Racing horses, we occasionally drew a bad weather day, but we still had to feed and care for a barn full, so you just pack your raincoat and extra towels and off you go. The experience always draws people closer; folks you have to work with in the paddock, or after the races in the barn. You all go through the same things – wet faces, hands, feet; hard work to wash and dry the horses and clean them after a sloppy track covers them. While the horses always seem to fare better than us (they aren’t as wimpy about weather), it’s still quite an experience to go through a heavy rain with horses in competition.
Recently, the upper level eventing world had a similar group-hug experience when a flash thunderstorm flooded stalls at the Great Meadows showcase event. All pitched in to dig trenches to drain the barns and keep the horses’ stalls from flooding. When you work hard, together, under really difficult conditions, you find you come out the other side better, somehow.
While jump judging in the rain this weekend I had the luxury of a car to sit in, to stay dry, and a radio to keep us informed. While it sprinkled in the morning for most of the competitors scheduled early in the day, by the afternoon it changed to pretty solid downpour. The group of riders who braved this were among the youngest or least experienced. And the overall bravery and guts I observed made me feel pretty darn good about the next generation of horse people.
They started in a downpour, and once away from the start box, had a couple pretty difficult fields of blinding rain to traverse. I could hear the ponies stopping on Fence 5. Two stops. Three. But continuing on to school. Another stop. Won’t go in the water. Wants to go back to others in warmup. More sliding around in wet saddles, kicking, kicking, get that pony in the water! And on to the next! By the time they turned to go down the hill to my two little jumps, the rain was pelting them and they could hardly see, but they had hands in the mane, and pushed their little paddock-booted feet into those stirrups hard, and got over that black planter box, slithered down the hill, and popped that ditch! Then galloped back up the hill to the last fences.
Each little rider, pony, or older rider and green horse that came through were wetter and wetter, yet they just kicked on. Some of the horses looked pretty unsure; some looked trusting and some ponies were a little bratty, but they all tried, every one. One competitor called it a day, and said she was going to quit, but did get her horse over one more jump to have the day end on a positive note. It was an impressive bunch, that Introductory division, with their little ponies, green horses or lesson mounts, and the riding, while not George Morris perfect, was darn effective and pretty impressive considering their saddles were feeling like waterslides.
Once you finish a competition like that, you get to say, “I rode in the rain once.” And EVERYONE who has ever experienced it knows what you mean; you’re in the “club” with all the others in eventing, from Boyd, and Jennie, and Phillip, and all the other team riders at Great Meadows with all the fancy prizes and bright lights. It doesn’t matter that you’re a 10-year-old pony clubber on the lesson horse. You’re in the club; you’ve been there, and done that, whether it’s in a slippery grassy field gutting your way around the Fair Hill Intro level cross-country course on a 12-hand grump, or Rolex.