Call it divine providence, call it what you will, but it was just as well I'd arranged a few days off as I can't say I was in a fit state to climb back on either pony on Friday morning. All the walking the previous day had yet again turned the side of my foot into raw meat where my boots had rubbed my ankle which had swollen badly after spraining it weeks ago way back on a hillside between Hawick and Hexham. And while neither Micky nor Magic showed any sign of tenderness, better by far to be safe than sorry and to allow their backs to heal before the last bit of our journey to London.
Micky and Magic couldnt' believe that I didn't want to catch them when I went to check them in their field, and were more than happy to stay put and swap travelling tales with Jill's Welsh cob mare, Gem. I convinced myself that being in close proximity to Stanstead airport would help acclimatise them to what was to come riding into Smithfield. Changing trains in London and negotiating the underground on my way to Gloucester was certainly an unwelcome culture shock for me after weeks out in the open countryside, and gave me chance to begin to get my brain in better gear for the last few days.
Other than that, perhaps the less side about the weekend the better. I arrived too late to see Jake swim his fastest ever, but I was there to do my dutiful mother bit mucking out and grooming Charlie (in case I was feeling deprived of equine contact), to walk the cross-country course and watch him and Charlie safely round, and to cheer him on when he ran. Whether I would have been better spending the weekend organising publicity for my finish at Smithfield, or catching up on sleep, is a moot point. Only by chance did I learn over the weekend that no-one had ever thought to tell me that Elsa now had to be in Leicester to start college 5 days earlier than anticipated, that Jake had to be back in Bath by 1st September, and that coming to London to walk the last few miles with me and help with the ponies in case of difficulty was somewhat less of a priority for Jake than it had been for me to support him at his competition. Such is the appreciation you get for trying to do your best by your children.
On the way back to Stanstead, instead of writing my press release I contemplated why it is that competing in any sport, whether it be running a race or jumping a horse, rates so much more highly than anything I or anyone else might ever set out to do. Perhaps it is because I am so uncompetitive by nature that I fail to understand. I have tried, but failed. Perhaps the same is true in reverse and those who are so cut-throat competitive suffer similar inability to appreciate why anyone would want to follow in the foosteps of the drovers on horseback, or what it takes to do so.
It was a relief to get back to Magic and Mikado, who may do dastardly deeds, but who I find far less demanding (and dare I say rewarding?) than humans, and with whom after eight weeks on the trail together, I have a unique bond. I dread the thought of finishing, not because of the traffic through Central London, or wondering whether Micky's brakes will work at traffic lights, but because of the thought of having to resume the responsibilities of normal life.