Equo's brand ambassador Ali Dane had a traumatic experience when the Winter Regionals didn't quite go as planned...

Sometimes, you can do everything right, and it still all goes wrong. In my last blog, I wrote about managing one’s expectations. Turns out I’ve had to practice what I preach… 

I had a hard lesson in the highs and lows of horses last week. Legs (Miss Sandro) and I had been preparing for the Winter Regionals at Elementary and Novice since we received our qualification emails in December.

Considering this horse’s background, the fact we even managed to qualify was a small miracle in itself, but she is talented and we seem to have formed a strong friendship over the last year, so with her going better than ever, I (and my trainer) thought we were in with a strong chance of qualifying in one, if not both classes. You could say that expectations were high. 

The first blow came when I noticed a patch of cloudiness creeping across her left eye. I’d also noticed that she was increasingly tense on the right rein too, as she tried to bend to the outside to let her ‘good’ eye see what was happening beyond the arena fence. The vet was called and she was diagnosed with immune-mediated keratitis, caused by an old injury. Ointment directly into the eye three times a day was prescribed. Two weeks later, and we were back on track…

In the week leading up to the Regionals, Legs had a spa day with massages, final chiropractic checks, a full body bath, haircuts and general pampering. She went beautifully in our lesson with Adam Kemp the day before the Elementary test. It all looked good.

The morning of the competition dawned; I plaited her, groomed her to perfection and loaded her, giddy with anticipation and excitement. We had a stress free journey to the competition, and parked up easily in bright sunshine. I dropped the ramp for her to see out, offered her a drink of water, gave her a cuddle, then went to see which arena I would be riding in, and grabbed a cup of tea.

As I was walking back to the lorry, I overheard an announcement on the tannoy asking for the owner of a blue Renault horsebox to return urgently as their horse “… Was in a bit of trouble…”. It was then that I saw people crowded around MY horsebox. It was Legs that was “in a bit of trouble”.

I dropped my tea on the floor and ran. I can’t describe the feeling of panic, but I’m glad I hadn’t had any breakfast, or it might have made a reappearance.

I have a 13 tonne lorry, and Legs was travelling herringbone in the section closest to the ramp ­– how she always travels, whether we’ve got other horses on board or not. She had somehow managed to get her front end over the top of the partition to her right and was stuck with her back end in the air, all her weight on her abdomen on top of the partition. She always moves her head around a lot when she travels – possibly to let her ‘good’ eye see as much as possible. I believe what happened was that she had turned her head around to the right to let her good eye see what was happening outside the truck. When she tried to bring her head back around, her headcollar got caught on the partition and she panicked, leading to her going towards her side with better vision.

Two vets and three fire engines later, Legs was out and thankfully, just a bit bruised, with a few superficial cuts. I am eternally grateful to the vets and the Gloucester Animal Rescue Team for doing such a professional and tidy job, ensuring precious Legs remained as calm as possible throughout the operation.

So, back to expectations: did I expect to have quite such a stressful day? No. Did I have to manage my expectations and priorities for the day? Of course. 

What lessons can I take away from this ordeal? 1) Legs will be cross-tied carefully whenever she travels from now on. 2) You can’t plan for every eventuality. 3) Horses have an uncanny knack of bringing you back down to earth with a bump. 

And perhaps, most importantly, it’s made me even more determined to show what Legs and I can do together. The plan going forward is to get her back into full work slowly, then take her for some stress-free (hopefully!) outings – I’ve seen plenty of lovely shows that would suit her on Equo Events – and then crack on with qualifying for the Summer Regionals.

So here’s to gritting our teeth, getting back out there and giving it our best shot. And when I’m having a wobble, I turn to the wise words of Billy Ocean for inspiration…

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. 

If you want to keep up to date with what Ali Dane and her team of horses have been up to, don’t miss her other brand ambassador blogs.