Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ridiculous Road Trip

I should have had a hunch that things weren’t going to according to plan when my navigation system couldn’t find Bern.  I mean, seriously, what the heck; Bern is the capital of Switzerland!

“Bern”, I repeated, rolling my eyes at my friend Joelle. I said some rude French words as my car’s computer listed six destinations that had nothing to do with Bern. I mean, these places didn’t even sound anything like “Bern”.

“Bern!” I repeated again, with a slightly different intonation. Maybe my GPS knew Bern pronounced the Swiss-German way. Nope. I tried the English way. Nah. I tried it once again à la française. Clearly, the car wanted to go anywhere but to Bern. Irritated, I told it to go to Yverdon, a town on the way to Bern. It knew Yverdon, so off we went.

You see, Qrac and I were scheduled to ride two programs the following morning at a dressage competition specifically for “baroque horses” in Bern.

We made it to the capital despite my navigation system’s reticence. My friend Joelle had been there before with her horse, so she knew the way. However, once we reached the place where the show was being held, my eyebrows shot up, my nose and mouth hitched sideways, and my stomach dropped. It was bedlam! It was a massive horse fair, but not a well-organized, sophisticated horse fair likes some I’ve been to in, say, Geneva, or Lyon, or London. No. This was a more like…a beer festival in a fairground. Not that I’ve ever been to a beer festival in a fairground, but I’m hoping you might be able to imagine something like it. It was Friday evening in Bern, and hoards of people had headed over to the fair to get clobbered on beer, enjoy a nice fat sausage, take a ride on the ferris wheel  (I kid you not!!!) and shoot a teddy bear at the teddy bear shooting booth.

“I’m supposed to ride in there?” I said, glancing at Joelle, feeling nauseous.

“Oh, I doubt it,” she replied. “I’m sure the dressage competition is being held in a specific place outside the fairground area.”

We drove around, trying to find where we were supposed to go, asking security guards and policemen for directions. Nobody knew where to send us. Actually, that’s not entirely true: one charming chap told us we had to park in a big field on the outskirts of the fair, then lead my horse across the main road and over the bridge across the motorway (swarming with people, including kids with fistfuls of balloons) into the fairground area, underneath the ferris wheel, through the sausage and beer fest, and that somewhere in there we’d find a stable.  Err, what about all the equipment that goes along with taking a horse somewhere overnight? What about the hay, and the food, and the tack, and the blankets, and rest of the-you-name-it- I’ve-got-it-with-me? Charming chap shrugged. “Das ist simple; you must carry it”, was his curt answer.


“That can’t be right,” I said to him with a perplexed expression, to which he snarkily replied that he had horses at home, and that’s how he always did it, and that if I didn’t like it I could just go home.

At that point I was on the brink of doing just that, but we’d come all this way, and surely this couldn’t be “it”, could it?

We drove on, asked another security guard who, after some head-scratching, got onto his talkie-walkie. Eventually, he pushed the barriers aside and instructed me to drive into the fairground. He motioned to a fellow security guard and told him to escort us to where we were supposed to go.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever driven a horse trailer through throngs of obnoxious people too drunk to step out of your way. Well, it’s not a pleasant experience. We slunk through the crowds, some morons even “olé-ing” us with their haunches as we inched past. Overhead, the ferris wheel whisked sausage-wielding happy people high into the sky.  Beside us, someone fired a pistol and won a giant teddy bear.

Ooh, Qrac was going to love this!

But, come on; surely the security guard was escorting us somewhere else, taking us via a short cut to the peaceful, genteel dressage-haven that Joelle and I (and every dressage rider I know) are accustomed to? This was all too bonkers to be true.  Yes, here we go, he’s taking us up a little path to the right, far from the madding crowd…
“This is the stable for your horse,” he said, pointing to a semi-collapsed blue and yellow plastic tent floundering in the mud.


I jumped out of the car and went to take a quick look. Inside, a couple of resigned looking horses nickered at me, knee-deep in gloop. A group of beer-sloshed festival-goers hovering nearby waved their mustard-slathered sausages at me, grinning. I got back in the car, glanced at Joelle. “There’s no way in hell I’m leaving my horse here! There’s no way in hell we’re staying here.  This is mental. We’re going home.” 

We kept the hysterical giggles for once we’d manoeuvered ourselves out of this narrow, muddy, dead-end. The only way to turn around was to drive into the big tent adjacent to the plastic stables from hell (which was apparently where the competition was supposed to take place the next morning). I suck at manoeuovering my trailer at the best of times and thoroughly frazzled, immediately got us totally stuck. Hyper-ventilating, I begged Joelle to take over. The poor thing was pretty frazzled too but she did a great job, and under the bovine gaze of the security guard, we headed back through the crowds and somehow found our way out of this nightmarish maze.

Once we got onto the main road, I pressed a button on my steering wheel, activating my GPS, instructing my car to take us back to Qrac’s house.  “And don’t you dare tell me you don’t know where he lives,” I said sternly to my car’s computer. My shoulders ached, and I wished we didn’t have to face the onslaught of Bern’s Friday night traffic.

About two hours later, having spent a total of five pointless hours in the trailer, Qrac was back in his cosy stable, enjoying his dinner.  Joelle and I unloaded all his equipment, put everything away, and went back to her house where we uncorked a bottle of champagne and let the bubbles dissipate our disbelief over what we’d just experienced. I spent the night at her place, and following a hefty breakfast of banana pancakes, we drove back to the stables and took our horses out for a nice quiet trail ride, miles away from the madness of those brave souls riding dressage tests in a tent next to a shooting booth beneath a ferris wheel. I hope whoever won took home a teddy bear as well as a ribbon!

Have you ever been to a show in crazy conditions? I’d love to hear your stories!


Promise said...

I used to do a 4 day show in Connecticut every September, and it was adjacent to a county fair. However, the show itself was apparently much more organized than what you described! It had its own designated area (pretty well separated from the fair, although the sausage-wielding tourists did cross over) with warm-up areas, flat rings, jumping rings, western rings, semi-permanent barns, etc. It was actually quite long as you didn't cross over to the fair area!

Francesca Prescott said...

Promise, your show sounds pretty nice! I heard later that the police/security guards had sent to us to the wrong stables, and that the "right ones" were far more normal. However, you had to warm up over at the "normal stables" and then ride for 15 or 20 minutes to the fairground area with nobody to tell you which way to go, crossing busy roads, and encountering all sorts of scary things, and then go straight into the tent without any possibility to trot again, and do your test. Apparently even the super unspooky horses spooked. I'm glad we went home, and I won't be going there again! No more sausages and ferris wheels for us!

Laura Crum said...

Wow--Cesca--that is just incredible. I've showed at county fairs, complete with all you describe, but as Promise says, there was always a distinction between the horseshow area and the fair proper. My friend Wally once went to a roping in Reno where he had to park his rig down the road in a big city parking lot and ride the horses through the streets of the city (we're talking four lane roads, traffic lights, sidewalks, lots of traffic) to get to the arena. I wasn't there, but he said the horses (my Plumber and his Twister) handled it really well.

What a frustrating day for you--and your friend and Qrac. But, as always, your post made me smile. You have such a nice humorous touch--even in the face of disaster(!)

RiderWriter said...

Cracking up here! What a vivid description of a complete disaster as far as "horse shows" go... that is just too funny that the organizers thought horses would be okay passing through the midst of all that, never mind putting in an actual dressage test. I think they'd had a few too many beers when they were laying plans!

The GPS not wanting to locate the capital of your country was definitely the giveaway. :-) Glad you all made it home safely, I am laughing at what poor Qrac must have been thinking: "Okey-dokie, Mom put me on the trailer, I rode around for a while, I heard some Very Strange Things and smelled Very Strange Smells, and then we rode some more and now I'm back home. Whatever! People sure are weird sometimes."

C.E. Wolfe said...

Wow, that is just crazy! Unbelievable. I have never experienced anything quite like that, but I did have a pretty crazy experience as a kid at a 4-H show. It was a big regional show, held at our local aging fairgrounds with dumpy shedrow, racetrack style stalls. It was a weekend show, and most kids and parents camped out in a stall next to their horse overnight. The organizers had not realized that a massive 4th of July fireworks show was being set off from the small airport next door Saturday night. Everyone was instructed to stay with their horses, and bedlam ensued. My saintly, literally bomb proof horse was fine, but many other horses went nutso when the fireworks started exploding over their heads. Lots of horses climbing over their stall doors, getting hurt, running loose all over, vets called... not a fun experience for the kids.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: Wally's Reno experience sounds a bit similar, although probably more crazy! There were all sorts of upheavals the horses who competed needed to face, including four lane traffic. I don't think Qrac would have handled it quite so well as Plumber and Twister. In fact, I think I'd have ended up on top of the ferris wheel!!!

Glad you liked my post, I got a kick out of writing it, as it all seemed so surreal! And it's good to see the funny side of life as much as possible :)

Francesca Prescott said...

RiderWriter; from what I've heard, this happens every year, so I guess I'm a bit of a sissy! I prefer the "garden party atmosphere" dressage competitions!!!

I'm kind of hoping Qrac was thinking that he'd better be on his best behaviour the next time we go to take a lesson at another yard, as he was a little hot under the collar just before we loaded him back up and asked the GPS to take us Bern!

Francesca Prescott said...

RiderWriter; from what I've heard, this happens every year, so I guess I'm a bit of a sissy! I prefer the "garden party atmosphere" dressage competitions!!!

I'm kind of hoping Qrac was thinking that he'd better be on his best behaviour the next time we go to take a lesson at another yard, as he was a little hot under the collar just before we loaded him back up and asked the GPS to take us Bern!

Francesca Prescott said...

C.E. Wolfe, I've heard a fireworks/horses story before!!! Terrifying! In fact, it was my friend Joelle who was with me in Bern who used to be in a mounted band as a teenager, and they went to, well, march and play, and the village set off fireworks and bedlam ensued. People can be so clueless. But I guess if you don't know horses, well you just don't know.

Thanks for reading and commenting :)

Pattie said...

This would be a great time to know what horses are thinking! Glad you made it back okay.

Alison said...

Great story Cesca and it beats anything that I have ever experienced (Or want to experience.) You were so right in turning home, and I hope your entry fee was refunded.

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison: no, my entry fees won't be refunded, and I lost a night at a hotel, plus the fee for the stable for Qrac. Then there was the petrol, too... It was an expensive ridiculous road trip!

Pattie: I think Qrac was just thinking "are we there already?"