaller shows early next season I’m sure you will all have a much more fun time next year at the Royal. I used to show pony weanlings and foals so I know how stressful any show can be!

    1. You are totally right! I think it would have been a game changer if Angus was there with him. He would definitely have been happier in the stables. Unfortunately that was a financial decision, as at $30/day, I figured I could save some money by using Angus’s stable as storage for most of the time.

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