I’m a perfectionist. And yes, it’s a character flaw. Worse, I appear to have passed on this trait to my daughter, Rachael.
She rode in a schooling show at our barn a couple of years ago, and pinned 5th, 6th, and 5th in her three classes. The problem was, the class only had six entries in it. She was mad! And not just a little bit. She was full on, steaming, red-faced type mad. You see, the barn had deliberately divided the entries so that everyone would get a ribbon, thinking the kids would feel better with a ribbon, regardless of color, versus no ribbon at all. But that little trick did not go unnoticed by the riders. And when they pinned 5th or 6th, they knew exactly what that meant — that they were the worst or next to worst in their class.
I tried to spin it, and make it appear better. She was 9 at the time, riding against 12 and 13 year olds. She was on a horse she had never ridden in a show before — a skittish Morgan mare named Lady. She and Lady had never cantered together before. I could name a million reasons that she should have been proud of her performance, regardless of the ribbon. It didn’t work. She pinned, but it felt like a failure. I finally asked my friend and trainer (at the time), Chauna, to talk to her. Chauna did, and it helped. But not entirely. In all candor, I couldn’t really appreciate why until this past weekend.
I finally got a lease of sorts on a 17 hand fleabitten grey OTTB named Beretta. He’s much more refined than the school horses I’m used to. But he takes some getting used to. You see, my experience has been mostly on 15-ish to 16-ish hand horses. Moving up to this guy is great, but at his size, we cover a lot more ground, and sometimes I feel like he is running away with me. He isn’t. It’s just his stride. I just haven’t wrapped my head and my heart around it totally yet.
This past weekend, I was fortunate to take him to a local schooling show. Truth be told, the arrangement came about at rather the last minute. So several things about our first show experience together became a bit wonky as a result.
Because of the 11th hour nature of the arrangement, I didn’t get a chance to school with Beretta as I would have liked. I already had work obligations on my calendar that prevented my riding every day during the week leading up to the show. Instead, we only rode on Monday and Thursday. Beretta got the day off on Friday, and the show was Saturday.
Our barn doesn’t have a trailer to use, so we have to do a trail ride about an hour north to get to this particular show. It serves as a good warm-up for the horses. But I wasn’t the one riding him up. Beretta’s other lessor did that because she was riding in earlier classes than I was.
Then the show had a snafu and didn’t post our classes at the gate correctly. Believe me, we were checking! When they realized the mistake, they moved the posting from class 13 to class 16 — my first of six classes. So our warm-up was seriously curtailed. Fortunately, our current trainer, Lauren, argued for the ring to wait for us, and they grudgingly agreed. I carried every ounce of that drama and anxiety into the ring.
The worst of it was, I was unexpectedly riding against another mother from my daughter’s class at school. And to make matters worse, she was riding a spectacular Dutch Warmblood who was positively made as a hunter horse. Geez! Really? I was trying really hard not to embarrass my family, my trainer, or my barn. But no pressure. Yeah! Right!
So the first class starts — Adult Horsemanship at the walk and trot. I was tense and I knew it. But I didn’t think it showed so much. Until I saw the video. My feet stuck out at this painful looking angle. I clenched with my arms. I didn’t trust Beretta, and he knew it. It wasn’t that we looked hideous. We just didn’t look together or fluid or content like hunters should. We pinned 3rd — in a class of four.
Next was Adult Horsemanship at the walk, trot, and canter. It was the same song, just a different verse. They asked for walk to canter transitions, which Beretta and I had never done. We got the transition immediately (Whew!), and we had the correct leads (Yeah!). But I tried to stay upright in a full, deep-seat canter, only to have my hard driving seat make us look like we were fighting the whole time (Ugh!). We pinned 4th of four. Now exasperation began to set in.
The last class in the Adult Horseman ship division was walk, trot, canter, and a hack over two 2′ verticals. Mercifully, I didn’t have to go first. My head was spinning with what I should do, along with the overheating that accompanies riding in full competition regalia on a bright, sunny day. My tendency is to just get up there, and do my fences. But because I could watch the first rider, who did a lovely courtesy circle before and after her line, I was reminded that we should too.
When it was our turn, we took a wide circle, and I took a half seat position — partly to stay out of Beretta’s way, and partly to avoid the clumsy full-seat canter I put up in the previous two classes. I have to remember — it’s his job to jump, and it’s my job not to interfere. I guess I was just tired enough that I didn’t fuss too much with him. So we took our sweeping approach around the ring, and across our first jump. Since I was already in half seat, two point was easy to get to. Six strides later, we cleared the second fence, and picked up our correct lead coming out. We took a final courtesy circle to show that we would continue our canter until trot was requested, and made acceptable downward transitions to trot and then walk. We even threw in a square halt to show his responsiveness. Then I took my place in line and waited. We pinned 2nd! Victory!
Our last three classes were in the Novice Hunter division: two courses and an under saddle class. I pinned 5th of 6 (but one rider fell) in the first class, 4th of 6 in the second class, and 6th of 6 in the under saddle class.
I was upset, exasperated, embarrassed, frustrated, and dehydrated. And at that moment, I knew with excruciating clarity exactly how my daughter felt with her pink and green ribbons.
There were accolades, and congratulations from my barn-mates. And while I appreciated what they were trying to say, it all felt rather hollow. I had only put up one good performance out of six. And I felt like a jerk for finishing last in half of my classes. And although I had been awarded six ribbons in the six classes I entered, they didn’t feel like success.
Let’s just hope Beretta and his owner are colorblind so we can try again in October…