We have slid into lockdown level 3, and for many that has meant, we can be reunited with our gorgeous equine sidekicks. But it has also meant that there are a bunch of hoops we need to jump through, especially for those at larger yards, to ensure that the COVID-19 protocols are met.

I will admit I was one of the first to lament the fact that horse riding by its very virtue is a "social distanced" sport. But is it? How many of you race to the yard after work more for the glass of wine accompanied by a side order of saddle time? But here we are. Signing registers, having temperature checks, donning masks and booking an arena time.

The Temperature Check

This beauty is my nemesis. It is winter, and I am still working nine hours a day which means that my toes turn to ice, my fingers have applied for a vacancy in the Bahamas, and I have started a new a cappella band with the chattering of my teeth. When I slide behind the wheel of my car the heater is cranked to "just cooler than the earth's core" and by the time I get to the yard in the late afternoon I have invented a new in-car sauna experience, and my cheeks are so red I could be deemed fit for a medical emergency. NOW… At this very point, they want to take my temperature.

At our yard, one of the grooms is the temperature police. He wields that little device like it is the last remaining shard of the holy grail and takes his job VERY seriously. Just last week my exuberant heater drive-in almost caused for a medical emergency as my now almost radioactive body clocked in over 40 degrees Celsius. Panic set in. The device shook the temperature retaken. 39… The device was rebooted, and the temperature was taken. 38… I removed two outer layers and took off my sunglasses – because surely they are evidently the reason I am so hot no? 37… Eventually, after standing outside in the freezing wind for 5 minutes, the temperature Gestapo allowed me a fourth and final chance before calling the COVID police. 36.2… success. Access no longer denied.

Adjusting your Mask

So we are rather fortunate. We are a small yard and because we have to book a slot to ride we have the arena to ourselves. So no mask required in the arena. However, we require them when we head to the bridle path. But I am THAT person. I need to try everything and anything once, usually to my detriment. So I decided to try this mask and ride thing as a little experiment. Who knew?

I hopped on my nearly 17hh five-year-old recently backed SAW baby and set out into the arena donning my mask. Now let me explain. I am no pro-rider by any means. After 40 years in the saddle, I fall more in the category of "she is making this up as she goes along" than I do the "wow time in the saddle equates to grace". I am also desperately unfit because my last horse was lame for a year and … yes... well lockdown baking experiences. (No I haven't perfected sourdough bread). After trotting around the arena a few times, asphyxia set in. My eyes bulged, the lungs cranked into a 6th gear and I starting breathing like a rabid cheetah after a failed hunt. The effects on my horse was epic. He suddenly remembered he was a prey animal and the rabid cheetah now clinging to his back and breathing like a chainsaw had a less than the desired effect.

He put his tail between his legs. Gained a sudden and urgent desire to defend his life at all costs and took off. I clung onto him like a jellyfish trying to navigate a sandy beach. The more I clung on the harder I breathed. The harder I breathed, the more he feared for his life. Until eventually he gave up the will to live, slammed on anchors and stood dead still. My rasping breathing continued as I gasped for life and then realisation dawned. I clutched at the mask and tossed it to the side of the arena. And I slowly regained consciousness.

For those of you who can wear a mask and ride and still look like you dropped off the cover of Horse and Hound. Well, there is a special place in … for you.

Protocol We Must

While my COVID life feels more like the Chronicles of Narnia and at any stage, I am going to come out of the cupboard to what the world once was but irrevocably changed. I am sure many of you agree. I would rather jump through the hoops, adjust to this new world, and get my time in the saddle. A wise man once said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Or was that Yoda?

Content Credit: Charlene Carroll

Image: Unsplash

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