Chasing our dreams – Photo by Don Stine

The bright and shining culmination of my show season, my entire year (and really the 3 years prior) occurred a few weeks ago: The Arabian and Half-Arabian US National Sport Horse Championships. This national show brings together the absolute best of the best Arabian and Half Arabian Sport Horses to compete in the disciplines of Dressage, Jumping, Carriage Driving, Under Saddle and In Hand.

Cisco and I were ready. We were more than ready. Our collective improvement in just this last year alone had been evident, not only in our show performances but in the comments of judges to whom we’d shown as well as several others whose opinions I respect and highly value. Cisco and I were so ready that I’d even allowed myself to think that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be my year to realize my biggest dream. To finally lay that coveted blanket of roses across Cisco’s neck and we would return home with that long sought after silver horse trophy inscribed with those 3 simple, yet ever so meaningful words “US National Champion”.

I’ve dreamed of bringing one of these home. For now I’ll keep on dreaming.

Alas, my dream remains undiscovered. We made it through one class successfully before Cisco jogged up lame following a working hunter round. Although his lameness was not severe and at times barely noticeable, he was most definitely off and remained so after a full day’s rest. Unable to determine the cause of his distress, we were forced to scratch the remainder of the show.

When I considered the extent of our hard work and the long list of sacrifices that had been made to get to this level, to this one horse show, I was devastated. These circumstances were completely beyond my control but I was beyond disbelief and bordering on despair.

Disappointment and frustration threatened to overwhelm me several times and although my trainer told me that I needed to take some time to really have a good cry, I knew I had to save that until I’d returned home. Greater than my grief was the honest realization that this show was going to go on without us and that outside of my own grief and disappointment, the dreams of my friends and barn-mates were still on the line.

Katie aboard Hunter with Trainer Joyce Thomas following a Top Ten ride

Among these friends was Katie, a fellow Working Hunter and Equitation competitor who, more than anyone, truly understood my grief. Two year ago at this very show, Katie’s gelding Hunter (Show name, Chasseur) had had a near catastrophic accident which had forced them to withdraw before the first class had even begun.

After a full year of recovery and yet another of re-conditioning and schooling, Katie and Hunter were back with a vengeance. Though battling chronic knee troubles of her own, Katie and Hunter put in solid courses, respectable rides and went home with 5 National Top Ten awards out of 6 classes entered.

Also there was Crystal, who was back after 2 years to claim a Dressage title she’d very narrowly missed in 2010. She’d returned home then, set to studying her craft, did her homework and this year rode her “little buddy” Thunder (LA Thunder Bey) to a well-deserved Top Ten (4th overall) award in one of the largest classes of the show.

Then there was Cori, a fellow adult equitation loyalist. Cori was showing 2 horses and for her this show was both bitter and sweet. Her gelding, Bailey (CD Special Effect), was set to be retired from the show ring following this show. CH Jasmine, who would be her mount going forward, she’d only been riding for a couple of months though the mare had just come off several National wins at the Youth National show in July with Cori’s daughter Julia. Cori showed both horses to Top Ten titles and aboard Bailey, demonstrated one of the finest equitation patterns I’ve seen to date, completely nailing a counter-canter figure 8 that tripped up nearly every other competitor.

Jan and CJ – National Champions!

Finally, there was Jan who would be showing her gelding CJ One For The Money on the national stage for the final time as CJ would be retired following this show. CJ must have known what was in store and figured he’d go out with a bang. Together the pair rode to 3 National Championship titles and earned several more Top Ten awards. Jan was gracious to allow me to pet the silver trophy horses whenever the whim arose (which was often). 😉

I was proud of my friends and knew they’d been working just as hard as Cisco and I had. Although moping and throwing a pity party for myself sounded appealing at times, cheering on my friends and sharing in the successes for which they had worked and also sacrificed sounded a far more rewarding option.

Congratulations to N Joy Arabians on a fantastic 2012 Sport Horse Nationals!

Furthermore, I had been given the privilege to show a purebred Arabian gelding who belonged to a friend and client of my trainer when, a little over a month earlier, his usual amateur rider discovered a conflicting commitment and wouldn’t be able to attend. The privilege was an honor for me and I had been diligently working over the last month to connect with Starrman (Eluczions Starr) and to brush up my rusty Dressage and in-hand skills. I had a responsibility to him, to his owner and to my trainer who had both put their faith in me. This would be the first time in several years that I was to show at halter. I’m pleased to report that I did not fall on my face in mid run around the in-hand triangle and Starrman and I earned a Top Ten ribbon and hefty plaque for his mom Crystal to take home.

When the last gate had closed and the final results tallied, every single horse and rider pair in our little barn family had earned at least one National Top Ten award (Yes, even Cisco and I managed to claim one in the single class we’d made it through). Though not quite the dynamite season-end I’d personally hoped for, this show, as always, was still somehow magical and this ending largely bittersweet.

Cisco and I plan to be back when Sport Horse Nationals returns to Idaho in 2014, while some of my friends (both human and equine) will not. Disappointments aside, priceless memories were made there, shared with the truest of friends and will forever be treasured. Congratulations to my N Joy Arabians family on a fantastic show!