Help me, Rhonda! (or: How I won a Smartpak contest)


There is a special place in heaven for parents that go to horse shows. Not the ones that also ride, like my mom – there’s a whole separate heaven for her – but the moms and dads who understand nothing about the sport other than it costs them the equivalent of the mortgage on a vacation home every year and that it makes their daughter happy. People whose eyes glaze over when you drop into the horse world jargon like “Did you see how she was a few steps late on the change after the two stride? If she would have just dropped into her heel more he wouldn’t have grabbed the bit like that.” Smile and nod, it’s only polite. And if you ask us to explain, it will just get more confusing.

Weekend after weekend they come dressed in real world clothes (walking targets for ponies with green slime oozing from their bits) to watch their child ride in endless circles in the dust. An under saddle class? Um, aren’t they all using saddles? Over fences – got it, they jump! But equitation versus jumpers and hunters… I liken it to my boyfriend taking me to a hockey game – there are bright lights and noise, sometimes fights, but really its just a gaggle of overgrown boys whacking at each other with sticks to me.

Back when I was showing my Small Junior Hunter, Murray (Custom Made), the local Wisconsin Hunter Jumper Association decided to engage these non-horse parents with a special class. A class that they could participate in with their child and their retirement fund, I mean, her horse. A class with (hopefully) little danger involved and no skill required. A parent’s leadline class.

I asked my dad to ride. But it wasn’t my dad who showed up, it was Rhonda.

Rhonda was a cigarette smoking balding blonde with a love for Great Lash mascara and 80’s blue eye shadow. When she was younger she had a fuller head of hair, but too many nights out at the Oconomowoc bars led to her demise. Rhonda was trashy and crass and did whatever she needed to get ahead.

Did I forget to mention that Rhonda was a mask?

I dressed Murray up in his finest – four different colored neon polo wraps, his bright pink halter and a curly mane from recently having removed his braids. I complemented this ensemble with an orange neon windbreaker and my NKOTB hat, obtained at a recent outing to see them at the Marcus Amphitheater. We were ready.

In walks my dad sporting his rust colored chaps, a pair of white Reebok’s, a matching neon jacket, and the Rhonda mask. To cover some of Rhonda’s hair loss, he had donned a felt cowboy hat. It was something only my dad could ever pull off.

After a few turns around the ring, they awarded every parent a blue ribbon of their very own in honor of their checkbooks. Rhonda did do her best to win by whipping out a couple of twenties to offer up to the judge. I told you she’d do anything to come out on top. And the classic picture above forever memorializes the event in history.

Fast forward 20 or so years. Smartpak, an online one-stop-shop for all your equine needs ran a “I can’t believe I wore that to the barn” contest. You submitted your most outlandish picture for facebook followers to vote who was the worst dressed. Contest winners were to be awarded with fancy new duds from a company called Kerrits. I couldn’t resist.

I submitted the picture of Rhonda, Murray and I, hoping it would get at least a few laughs. We were chosen among the Top 10 finalists, which meant my worlds could finally collide. I’m a professional political campaign hack by trade, which somehow pays the bills to support my horsey habit. I ran an all-out “Get Out the Vote” campaign on my facebook. I made friends from all walks of life “like” Smartpak and vote for me to win. I harassed, cajoled, phone banked, emailed, and generally annoyed the living daylights out of my 600 some friends on the series of tubes. It was probably the most important and toughest race I’ve ever run in my life.

While in the political world coming in 2nd place means you pack up your things and go home, in this case I won a lovely Kerrits jacket which I use just about every day at the barn.

And I have Rhonda to thank for it.



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