Back when I was your age we used to have to walk our ponies all the way to the rings at Lamplight, carrying our own grooming bucket and a hot dog that was inevitably dripping ketchup onto our semi-clean breeches … while my mom, covered in green pony slime, followed behind with a gaggle of Hillcrests.
I’ve dramatically aged in the past few years. I think I’m approximately 85. Because it seems I spend more time yakking with friends, innocent bystanders and bewildered teenagers about “back in the day” than I do riding my horse.
Picture your grandparents telling you stories. But instead of a rocking chair on the front porch, it is the barn lounge. Instead of a wet sheet, it’s a 1990 Ledges pony cooler. And instead of imparting life lessons, we are doing our best to impress upon the youngsters that, while it was a blast, we personally guarantee their parents will NOT be happy to find the party in their hotel room at the WHJA banquet this year.
There are stories about fabulous horse shows and ones where it rained so hard you couldn’t jog. There are tales of trainer torture. Then there are more tales of trainer torture. There is sharing about horses and ponies past. Most importantly, there is laughter and reminiscing and disapproving looks from junior riders (“You actually wore rust breeches? Ewwww!”). Just be glad Tailored Sportsman no longer makes 2-way stretch, my little dears.
Like the time at Trader’s Point when we asked if we could go for a trail ride on our ponies after schooling. We were told we had to walk. I interpreted that as run-hell-bent-for-leather for the next 45 minutes. When asked why the ponies were dripping with sweat upon returned, we said they were nervous on the trail.
Or the many sleep over “horse shows” that took place in our youth. One set of parents would covertly host the gathering and we’d be shuttled silently, under threat of no stirrups for weeks, to said house to spend the night jumping basement courses made of chairs, broomsticks and couches. Returning to our own barns the next day, we dared not speak a word of the engagement – we were not allowed to fraternize with the competition! But some of my fellow rule breakers are my dearest friends to this day.
There are the many, many times that we had NO business being in the saddle during our rebellious teen years. But those soccer boys from Green Bay were incredibly cute and we were at WEC, so why not just head out to a house party for a few hours before we all have to head back to braid?!?! (Murray, thank you for not killing me.)
But these stories that I endlessly retell to my barn friends, my non-horse friends (we’ll refer to them as the ‘unfortunate’) and unsuspecting strangers weave a vibrant narrative of why I love this sport. Why I am the rider I am today. Why I’ll jump out of bed at 3a to go to a horse show. Why I can waste an entire day watching friends school at home. Why the barn at night is the most special place in the world.
I feel like I’m part of a secret society, or maybe more appropriately, a gang. But really we are a group of smart and successful women who will continue to relive the indiscretions of our youth, discuss the quality instruction we received at deafening levels and impart wisdom on the special bonds we shared with each other and our horses. And then do it again. These fond memories we have must be kept alive. And we must encourage the next generation of 30 & 40-somethings to hold on to the coolers and the coffee mugs and all the special moments that create their history with equine companions.
Because that 1995 WHJA scrim sheet doesn’t lead me to remembering my last show year as a Junior, it reminds me that it is indeed inappropriate to wear a rhinestone collar and silver slip dress to a banquet.