For the past 61 years, the first week in May has meant the Garden State Horse Show to many New Jersey equestrians. The AA rate show is New Jersey’s largest, and is held at the Sussex Fairgrounds in the rolling hills and farmland of Augusta, in the northern part of the state. Competitors come from all over the tri-state area, and the Grand Prix usually hosts industry luminaries like Mclain Ward, Beezie Maddedn, Kevin Babington, the Leone brothers, and Anne Kursinski. This year, it was won by 16 year-old phenom Michael Hughes of Allendale, NJ.
Since 2008, Garden State has been the kick-off to my family’s show season. Why, I don’t know, because every year it rains like heck and the place is a swamp. It’s either pissing down rain, or threatening to. Only once you’re well and truly soaked to the bone, slathered in mud and on the verge of hypothermia does the sun peak through, just in time for the last classes. Hence the reference to Bruce Springsteen’s Rosalita in the title.
This year was no exception. Saturday morning saw us up at o’dark hundred schlepping up to the mud-pit, with the pony princess wrapped in bubble wrap so as not to get dirty prior to her class, the Pre-Children’s Pony Hunters and Pre-Children’s Pony Equitation. (Seriously, what is up with these names??? What do they call the division preceding this? Fetal Pony Hunters? Oye veh.)
Since the last show was one of those “learning experiences,” where the pony was feeling her oats a bit, we changed our show morning routine and tack a bit. The kiddo was given a bigger set of brakes in the form of a pelham bit – not ideal in this division but we figured the stronger bit would be better than the sight of the child being dragged hither and yon on a tour of the show grounds. Cookie was also given an early morning Come to Jesus session, where one of the older girls schooled her in the ring, took her over a few jumps, and worked on downward transitions and halts immediately after the jumps. Basically she reminded the pony of the First Commandment of the Pony World: Though Shalt Not Take Off With Your Child.
The change-up brought good results. Cookie was forward, but in a good way, to my way of thinking. (I was raised during the days when you actually galloped fit horses around a course. Today’s preference for corpulent, half-comatose horses heaving themselves over fences is one I can’t quite wrap my mind around.)
The kiddo did a pretty good job of balancing her and the pony landed most of her leads. Maybe she could have ridden out more in the corners, jumped ahead less, and gotten her heels down a lot more, but no biggie. The outing was a step forward from the last show, and both kid and pony were pleased and proud. All good, I’d say. They also got a couple of ribbons, a fifth and an eighth, which seems quite respectable in this level of competition and with 25 kids in the class.
What made the day even better was running into and spending time with old friends, our traditional show breakfast of bagels and mimosas, and, if you were to ask my husband and son, the rental of a golf-cart for the day. The boy is still on crutches, so the golf cat was a sensible investment and gave my boys a toy to play with during the usual horse show “Hurry Up and Wait” nonsense. Also made it much easier for the husband to ferry mimosas back and forth to the ring…
It was a good, albeit long, day. We got home just in time for my son and I to watch the Kentucky Derby, and for the pony princess and her father to get changed and run out to her travel soccer game. I know, it’s ridiculous the amount of energy those two have. It exhausts me just watching them.
Sophie and Cookie – Garden State Horse Show