Spring always has me reflecting on pivotal or nostalgic moments in my life – I guess it’s that feeling of infinite possibility as the weather warms up. I always find myself returning to the year I graduated from high school, and a sunny day at the barn.
I saw my trainer’s silhouette coming up the aisle way in the barn. She had something in her hand, but I couldn’t quite make it out. I was teetering on the edge of adulthood, having just graduated from high school and looking ahead to a fun summer before heading off to college. It was a time where everything felt colorful and happy.
“Here you go, happy graduation,” Coach said in her brusque manner, thrusting a garment bag into my hand. I was taken by surprise as I undid the zipper and saw the beautiful, navy blue RJ Classics show coat resting inside. Truth be told, I’d only had a coat I’d found on consignment up to this point – I wasn’t exactly rolling in money as a kid.
Coach wouldn’t let me make a big deal out of the gift, so I maturely zipped it back up and placed it carefully in my car.
That fall, I joined the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team at the University of Georgia. The team was in its inaugural year, so we all were learning the ropes of club sports as we went. Part of being a part of the IHSA team was, of course, horse shows.
I never really showed much in high school. I vaguely remember one A or AA show, but the rest were vastly schooling shows, hopping around the Beginner Rider Hunter division. So competing as a part of the Georgia team was a big deal. Incidentally, my first competition at Berry College in Rome, Ga. would be the first opportunity I had to wear my show coat. That coat also helped a team mate get through her first show, as she didn’t have a coat of her own and I offered her the use of mine. She wasn’t the only one, either – that coat made its share of rounds, saving friends who’d forgotten theirs at home or those who simply didn’t have their own.
That coat proceeded to travel with me through college and the subsequent years after. While I never showed consistently, I always felt nearly irreverent each opportunity I had to pull it out of its garment bag. Years and years later, an unwitting boyfriend would toss the coat in the dryer, effectively ending its wooly life. I’m fairly sure I shed actual tears as I folded it up for the final time.
It’s not as if that coat was with me as I went to Young Riders (I didn’t even jump over three feet until I was out of college), it didn’t go with me to a championship or a final (I wasn’t about that life as a kid), nor did it even really make that many appearances throughout its life. But that coat, to me, symbolized a relationship with a coach who truly formed my riding and gave me a proper foundation (and whose endorsement was far from easily earned!), those rose-colored high school and college days with fewer responsibilities, and maybe just a hint of a reminder of everything horses have always meant to me.