This weekend, I got sucked into the wormhole of looking at old horse pictures on my computer. In
most many of them, I could find something to shake my head at: I’m crooked asking for the lead change. I’m staring at the ground. I’m jumping ahead. I’m jumping ahead again. I’m…still jumping ahead. Judging solely by these pictures, I definitely wasn’t the hotshot I may have thought I was at the time.
But as much as there is a lot to wince at in these photos, one thing set my mind at ease: invariably, my horses have happy looks on their faces. Their eyes are soft, their ears are pricked, and they seem to be up to the challenge, despite whatever the hell the jockey’s doing up there. It makes me think that we were doing something right, at least. We didn’t win all the time – but we also didn’t pound the horses into the ground chasing points, lunge them to death in search of the perfect hunter round, or bit up our 3′ jumpers to facilitate turning and burning. (Sadly, there were a lot of those things on display on our show circuit every summer.)
We did love the heck out of our horses, who in turn rose to the occasion time and again. For me, that all started with…
When my trainer in Montreal bought her now-barn, back in January 2007, it was an eventing barn, complete with a cross-country course, and a fleet of cute eventer school horses that we inherited. For the upcoming show season, I had my eye on a young mare to do in the 2’9 classes. We worked our butts off all winter and spring, until one day, the ex-owner of the place showed up and decided to take her to his new barn. Suddenly horseless, I was left with Artus, who seemed like a good boy and all, but very spooky and without a clue of how to do a lead change. Nonetheless, it was Artus or bust, so we stuck him on the trailer that weekend for my second-ever hunter/jumper show.
Artus and I were deer in headlights at that first show. I had no idea what anything meant (Open card? Schooling class? Ticketed warm-up? What do you mean I just jumped three rounds and none of them counted?) and was plain overwhelmed…a feeling he shared. Artus had been to some horse trials before, but I don’t think they had compared to the utter chaos of this horse show. Picture it: four rings, one big warmup next to a cornfield. Horses galloping willy-nilly, trying to catch the warm-up jumps. Everyone amped up and fresh, as it’s the first show. To make matters worse, Artus had fallen in love with his neighbour, La Senza, on the trailer ride over, and as soon as I got on to try to negotiate the chaotic warm-up, he began screaming for her…and didn’t stop for the next half hour, as they each circled the warm-up at opposite ends, craning their necks and rolling their eyes towards each other, convinced death was imminent and they would be better to face it together.
We made it through the show alive, barely – we showed in the New Junior division, 2’9, for riders who had less then ten shows under their belts. I had been riding for years, had shown at lots of unrecognized shows, and counted myself pretty knowledgable. Of course, I got my ass soundly handed to me by ten year olds on saintly ponies, as my old-style, timber-racing-built TB and I careened around the course at Mach 3, no lead changes in sight, frantically whinnying every time we passed the ingate. So it goes.
As the season progressed, we started to get our shit together. We figured out how to warm up without melting down. We won a lot of hacks and flat classes, and when we landed our leads, got a piece of the over fences. We qualified for the finals of the Modified Medal (of course, the test was multiple lead changes. Damn it. We didn’t make the callback.)
Most importantly, we learned that this horse showing business was kind of fun. I bonded with my barn mates and Artus remained obsessed with his own barn mate, La Senza. We mastered rollbacks, and sitting trot, and how to hurry up and wait, and the difference between an open card and a ticketed warm-up. And I fell in love with my cresty-necked, fuzzy-maned, bulging-eyed chestnut muffin, Artus.
Then we went home and worked on our lead changes.
Next installment: Artus and I move up to the big-kid classes.