Sophie and Cookie at Four Seasons

OK, I know what you’re asking.  “Have you been hitting the vino again, Amy?”  The answer to that would be NO, although I might contemplate having a glass at some point.

Recently we went to the Pony Jockey’s first horse show of the season, the Four Seasons show at Duncraven Stables in Titusville, NJ.  We spent Saturday primping and polishing the pony, making a last minute run to the tack shop (how is it possible for a child to grow so quickly and to lose so dang many gloves??) and then on Sunday morning we got up at o’ dark hundred to make the hour-long drive to the show.  Luckily the impending rain was holding off, so we considered that a good sign.

Silly us.  Cookie, normally the most reliable of ponies, a pony who considers herself a Very Important Horse Show Pony, was apparently not in the mood to horse show yesterday.  She’s entitled to not be in the mood.  We all get that way sometimes.

Here’s what happened: We were entered in Pre-Children’s Hunter and Equitation: My trainer had my daughter Sophie and Cookie school for only a little while as the footing in the schooling ring wasn’t optimal. Since Cookie is older and had broken her splint bone, my trainer likes to be conservative and save her legs for the classes.  No arguments there.  The footing in the outdoor ring was a bit sticky from some earlier rain, and my trainer told Sophie she’d need to ride with some real impulsion to help Cookie get over the fences.  Soph rode in, and promptly forgot her instructions. They got to fence number 2, an oxer with yellow flowers, and the pony, realizing her pilot was asleep at the wheel,  said, “No, thank you very much” and ducked out left.  She did that twice more and they retired.  The good news was the child didn’t seem upset or mad at the pony — which made me quite happy.

Re-evaluating the strategy

So, for round 2, our trainer instructed Sophie to ride up more, add more inside leg, and use an opening outside rein to hold Cookie on the right track.  Well, Cookie is not usually a stopper, but she’s also no dope, and by now she’d decided that she saw herself a quick way back to the trailer and her hay.  Three drive-bys past the same oxer out they went, Exit Stage Left. Off went pony, child and trainer to the schooling ring.  Luckily the child was still fine about the whole thing, no anger at the pony, no tears.  Just  an “Okay, we have a problem to fix” kind of attitude.   I was trying to take notes, as I’m not sure I’d have been as composed..

By now, I’m a bit worried that there’s something wrong with the pony.  My mare is not a stopper, but if she does, it’s usually a sign that something hurts.  So while they schooled I prayed to the Horse Show gods that the pony wasn’t hurting somewhere.  I’m a natural worrier, so I was envisioning catastrophic breakdowns, MRIs, career ending injuries.  My husband took one look at me and told me to stop, that the pony was just testing Soph. (Not inconceivable, as Cookie is a very smart pony and does not see why she should be doing all the work if her pilot is daydreaming away up there.)

It seems Cookie was not in pain, just in a mood.  My trainer suggested menopause, as Cookie is 16 now.  No matter, because for round 3 Soph clearly had her head in the game and rode like her life depended on it.  That pony not only had pace, she was going around that ring like her tail was on fire!  As they approached the bogey fence, Soph held her inside leg on the pony like an iron rail and held a wide opening outside rein, and about 4 strides from the fence she went to the stick like a jockey coming down to the wire on Derby day.  Needless to say Cookie said a firm “Yes, Ma’am” and cleared that fence like she’d never even thought of going by it.

Wheeee! Over the bogey fence!

Needless to say, the pony knew we were onto her tricks and had found herself an engine, and it was in full gear. The next couple rounds were a bit brisk, to say the least, and gave Soph a few real good opportunities to “cowgirl up”  and learn to stick the long ones.

God love her, she came out of the ring with a huge grin on her face, patting her pony for a job well done.  ‘Did you see how fast we were going that time?” she asked.  Last I checked, neither Hunter or Eq rounds were judged on speed, but so what, the kid and the pony were now having fun, and that’s what matters.

So in terms of ribbons won, it was not the best of days (although we did get a few ribbons). In terms of lessons learned, though, it was definitely a banner experience.

A year or two ago, a day like that would have sent the child fetal.  Now she grins through it and tells her pony she’s a good girl.  She learned to gut out a difficult round, make the best out of some lousy spots and get over them and move on to the next fence.  She learned she could stick with a pony that was being less than perfect, and if that isn’t a confidence builder, I don’t know what is.  Most importantly, to my way of thinking, she clearly showed that the ribbon was not what mattered, rather it was the time spent with one’s pony and the experience of learning together that was.

Way to go, kiddo.  Momma’s proud of you.

The humans are happy, but Cookie's still wondering where her hay is.