The Christmas Show

Between my cold and the left over fear from the jumping the day before, I did not sleep much the night before the show, which was unfortunate.

So I dragged myself out of bed, collated everything I needed for the day and headed to the yard to start grooming and plaiting. Thankfully he was relatively clean. On Thursday he was clipped, this time taking off the hair everywhere except his legs and face (i.e. cheeks and bottom jaw clipped, upper jaw, eyes, ears etc. still woolly). This did make for much easier grooming. Plaiting has got quicker and easier with practice and familiarity with my horse, and did not take nearly as much time and effort as I feared. I was quite aware that my fancy dress costume was not 100% finished and once he was groomed I got onto this. With hindsight I should have tacked up and used that time in warmup, but time managed to escape me and I hadn’t realised how short of time I was. I wanted a 20 minute warmup. I got about 5 minutes if that. We entered the dressage arena feeling rather underprepared. All of our recent workouts have been on the fast and furious side, topped off with the jumping the day before. There was no way I could convert that to a submissive dressage test with only a 5 min warmup.

Overall I felt the test went about as well as normal. That was disappointing as I know I’ve come on so far as a rider and he’s come on as well since we last did this test in August, but considering the preparation and my cold it was understandable. I thought the circles and the turns onto the centre line were better than previously and at one point I actually enjoyed myself, but the serpentine was inaccurate. Submission was lacking, but I hoped we made up for it in impulsion. He did not like the judge’s table at C, but was manageable about it. I wanted the improvements we’ve made to show in our test and in our mark, but they didn’t. For the first time I did the test with no fear that we’d fail to make a transition or do a recognisable movement, and yet it wasn’t really any better executed than the times I’d wondered if we’d even manage to stay in the arena.

No one seemed to know when we’d get the dressage marks, so we went back to the stable to make the transformation from wannabe dressage divas to fancy dress idiots.

I hadn’t been going to do the fancy dress until last week when I saw the following hats for sale.

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Some kind of insane genius made me think of turning my black and white horse into a Christmas Humbug. It would be in keeping with Christmas, but not the same-old reindeer/elf/Father Christmas festive fancy dress. Originality is rewarded, although I’d already decided I wasn’t going all out on this one the way I had on the dragon costume. If we came last, so be it.

My first idea was to tie white bandages around Drifter to make the white stripes, but Poundland didn’t have any old-fashioned bandages and I needed to keep the expenditure down. What they did have were rolls of wide white masking tape, that would be easily removed from fabric. As our black rug is not as black as it might be (it has red trim as well as not being that clean at present) I borrowed a rug from one of our new friends on the yard and humbugged it (with the owner’s permission).

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I had a stripy black jumper for myself and could masking tape some black trousers much as I’d done the rug, but what else?

Also in Poundland (no, they’re not our official sponsors 😉 ) I also picked up these girls’ socks.DSCN4529

I was hopeful that I’d be able to cut off the pink bits and stretch them over his hooves to wear on his legs.

But how to get him to wear his hat? I’d thought that I’d be able to split the side seams so that the white band would go across the base of his ears, with an ear coming out of each side seam, but this was too restrictive on the base of his ears. After playing with a few ideas I ended up making the band smaller and having one ear coming out of one side seam. Then, as he was still plaited up after the dressage, I sewed it both to his forelock and the first plait at the top of his neck.

I did manage to get the socks onto his legs. I would really have struggled to do this alone (I’d managed it in a test run but really you need one person to hold up the leg and the other to ease the sock over the hoof) but thankfully Mr S offered his help and did a sterling job. As a finishing touch for D I had some white “curling ribbon” (uncurled) to sew to the plait in his tail and for myself as well (as one of the Bah-Humbug hats) I had a basket containing humbugs, to assist anyone who didn’t get what we were dressed as.

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While there were only 3 entries, there were a lot of people dressed up. Entry no. 1 consisted of 2 of the teens and their horses, with reindeer antlers on the horses, elf outfits on the girls, festive saddle pads and tinsel on the tack. Entry no. 2 was a whole family dressed up, down to the dog. The horse was very dressed up, with long red and green stockings on (matching those worn by the rider and the rider’s mother, and a lot of other things I can’t remember. The rider, who was the girl who fell in yesterday’s jump lesson, was wearing a very cute commercially produced elf outfit, the mother was another elf, as was their little dog, and the father was … Father Christmas!

As their effort far outstripped ours I was very happy for them when they took first place and very pleased to be awarded the pretty blue rosette of second place. Everyone did a victory lap. I felt a little odd being the only one unmounted (it didn’t actually say being mounted was optional this time, but I assumed it was based on the summer show) but we had an in-hand trot round and then got out of the way of the cantering!

My dressage mark, when I received it, was disappointingly low at 56.5. I think this judge marked lower than those I have met before, but as detailed above, I was already of the opinion that we hadn’t made as good a showing as I would have hoped we could, so it wasn’t really a surprise to read the comments, some of which I could have predicted to the letter, others of which surprised me (I thought the circles were pretty round…). There were 3 adult walk-trot competitors, so I was already expecting to come 3rd, and in this I was correct. This is the first time I’ve come 3rd, which filled in the gap in my rosette collection nicely.

The dressage part of the day felt like a bit of a waste of energy. I’ve had so much else going on with my riding of late that I wouldn’t have bothered, save that I paid my entry fee months ago. But I am pleased with Drifter-as-Humbug. Unfortunately the pictures do not do justice to the cuteness of him. Peering over the stable door when we were waiting for fancy-dress time and seeing him eating his hay in hat, humbug rug and stripy socks was the highlight of my day.
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Drifter-as-Dragon – The show

After coming back from Wales on the Saturday, I had Sunday to finalise my dragon costume prep. The biggest outstanding issue was how to attach those spikes to his mane. My mother left us in the morning and at about 11.00 I set out to see do a quick final fitting, as I wasn’t sure I’d got his back length quite right and needed to look at the mane/spike interface.

It usually takes about 15 min. to get to the stables.

1 hour later I arrived, having got stuck in ridiculous Sunday-of-bank-holiday-weekend queues. I ended up abandoning my usual route and going miles around to approach the stables from the other side. It was only going to be a quick fitting anyway, because I needed to get home for lunch and then back to the stables in time to tack up for a riding lesson at 2.30.

During the fitting I decided to superglue the back spines on the ribbon there and then, rather than marking their position and attaching them later at home. This worked well. The spacing wasn’t 100% accurate but worked OK with the curves of his back and quarters. This was when I came up with cutting the hole and notches in the neck spikes to feed the mane in and through.

I managed to get home, get fed and get out in time for my lesson, during which we failed to canter on the right lead. My instructor got on and they managed it, but I was able to see very clearly from the ground how weak the muscle is in that quarter. It just didn’t look right. Also I was unable to keep pace with my lesson because I was still so lacking in stamina. I probably couldn’t get the canter lead because I couldn’t get the right trot before I asked for the transition. Very frustrating though after I’d managed it the previous week.

The next day came and it was showtime!

The yard was full of people bathing horses, brushing horses, borrowing things and losing things. It  was nice to have most people there on the same day – there are a lot of other liveries that I never meet because our daily routines never overlap.

I gave him a sponge spot-wash (as it was less than a week since he’d had a full bath that was clean enough, I thought, as we weren’t showing) and while he was drying I watched the first few classes of the showing and found a guide to who was in which classes and when. I discovered that there were 3 entries for the fancy dress: myself, Springy with his female owner, and someone from outside the yard. The someone outside the yard was easily identified as they were also the only entrant in lead-rein showing: a tiny 3-year-old on a devastatingly cute black pony that looked like it would have been at home in the Queen’s stables. Both pony and rider were beyond perfectly turned out for showing. Hmm. That cute factor could give us some problems.

As the morning went on I flitted between grooming and watching the showing. I had thought I might have a go at showing next time, but it looked quite intimidating. I saw some of the Best rider classes and didn’t think it looked much like fun. It turned out that no one had really been given any advice in the showing classes. At the end of the classes the judge called everyone together and told them that they’d all done most things wrong. I didn’t hear this personally, being back in my stable, but apparently everyone should have acknowledged the judge and only one person did, and most people’s individual display of their paces was far too long. There were other criticisms of the entire group that I can’t remember. It seems a bit tough that clearly no one was really told what to do. I guess they could have researched it on the internet first, but if you ride at a teaching establishment and then try a show there it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect to be given sufficient guidance in what to do. Needless to say I won’t be rushing to do that in future. Also if I knew someone was assessing my riding I think I’d lock up into an immovable lump of idiot atop my long-suffering horse.

I didn’t watch Best turned out, being too busy getting Drifter costumed up, but I heard tales … and we’re not going to be doing that ever. I think my horse is beautiful. But he is a horse, not a Barbie. I like his whiskers, and they are useful to him, so they stay on his face. It’s nice if he looks clean, but surely no one in their right minds would think it’s essential the intimate portion of his rear end is Vaselined for a nice finish?! I don’t mind putting a bit of hoof oil on, but really that’s where I draw the line at horse make-up. He’s a horse, people!

I don’t wear make-up so perhaps that’s a sign I wouldn’t really “get” showing. Natural beauty beats painted on for me ever time. If you can’t see that my horse is beautiful because I haven’t dyed the odd white hair, do I really care about your opinion? In conclusion, I suspect showing is not for me!

We did, however, have some quarter marks (for that dragon-scale effect) some hoof-oil, and a little show-shine, kindly offered and applied by one of the teens, who was very supportive. Actually I couldn’t see any benefit from the show shine – I wonder if that’s because his coat is too long, even in summer.DSCN4379

I started on dressing up his mane quite early, but it took a lot longer than I expected to do. My original plan to fix on the mane spikes had been to pull strands of hair through the notches. I realised that wasn’t going to fix them securely and eventually ended up doing it with plaits. Towards the end of each spike I made two tiny plaits from each side of the mane, which went through the notch, one from each side and were sewed together. Yes, I sewed in plaits (albeit tiny odd ones)! I was worried I’d accidentally stab him if I ever sewed in plaits, but it wasn’t difficult to avoid doing so. In between the spikes I did ordinary plaits with (held with bands as I usually do).

The tail I did by plaiting in the ordinary way but with the ribbon plaited in from the top and then the free ends wrapped around the free end of the plait to attach the card to. Everything else I just had to put on him.DSCN4381

I got changed too and we were ready. I didn’t want to go round too early in case the horses in the previous class were distracted by the appearance of a dragon, so I waited by my stable to be called. While we were there he was admired by so many members of staff, and that was lovely. Everyone seemed really impressed with his costume and I was touched. Then it was time to go out and meet our audience, judges and the competition.
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I wasn’t sure who was going to judge, but it turned out not to be the showing judge (probably just as well in terms of our attitude to showing and also I think he might be related to the 3 yr old competitor) but the photographer and his wife.

The tiny tot on the pristine black pony was dressed in a pretty dress with a bow and arrow. Her mother said she was someone from a film but I didn’t recognise the name. The pony had just a ribbon in its mane, which to me was not proper equine fancy dress. DSCN4423

Springy and his female owner came as Bo Peep and her overgrown sheep, using a fly sheet and mask covered in cotton wool for him, and an elaborate costume for her, with a cardboard bonnet and a homemade ribbon wrapped crook. Drifter wasn’t bothered but the little pony wasn’t keen on the giant cotton-wool beast at all!

I was hopeful that we had a chance of winning, because Springy was shedding cotton wool all around the school and lacked finesse, although I was concerned that the judges might think the 3 yr old should win despite the lack of costume on the pony.DSCN4385

We paraded around, keeping the pony well away from Springy, and it was time for photos and the results. Bo Peep and the sheep were called as the winners, I think mostly because the total costume of horse + human showed the most effort. I have to say I was impressed with the human costume more than the horse costume. I think with us the horse costume was much better than the human costume. The photographer did say he’d have expected George and the Dragon so perhaps that would have won it for us.

At this point I was really hoping we wouldn’t come last because I’d have been upset to be beaten by a ribbon in a mane, however attractive the pony, but we were given second place and I was relieved. I have to say I didn’t envy the judges. How on earth can you measure them against each other?! I was pleased to have my 2nd place rosette and didn’t mind missing the prize. Yes it would have been really nice to win, but the comments of the staff on the yard beforehand had meant more. Also, afterwards quite a lot of people said they thought we should have won, which again was so nice to hear that I thought that was better than winning in a way.DSCN4389

Looking at what I might have done differently, I would have liked bigger wings, but that would have been a feat of engineering I wasn’t up for, and possibly something on the legs and feet. If I had red boots on him that would have been good, or maybe I could have made something like bell boots but with angles to suggest claws. Also, if I had a plain black roller that would have been better. And ideally my princess outfit would not have made me look so plump. I have to say though, that I’m pleased with what I did, the budget I did it on and that there was very little waste. I think we’ll probably do fancy dress again in the future, although I’m not sure what we’ll go as. Any suggestions?
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Drifter-as-Dragon – the prep work

When the Summer show leaflets went out I looked down the list of classes I could compete in. The afternoon classes were all jumping, the morning classes all showing. Between the two, at lunchtime, was the fancy dress competition. I asked a few questions about showing but didn’t feel like Best rider was somewhere I could show my face and Best turned out just isn’t my cup of tea. Best cob/coloured horse/pony seemed like a possibility for the future but I wasn’t sure what was involved. The only one that worked for us was fancy dress.

The decision to make him into a dragon came about quite organically. I considered it as I sat in traffic jams and as I groomed. I wanted to do something with 4 legs, but fancy-dress-ish, so a dragon fit the bill nicely. Early on I came up with the idea of attaching wings to a roller and having spikes down his back. His red fly-ears would come in handy, so red would be the theme.

Wing

Wing

I made the wings first, because I was concerned that if he was afraid of the wings it would not be a good idea to proceed with the rest. I would have liked to make larger wings, but I was keen not to make anything too intimidating and also aware that the larger the wings, the harder it would be to make them structurally robust enough. Also I wanted to do it on the smallest possible budget, which ruled out buying stronger materials to help me make larger wings.

I began by stretching a pair of metal coat-hangers to diamond shapes. Then I made 3 long cardboard “bones” for each wing from the cardboard centre of a roll of wrapping paper, sliced longways and then folded up so they had a strong triangular cross-section, like a very narrow long toblerone box. I attached the bones to the coat-hangers with sticky tape at either side of the diamond shapes and one across the middle. At the top of each wing I attached a key ring and a clip to attach them to the roller. I had these in my craft cupboard, having seen them cheaply a few months ago and thinking they were bound to come in handy.

Reverse side of wing

Reverse side of wing

Now I needed some membranes for the wings. In a world where I put more money and less time into this, I would have gone out and bought big sheets of red paper. I don’t live in that world, so I ransacked my craft cupboard. Ruling out the origami paper as too expensive, I came across a roll of stiff cream parchment-type papers which I had saved as usable post-consumer-waste from work.* They seemed ideal, as they would have a little more substance than a thinner paper.

They were not large enough to cover the entire wing, but I’d already thought that it might be nicer to cut wavy pieces to give a scaly dragonlike appearance, so I could work around that. I marked and cut my pieces, intending to attach them to the frame with tape. Unfortunately the slightly waxy finish on the paper was resistant to the glue on the tape, so I ended up having to use the tape only to hold the paper and then stitch the pieces to the frame. At this stage I thought I would conceal the stitching with a strip of paper or ribbon glued over the stitching, but when I got towards that stage I liked the slightly fierce textured look of the stitching and thought it was more dragonish than concealing it under a pretty finish.

At this stage I introduced Drifter to the wings. I introduced treats as well, and so he didn’t bother about the wings. That’s his style. He did try shaking while they were on and, apart from a look of mild surprise, didn’t seem at all bothered. So project dragon was still on.

Then I applied most of a bottle of red ink to my cream wings. It went on like blood; a fierce dragon-birthing-blood. Some parts needed more coats than others, leaving a slightly blotchy finish. In most of my craft projects this would disappoint me, but again I felt it made them more dragonish and less pretty.

"Backbone"

“Backbone”

But a dragon needs more than wings. The next challenge was constructing some rhombic pyramids. Without buying a protractor. This proved to be hard until I remembered the giant resource of printable wonder that is the internet. I found www.korthalsaltes.com which was amazingly useful. There were various suitable pyramids to choose from and I selected this one as the best for dragon spikes. Once I’d chosen my pyramid I made 8 large ones for his back and neck and 3 smaller ones for his head, again out of post consumer waste, much of which was from frozen pizza boxes. I bought some wide black grosgrain ribbon to attach them to which looped over the roller at one end and under the tail like a crupper at the other end, with a clip to do up the crupper.

Tail

Tail

Painting them proved more challenging than the wings had. I tried the ink but it was dark on the card, not bright like on the wings. I needed an opaque red paint. I had some red gouache, but that dried too pink. I tried a coat of red ink over a coat of gouache and that looked OK wet but dried streaky and pinkish. How could I make them look redder and wetter? I hit on mixing up water, PVA glue (for shine), ink (for redness), and a bit more gouache (because it was there) and added that as a third coat and was then satisfied that my dragon would be red not pink!

The tail also involved purchasing some ribbon, but really was the simplest part of the costume: drawn, cut out, painted and ready to be tied on.

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For the headdress I needed to buy a new headcollar. I needed one I could sew things to. I was pleased to pick one up for £3.50. I also needed a piece of white ribbon to go down the white stripe on his face. I fitted it all on him with safety pins and then took it home to sew. It’s quite awkward to get it on and off all sewn together, but he is a very obliging horse, so it’s quite manageable.

The most difficult part of the costume was attaching the spines to his neck. I toyed with the idea of attaching them to a ribbon from the roller to the head, but thought it would be impractical because of how the neck lengthens and shortens when he moves. I thought about putting strings through the spines and tying them into the mane somehow but couldn’t see how to make it work. In the end I came up with the idea of cutting a hole in the bottom, into which mane could be inserted, and cutting notches in the spike through which mane from each side could be threaded to hold the spine down into the mane.

Neck spike

Neck spike

Underside of neck spike

Underside of neck spike

It also occurred to me that I needed to dress up myself, but a princess captured by the dragon was easy enough to do. I had some twisted wire for a crown that I was playing with before my wedding when thinking of tiara ideas, and with a red dress, a white long sleeved t-shirt and a diamante belt I was good to go. My footwear did cross my mind, but I felt it was more important to be safe and wear my riding boots than wear pretty shoes and get a broken toe if I got stepped on. So my long boots were pressed into service. I’m pretty sure any princess worth her salt wears riding boots a lot anyway.

Now all I had to do was dress him up on the day and create Drifter-as-Dragon.

Juniper helping with the photography of the dragon costume

Juniper helping with the photography of the dragon costume

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*In the library I work in book jackets are placed in the recycling before the book reaches the shelves. These jackets were an attractive plain paper with lettering only on the spine and had come off a set of hefty tomes. Each sheet was larger than A3 size, with just the spine lettering to work around. So I rescued them for future use.