Yesterday we went to Solihull Riding Club for an unaffiliated dressage competition.

I’d done my homework, learnt and practiced my tests, scrubbed Abbey to within a inch of her life and set off a little early. With less than a mile and a half to go, the horsebox starts making a funny noise and then the ‘stop’ and oil lights come on the dashboard.

Those regular readers will know that Abbey is a bit of a nervous traveler. She finds the process stressful and often trembles and sweats. I try to make her experiences in the box as relaxed as possible, I drive extremely carefully, pick routes that are as straight as possible and try to keep to a routine.

I pulled over to discover oil spewing out all over the floor. I tried not to panic (and failed!). Thankfully I had some oil in the van, so I lift the bonnet, pour half in, close the lid and jump back in. I was thinking that at least if we can get to the club then Abbey is in a safe place where she can get off the van.

So we set off again, breathing deeply trying to stay calm, not rush but get to the club as quickly as possible without straining the engine any more than I have to. We get to the club’s drive and all the dashboard lights come on. I get out, lift the bonnet, put the last of the oil in and quickly get going again. We just about make it to the lorry park before the lights come on again.

I’m insured and have breakdown cover with NFU Mutual. They were brilliant when my previous horse, Harley, was poorly so I’d high hopes for some great customer service. They didn’t disappoint.

Rang the office to get my policy number and breakdown telephone number – no messing, a couple of questions to verify who I was and then I got the info I needed. Dialed the breakdown number and got through to a very helpful member of staff who explained what would happen next: they would check my insurance would cover it, get the RAC out to see whether they could fix it if not, they’d arrange for a lorry to come and pick up the van and a horse transporter to come and collect Abbey.

There were a few pleasant surprises:

  1. he was concerned that the horse was ok and that we were in a safe place
  2. he understood that we were at a competition and was keen to get help to us when we likely to be back at the horsebox

So after the call back to say I was covered and the RAC would be with us within a hour (shortly after my tests), I tacked Abbey up and attempted to get my head into ‘competition’ mode’.

Throughout all of this Abbey had been cool as a cucumber. She came off the van with barely a mark of sweat and stood contently munching on her haynet. She was calm and sensible to warm up too.

We get called to the arena and start to go round the outside. Something catches her eye at the top end of the school and I struggle to get her focus back. Thankfully she’s just stubbornly looking, she’s not wound up and I’m keen not to get too strong and make her cross. I’ve done that before and it doesn’t bode well for the test.

So we start the test with a frankly rubbish turn and a wobbly centre line. Not sure why or how but she goes really flat, she’s half-heartily responding to my leg and we’ve lost all impulsion. And that’s really the tone of both tests…perhaps I should have given her a flick with the whip, I definitely should have shortened my reins more and been more demanding of her attention.

I used to be a very accurate test rider, but as I’ve been concentrating on Abbey’s way of going I’ve let that slip and it showed. Many of my circles were lop-sides, too small, too big, my turn down the centre line on the second test was particularly poor.

Overall I though the judge was fair with her comments and her marks, but I’ll admit I was disappointed!

Back to the van and the RAC arrives. He spends 45 minutes trying to heal poor Violet but eventually concludes that it’s too serious and she needs to go to a garage. By this point the staff at Solihull Riding Club are aware of our plight and kindly offer us the use of one of their stables.

RAC calls in and reports that we’re going to need a lorry to come and pick up Violet the Van. I contact the NFU and tell them what’s happening. They crack on with arranging for transport for Abbey. Within 30 minutes I’ve been called by the Redhill Rescue for Violet and Micky Harris Horse Transport for Abbey. Both are on their way and will be with us in about an hour.

As we are not sure who is going to arrive first I move Abbey to the stables. She’s obviously a bit nervous and confused about what is happening…this isn’t part of the normal routine! But other than getting a bit of cadence in her walk and growing at least 2 hands, she doesn’t put a foot wrong.

In the end, Abbey’s lift arrived first. She loads first time, my friend jumps in the cab and they are on their way home. Interestingly, Abbey travels extremely well. Better than she does in my box….perhaps she likes forward facing more (a thought for another day!).

I stay and wait with Violet. The lorry has got delayed so it’s another hour before we’re collected.

We’re all back at the yard by 6.30pm. At which point I remember I’ve my friends horse to hack out. She’s on holiday and he is recovering from a check ligament injury so it’s imperative that he has his walk.

Must admit I was a bit grumpy about not being able to go home, get some dinner and collapse on the sofa with a glass of wine. But as so often happens, it was lovely. He’s a hansome, affectionate chap and his winnie as he saw me turn the corner for his stable melted my heart.

Our womble gave me time to think and relax, it was just lovely.

Must say a massive thank you to my friend who didn’t huff and puff but remained calm and cheerful despite me ruining her plans for the day, as well as the NFU Mutual and Solihull Riding Club who took so much of the stress away. They organised our rescue and by keeping in close contact, reassured us that we had help on the way. Their contractors were great too from the RAC, to Redhill Rescue and Micky Harris Horse Transport….thank you all!