This past weekend, Rachael and I took Charlie Brown to his first horse show. When you’ve only owned the horse for three weeks, it’s important to set yourself and him up for success. So not wanting things to be too pressure packed or overwhelming, we opted for a local schooling show. The first of what we hope will be many more shows — schooling and rated…
Our lives have been a little bit of a whirlwind lately, culminating in a four day stretch that I am still amazed that I survived. Thursday was parent-teacher conferences at school, and a train trip to New York. Friday was meetings in New York, and a quick exit to an early train home so I could help prepare for the show. Saturday was the show. And Sunday wrapped it all up with a full day at a George Morris clinic (more on that later!). It leaves me breathless just saying all that, let alone doing it.
I arrived at the barn Friday afternoon to embark on my first effort at packing for my own horse to go to a show. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s very different than preparation to ride a school horse at a show at your own barn. So many details! Fortunately, there were six others people from our barn, who were also participating. And my OCD tendencies led me to consolidate almost a dozen various packing lists from friends and the internet, which made me at least feel like I knew what I was doing. And many hands made for lighter work, so my first outing in the role of “packer” was made relatively easy. Our friend, Tracey, had again graciously offered her truck as our general supply vehicle to cart over our varied equipment. And while it was pretty confusing to me, as a rookie, the others had it down to well-oiled chaos. So I headed home relatively early to get some much needed sleep.
The morning alarm came far too early at 4am. I’m glad I remembered to set out my coffee cup under the Keurig the night before. I dressed in non-show grade riding clothes, and headed off. When I arrived at the barn at 4:45, the place was already humming. Horses were everywhere being prepped for the ride over.
But the ride over was the tricky part! I’m not sure what I expected of a 6am trail ride through a national park in the pitch dark. But since that’s where the neighboring barn hosting the show was, there was little other choice. That was a new experience. I have never been more scared or miserable on horseback — ever! It poured most of the way there. Much of the journey was on paved path, which made for slippery going in the rain. And at times, it was so dark, I had to follow the sound of the horse in front of me because I sure as heck couldn’t see anything. Let’s just say that our trailer is on order, and can’t get here soon enough!
Our old trainer, Lauren, agreed to work with us this one last time. Since she had helped us find Charlie Brown, it seemed only fitting that she see oversee his maiden voyage in the show ring with us. She met us at the show grounds when we arrived at 7:30am, and we began schooling immediately. She ran us through our paces, and warmed us up over several fences, but cut us off before we belabored the point.
The conditions were sloppy because of the weather, but Charlie was sure-footed as ever, cantering fences in the muck as if it were a dry summer day. Unfortunately, all our grooming efforts went out the window. Between the wet ride over and the muddy schooling session, he was covered in muck. Removing his polo wraps helped a little bit. But it was obvious we weren’t going to get “best turned out.” Then again, neither was anyone else in these conditions!
Charlie and I did the Hopeful Hunters division, and garnered a 7th place ribbon in our first round. It was a simple course, and I rode it conservatively, which probably cost me some in the placements. But I didn’t want to push things in the water-logged, and slightly downhill ring. Our second round got us a 6th place ribbon, and our under saddle class brought another 6th place.
Then it was a matter of trying to stay dry, and making sure Charlie didn’t get a chill. At an all outdoor show, this was a challenge. In fact, three of our barn-mates had to scratch because either riders or horses got too cold, and couldn’t shake their shivers. Then, just past the point of calling it, the rain ended. It stayed cloudy and overcast, but the worst of the rain was over. We bundled Charlie in a cooler to keep him from getting a chill, and he entertained himself with his hay until the next division that required his attention.
That was Rachael entry in the Short-Stirrup division. Since this was her first show, and her last year of eligibility for short-stirrup, and she figured she might as well take advantage of the opportunity to compete where she would have a leg up, especially considering the newness of her relationship with Charlie. First was the Walk-Trot class. She rode well, but missed a diagonal. Nerves. Lauren was yelling to correct it at the top of her lungs, but Rachael didn’t hear her. They finished 5th.
Then came the Walk-Trot-Canter class. Charlie has such a nice, smooth canter, we figured they would do well here. And they did. But unfortunately, the beautiful transitions from walk to canter weren’t done where the judge could see them. <sigh> Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. But they finished 2nd.
Finally, was the over fences class. It was just four fences — two outside lines. And no one was volunteering to go first. Rachael and another girl both offered to enter the ring, and the steward assigned Rachael the second slot. Always good to go early, but also always good to see someone else go first. When they entered the ring, Amy told her to keep the reins a little bit loose to show that she wasn’t pulling on Charlie’s mouth, stay straight, and smile. They took a beautiful courtesy circle, picked up their canter, and they were off. Four fences — light, smooth, controlled, and relaxed. And as they came down the second line toward us, she was beaming. She and Charlie had found an elevated place of mutual trust and respect. She steered him around the arena, and then let him do his job taking her over the fences. They weren’t huge jumps. But the leaps in the relationship were a sight to behold. She was genuinely having a good time, and so was Charlie.
I told her, as she came out of the ring, that I didn’t care where she pinned, she rode really well. It took a long while for the class to finish and ribbons to be awarded. When they announced her number, she had to ask if that was her. And as a fitting finale to our first show, they took the blue ribbon!
Thanks, Charlie Brown, for a great first show. Here’s to many, many more…