Friday, 11 May 2012

On Quintessential English Horse shows in Nairobi and dreams of rosettes (12 - 15 April)

So I was very excited about competing in the second horse show in my life.  I had achieved the giddy heights of my first rosette, longed for since the age of 4 but achieved at the age of 43, at my last show in Cornillo Riding School the previous summer.  My second show was going to be a whole different affair – the Easter show in Nairobi attended by all the horsey hoi polloi of East Africa.  I was going with Terri, the riding instructor from the ISM, who was taking ISM students to compete in the show.  I was competing and chaperoning and we were to set off with the kids and the horses on Wednesday at 6am.  Well that was the plan anyway but you know what they say never work with kids or animals…..  Actually that’s unfair as the children and the animals were all ready but I hadn’t counted on Terri’s organisational skills.  To be fair we were taking the school truck which had had the childrens’ seats removed and as the floor was weak they had fixed it and were supposed to return fixed truck to Terri on Tuesday afternoon for her to practice loading and unloading the horses and to get everything ready for our early start the next day.  I was entered into the dressage test and had spent the whole of the Easter/ Passover weekend trying to practice my test but being thwarted by the rain and mud.  In fact on Friday I was reduced to prancing around the ring in my boots, much to Aaron’s amusement, as the ground was too slippy for the horses.

I received a text from Terri on Tuesday night explaining the truck situation and she said she would text me when we were close to leaving.  So at 7.30am when we dropped the children at school I went to investigate and discovered that the truck had been returned at 7.40pm covered in grease and they still had to wash the floor down.  So Aaron and I went to get breakfast and returned at 11am to discover that Goldie had kicked King in the neck who had fallen to the ground and then fallen over when he tried to get up…..  And on it went…  Aaron came to pick the kids up at 1pm and yes we were still there ….. I supervised the children cutting out foam to put around the horses’ halters to prevent them knocking their heads on the ceiling of the truck.  Well I tried to stop the children cutting their hands off/ my hands off with the panga!  

Fancy dress foam covered horses 

Camilla came to get a coffee with me and we were still there.  I was beginning to get concerned as the journey to Nairobi was about 8 – 10 hours so what time were we going to arrive?

We began to load the horses at about 3pm and they were not too impressed at getting onto the rickety metal plank laid up against a hill and the back of the truck as we had no proper loading ramp.  So although some horses were very quick others took over an hour to load.  So there we were at 5.30pm with the horses all loaded … I then asked the question but what time does the border to Kenya close?  6pm so we were not going to make that.  

All ready to go but too late to leave!

Terri was all for driving to Arusha but could not get through to any of her contacts there with horse facilities and I pointed out that we couldn’t pitch up unannounced with 6 horses, 2 adults, 2 children and 2 grooms in the dark!  So the horses were unloaded and we all went home exhausted and I was wondering what the point of going up the next morning as I would miss my dressage test and the practice clear round jumping.  That night I went to Mafalda’s house for film night and a harrowing film called black and white about albinos’ being killed and mutilated for body parts which some healers had said had magical and lucky powers(cheery!)

So as I went to bed I decided not to go to the horse show but when Terri rang the next morning at 6 30am I started my usual thought process of “but what if I am missing out and I would love it?”  I asked Aaron what he thought and he said in typical fashion that I would be stupid to go.  Zac then chipped in and said
“ You must go Mummy, go and fulfill your destiny “
Well what would you do?  Aaron just laughed and said
“ I can’t believe you are taking the advice of a 7 old “

So I jumped in the car and when we were 20 mins down the road Terri asked the kids to check their passports and documents and it was then that I discovered that I had Zac’s passport!!!  So back we went to get the right one…  and 10 hours later we were unloading the horses in the rain in Nairobi’s Jaimuri Park having of course missed all the classes.

We spent the night at a disgusting hostel, which reminded me of my backpacking days, standing under a trickle of hot water trying to wash and then climbing into creaky bunk beds.  And my final thoughts that night was “ I am too old for this and I hope we don’t all get bitten alive by bed bugs. “  I woke after a surprisingly good nights sleep and we rushed to the show ground with no breakfast to find we were late for the team jumping class.

See I am wasted as a Dermatologist, I look much happier on a horse!

We all climbed into the truck rooting around to find our smart clothing: white jodphurs, white shirt, stock , tie pin, black jacket and black riding boots (all borrowed from Terri)  Then jumped on our horses and much to my horror Goldie decided to rear in excitement and luckily I managed to stay on.  We walked over to the big jumping arena and had to get ready to go into the ring in teams of 3 to do timed jumping over different sized fences to get points.  I made the mistake of asking a posh looking blonde woman who was marshalling at the gate where the start line was and she looked at me and said “ If you don’t know what you are doing you shouldn’t be on your horse “   I think our team got the lowest score but I felt great to just be competing at the Easter show in Nairobi.

A very professional Sara who did get rosettes

Once I had a chance to grab a coffee and some breakfast from the surprisingly good café tent I had the chance to sit and look around me.  I could hardly believe that I was in Africa as I was surrounded by terrrribly posh more English than English home-counties families.  Or when I came to think about it the English of the 1950’s Karen Blixen era “ I had a farm in Africa……… “  And most of them really did own huge horse farms where they bred the beautiful animals brought to the show.  The women sashayed past slim and elegant in their jodhpurs, jackets and beautiful hair chatting in immaculate Queen’s English to each other in between shouting at their Tabithas and Henrys to “ sit up, heels down and drive him on over the jump "

In the showing class

The horses were just beautiful and of international standard and had been brought from all over East Africa to compete.  There was an amazing woman of I think in her late 60s or 70s with a long plait looping down her back who jumped enormous fences on lively steeds.  I had a fabulous day and realised how much fun it was not only being at a horse show but being involved rather than sitting watching wistfully.  We had great fun and it was non-stop getting kids on and off ponies and into classes.  I competed in the 0.7m jumping on Goldie, who hates doubles and refused twice but I got her over on the last attempt and the commentator said “ a good effort “ which equates to “pretty crap but well done for turning up” as I left the ring.

Doesn't Goldie look magnificent

The day ended with the Kenyan Horse Society AGM who kindly provided white wine and canapés.  This started off in a tedious fashion as AGMs usually do with minutes and accounts … and then moved on to trying to elect a vice-president.  Now by this time I had had 3 large glasses of white wine and never a shrinking violet I tried to help by handing out the voting slips.  There was then an endless discussion about whether the society should accept e-mail and text votes and the older contingent said this couldn’t happen as it was against the constitution so I piped in “well change the constitution”.  There was then disagreement about the number of voting slips going round so I put my oar in as usual by suggesting that each member had a unique anonymous number which could be used in voting by paper, text or e-mail.   Initially they all looked stunned at this obvious suggestion and thought it a great idea and then I was invited to come onto the committee!!! 

Nikoli (Terri's son) with his rosette 

I was then adopted by a group of lovely Kenyan mums who made me want to move to Kenya, particularly when they said that a dermatologist would be much in demand.  The lifestyle is tempting and the kids were all having a marvellous time with their glorious ponies – my idea of heaven as a child!  I have been invited to come back to help run pony club camp in the summer which sounds great fun.
After a dinner of Kentucky Fried Chicken (yes I cannot believe I ate it but in fact it tasted great after all that wine) and delicious multi-flavoured, apparently very low in calories frozen yoghurt, we went to bed in a much nicer hostel.  Over breakfast the next morning we discovered that the kids were in every class at every time in every ring on every pony throughout the day.  I tried to be organised and wrote a day plan but only had time to get to 3.15pm before we had to go.  By running about and shouting at the kids we did pretty well until 3.15pm when it went to pot a bit and the terribly British mums got very shirty when the wrong child turned up to the cross-country course on the wrong pony at the wrong time but I could see their point!!

We ended up looking for yet another hostel that night, almost running out of petrol, and I jumped into a taxi the next morning to catch the Impala shuttle back to Moshi as the others were staying  to compete for another day but I had to get back to work.  After all that activity it was very relaxing and I slept almost all the way home where I was confronted with Zac who demanded to know why I was the only one in our team not to get any rosettes!

Isaac jumping Penelope

Terri jumping Goldie

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