Today I competed in my first ever horse show.
I’ve seen plenty of them, but never had I ever been in one.
So it was with a thrill of pride that I pinned a card with my number: 3 onto my saddle pad. I didn’t wear it because the weather was absolutely atrocious. It would have been washed away in the rain.
It was raining like only the Pacific Northwest can. This front moved in three or four days ago. Thursday it rained nonstop for over fifteen hours. Yesterday, Friday, it stopped for most of the day, giving me hopes that Saturday, the day of My Very First Horse Show would be, if overcast and cold, at least dry.
I awoke at 5 am to the sound of a full blown gully washer. I hoped that the show would be cancelled, but I knew better. I’d been planning and practicing for this show for a few months. I wasn’t so worried about dressing for it, as it was a ‘schooling show’, meaning the only uniform requirements were a helmet and boots with heels.
It was my Very Expensive Saddle I was worried about. I sure in heck didn’t want it soaking wet.
As it was, things turned out well for that. I wore wet weather pants until I was about to mount Trooper for the warm-up, and the rain let up-a little-so that my rain jacket shed most of it. And in the meantime, I had the saddle covered with a very skookum rain cover.
The warm-up ring was outside, with nothing to keep the rain off of you but miles of sky. The footing was sloppy, up to the fetlocks mud.
Perhaps that’s why I was a bit deceived. Trooper was hot as a two dollar pistol. Once again, I learned that the horse that is so very well behaved in the arena when it’s just me and Patti riding, is a very different horse when he’s in a new venue, i.e. a horse show, with lots of strangers. Holy cow, he was a handful. I should have lunged him, but the lunging ring was even worse in the way of footing and exposure to the elements.
It was under these conditions that Patti and I entered the warm-up ring. Kim was there, coaching, and told me to take up as much rein as I could. It meant nothing to bitless Trooper, he wanted to go. Fast. He dislikes trotting, preferring to canter. The heavy footing helped me keep him at a civilized trot.
I was scheduled to be second in the ring, with a second test a half hour later.
But several folks had scratched, and suddenly I was first up for the day.
The ring steward chided me on riding Trooper in a hackamore. I told her I was riding hors concours, knowing full well one must have a bit. Next time, I will ride him in a bit.
She then briefed me on what to do: enter the ring and when the bell rings, I have one minute to start my test.
I was ready, for sure. I’d studied and memorized the test. It was very simple, really. I wouldn’t have any problems.
The bell rang, and I made a nice trot up center line to X, where I had to slow to a walk. Trooper walked out very nicely, and when I turned right at M, I asked for a trot, and got one. At A, I was supposed to perform a 20 meter circle, then trot diagonally across the arena to C, where I was supposed to do second circle.
I began my circle. Trooper STOPPED. I touched him with my heels and he BUCKED. Three times! I reprimanded him verbally and gave him a solid kick in the ribs to continue, but the damage had been done. It was only later that I realized that I didn’t even grab for the chicken strap. Unwillingly, I am getting better at riding out a hard crow hop. It was the very idea that he’d done it that destroyed my composure.
But my concentration, the map of the test, went completely out of my brain. The bell rang. I had made an Error. The judge told me I mustn’t speak to my horse.
I continued, but I really do not know what I did or how I managed to muddle through the test. I did get very high marks on my halt and salute. Small consolation.
I knew how to get out. I thanked the judge and turned my still hotheaded horse to leave the ring.
Patti went in right after me, and was given a very large amount of time to warm her up before her test began. I paid no attention, though. Trooper was still acting out, being a major butthead. This was my little gentleman? Hell, no. He was a Horse Behaving Badly.
The steward came up to me and told me I wasn’t supposed to talk out loud. “If your back is to the judge, you might be able to get away with it, but you’re supposed to be silent.”
I knew that. I’d known that for years.
Kim came up to me as I was waiting my turn to go back in. She was as astonished as I was at Trooper’s behavior. Did I want her to read the test for me?
Patti had a very nice ride (she ultimately got two ribbons) and came out with a giant grin on her face.
I rode back in, because I was supposed to go again, and there was no one else waiting to test in my class. When Kim was in position, the bell rang.
She called out nice and clear, Trot to X, Medium walk to C and turn right.
From then on, I seemed to have gone deaf. I wasn’t listening; I was concentrating on my horse and keeping my mouth tightly shut. Trooper was a bit more amenable to rating. We trotted diagonally across the ring and just as I realized I’d effed up, the bell rang again. Kim called out; you’re supposed to be on the wall.
Sigh. Whatever wits I still had were finally scattered, like chickens in a tornado.
I do remember doing the circles, and walking up and halting and saluting, and I do remember thanking the judge.
I was so very glad to turn my now quiet horse and slink out of the ring. I wasn’t sad, but I was embarrassed.
I asked Kim for my saddle cover (she’d held it for me) and immediately threw it across my saddle.
“Its okay”, she said,”You did better this time. It’s only a schooling show.”
“I know”, I said, “I just lost my mind when he bucked.”
Kim took the rein and looked Trooper in the eye. “You were a butthead, you little worm.”
Trooper tossed his head. He could not have cared less.
My husband, Dennis, showed up. He was surprised that I was done already, and boy, was I. I led Trooper to the trailer where I tried to unbridle him. He tried to break away and I literally had to give him a swat in the brisket to get him to mind. He bugled, loudly, wanting to go back to the ring. Little brat.
Patti came up soon afterwards. Kim was with her, effusive about how well Patti had done. She told Penny how well she’d done, and it was true. Penny had been the one we all worried about handling the show, not Trooper, and it had turned out exactly opposite. Kim consoled me again, but I’m okay. I wasn’t really worried about my scores. I didn’t do the test out of ego, I wanted the critique.
Then the skies really opened up, in a deluge. We threw the horses onto the trailer and Patti took them home.
I waited around for my scores. Because I was now very cold and wet, I went home. Dennis had dry clothes waiting for me. “How’d you do?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, ‘You don’t have to worry about me heading for the Olympics.”
My first test was pretty low, a 49. The judge mentioned that a ‘very athletic’ Trooper had been ‘naughty and resisted contact.” My second one test score was a bit higher, 56. The judge was gentle on me, saying only that I had cut the corners and my circles needed widening.
So it’s over, and I’m no longer a virgin.
What have I learned? A lot, including…next time, Trooper is going to have a bit. Patti bought a French link for him, and not tomorrow, but next week, I’m going to put it in his mouth.
Next time, I hope the weather will be better.
There will be a next time.
Meanwhile, I’d like to say this: Heather Blitz? If you are reading this, don’t worry. I’m not close to Grand Prix level just yet.