What a year – I laughed, I cried, I won, I got excused from the ring. I obsessed about Derbys, I may have been over-served. I showed at comfortable childhood haunts in monsoon conditions and at new venues where the wind threatened to blow the roof off. I made so many new best friends while reconnecting with those from years past. I even turned my boyfriend into a budding expert on hunters and equitation! But most importantly, I learned the most and had the most fun I can remember in my 34 years of riding.
I’ve been on hiatus for a while from my writing because I’ve been busy enjoying the most amazing summer that I can recall. What began as a rocky start to the year – moving barns, Jorge bowing a tendon and missing the first show, trailering issues and vet visits and a winter so cold we barely rode – morphed in to a downright fabulous (and successful) horse show experience for Jorge and me.
Some of you know that I’ve experienced more major life changes in the past three years than many do in a lifetime. I moved away from my home and friends in Wisconsin to embark on an adventure for love and professional development in Virginia. Lost my best friend, The Mouse, while there. Found a new best friend in Jorge. Was dumped unceremoniously on my ass. Was offered a terrific opportunity back home to put all my political skills to the test. So once again packed up my life, my dog, my horse, and with the help & support of some of the greatest friends a girl could have, came back to Milwaukee.
To be clear, I was PRIMED for a summer to remember!
Summer did not let me down. I learned more, laughed more and spent more(!) than I could have imagined. But it was so worth it. And it was a summer that imparted life-altering lessons I’ll keep with me always. Here are a few…
Be an obsessive over-packer. I showed up at the barn to depart for the first show unable to see out of any of my truck’s windows, then proceeded to load up the trailer with even more non-essential crap. My theory was that if you don’t know you’ll need it, you should probably take it.
I found that if you pack enough for three horses but only have one, your friends will poke fun at you. They will also secretly be pleased when there are plentiful camping chairs, a bottle opener, extra scissors and belts. So who’s laughing now?
“The Littles” are the lifeblood of the barn. This is the group of kids, aged 8 – 13, and the teens that mentor them, who come to horse shows with us. They ran wild around the grounds, jumping kid jumps and riding ponies for hours and hours on end, and are really missed when they aren’t around – I had to clean my own bridles at the August Ledges! Most importantly, they bring an energy and enthusiasm with them that I envy. And share a love of Katy Perry’s “Roar” with Jorge and myself.
I found them all gathered at a table on a Saturday morning in the snack shop at Ledges eating their weight in donuts. One was quizzing another on her upcoming courses. As the rider started to say she would start with the single and on to the outside, the other stopped her short to ask, “How will you enter the ring?” which led to an extensive conversation on trotting in across the diagonal, when to pick up your canter and so on. I shut my mouth for once and just smiled.
Surprise! Your trainer isn’t actually out to “ruin” your horse for you. While some trainers are trying to prove you are indeed a hapless amateur and only they alone can pilot your steed with any semblance of grace, most actually want to see you succeed. Well, at least mine does. I never doubted that Lane, our trainer, had the best of intentions, but the way I grew up in horses I rode everything myself – from green to made. So when I had my first nervous breakdown asking her to ride Jorge before a horse show, it was truly a sign that I had the utmost trust in her. (I’m still not sure she believes that…) Not only do I enjoy our lessons, I also like watching her ride Jorge – she feels what I feel, I see what I am feeling, she doesn’t let him get away from her hand and leg, and most importantly, she gets to be the “bad cop” and yell at my precious pony when he’s naughty.
She has this look which I interpret as saying, “Please stop talking and just ride your horse.” It is always more than deserved. Lane makes our lessons fun, prepares us properly for shows and lets me do my thing, knowing I’m a total control freak about, well, everything. She laughingly asked if I trusted her to wrap his legs one night at a show… I’d probably hate having me as a client.
It is possible to miss a horse show and not die. Yeah, I didn’t believe this, either. Until I did it. No, seriously. Despite endless whining, bitching, complaining, and carrying on before a long planned vacation with friends, I ended up having an absolute blast. I specifically agreed to go because the dates did not conflict with the regular season at the time, but then of course one got scheduled and I was pretty convinced my life would be over if I didn’t attend. My poor friends just smiled and ignored me, knowing that the moment I popped that first beer on the pontoon boat everything would change.
My unfortunate non-horse owning friends know more about lameness, injections and colic than most of the horse world. And while on said vacation, they may have had a few, put on my pearls and performed “Jorna impressions.” Everyone thought this was hysterical. Even I realized what a snob I can be and I should laugh at myself more. (Did my horse get Perfect Prep? No, seriously, did he?)
Never turn right out of Ledges. In all my years of showing in Roscoe, IL, we never turned right out of the drive, away from Love’s truck stop. Our weary team finally caravanned out of the parking lot around 11:30 on a Thursday night in July, after a long day that included an emergency vet visit. I was second in the line-up, following Jess and her niece to get back to our hotel. As we pulled up to the top of the drive, she put on her right blinker. I thought it was a mistake and started to go left. But no, she was indeed pointing her truck in the direction that likely none had ever gone before – she was turning RIGHT leaving Ledges.
Jess took us on a wild ride over dirt roads riddled with potholes. I know my car went airborne more than a few times as we were weaving our way through paths only known by children of the corn. At one point I texted the ladies behind me as I was pretty sure Jess was leading us out in to the cornfields to disembowel us and sell our organs. (She is a nurse, she likely knows how to do these things.) We laughed over pizza in the lobby a bit later, and never again made that same mistake the rest of the season.
Your most epic fails will be documented for posterity. Don’t worry about failing. A green horse is going to have ups and downs, so when the show photog caught all three of my unsuccessful attempts to get over fence two in our very first Derby, I put it on facebook and laughed it off – because as Lane said while I obsessed before that event, “Yeah, it could be a disaster, but you have to start somewhere!” Indeed.
I had armed our Littles with the video camera and what I got back in commentary was priceless. I can hear them all on tape saying things like, “C’mon, Jorna! You can do it, Jorgey!” as we made our third and last approach to the killer brown box. They made the embarrassment of being excused a lot less painful.
Purple sports bras are the perfect gift for most occasions. The same day I got my invitation to the Association’s Equitation Finals, I came home and found a package from Target in the mail. It was a purple sports bra courtesy of my dear friend Hillary, who was sending me luck from Maryland for our last show. The timing was perfect.
When I was a too big for my britches Junior, I always wore an unnecessary, if I’m being honest, dark purple bra under my white hunt shirt. I swore it was for good luck, but really I was just a snotty equitation winning teenager. So my friend knew exactly what would give my superstitious self the confidence I needed walking in to the ring. And wouldn’t ya know, we won that Final, and I owe it to a sports bra!
Squealing isn’t just for pony kids. I came out of the ring at the Finals show breathing heavily from nerves and excitement. My mom grabbed Jorge as I catapulted off the side of him and I saw my bestie Jodie standing by the in-gate. She had a huge grin on her face, and we proceeded to lock arms and jump up and down in a circle while squealing like little girls. What was the cause for such a jubilant celebration? I had just broken my “Derby Jinx” and completed the entire course without a refusal, albeit at mach Thoroughbred speed, and she knew what a huge deal that was for me. People were likely confused, as two grown women set their inner children free. But we didn’t care, and that’s what true friends do for you – know and commemorate the seemingly small, yet most important victories in your life.
Sunday afternoon hacks at the barn are better than winning derbies. There is no price tag I can put on a beautiful Sunday afternoon ride in the field, followed by shared laughs and beverages with half a dozen other middle-aged horse fanatics while watching The Littles go round and round on the schoolies. Pure bliss. Cherish those moments, as winter is knocking right around the corner and sitting on the hill won’t be nearly as much fun in your Carhart. And your beer will probably freeze.
Don’t be a grumpasaurus for no particular reason. I was harrumphing around the barn in August about when we were leaving for the horse show and being a cranky pants. Luckily Jess paid me no mind, even when I complained in her general direction. When I apologized later that night, she responded, “I barely noticed. Remember, I’ve known you since we were kids.” Other lesson within this – truly honest, yet kind, friends are hard to come by so keep them close!
Always smile – this is fun! My horse makes me smile like a kid at her first Pony Finals. And people notice. Even when we have some issues in the ring, or he acts like he’s never hacked in the field, Jorge still makes me higher than a gift card from the tack store. When I look at pictures from every horse show this season, I’m always grinning ear to ear. Enjoy the ride, the partnership, and potentially living on Ramen noodles every night. If it makes you happy, whatever the sport or activity, never apologize. I do not regret a penny spent on or moment spent with Jorge.
It is okay to collect your blue ribbon in the Eq and silently think “I’m back!” Being over 18 is no excuse to ride like your bones are all rubber. It still comes down to living up to my childhood moniker of being the “Equitation Queen” for me. I was thrilled when we were invited to participate in the Wisconsin Hunter Jumper Association Fall Equitation Finals this year, and even more so when we unexpectedly won it. This truly wasn’t about being competitive, it was about realizing I had confidence in my abilities, after the past few years of doubting I still had it in me. Who says Juniors are the only ones who can sit the extended trot?! #OldAdultEq #HeelsDownForWhat!
Sometimes you’ll make poor life decisions and come out with great stories. It is okay to know all the words to the song “Paradise City” by Guns n’ Roses. And you do sound particularly great around 1am in a place called the “Road Dawg” attached to a motel in South Beloit. I’ll just leave it there…
You really aren’t in as good of shape as you thought. I should probably have ridden my bike more than a few times over two or three months before embarking on a 24-hour community race. Contrary to (my) popular opinion, they are not the same muscles used in riding and I hurt for days after. But did get an awesome tattoo.
One of my favorite events of the summer was totally non-horse related yet had the same sense of community. Two friends and I formed a team to compete in what is called the Riverwest 24, a bike “race” around a Milwaukee neighborhood. Our goal was to keep someone on the course at all times and just complete the event – which we did, and in good form, I might add. Proving that there is athleticism out of the saddle as well.
Force unsuspecting victims to attend shows. Having my significant other come to a show is actually not stressful – as I thought it might be – and instead I really enjoyed having him there. In the span of 24 hours he learned how to wipe boots, hold Jorge while I braided, and to “hurry up and wait.” By the second show he attended, he took charge of Jorge more often than not, allowing the horse to take him on walks, collecting the grooming box from whichever ring we left it at, and became an expert at knowing when to just say “good luck” as I slipped into some form of obsessed-course induced coma. He asked questions about what the judge was looking for during different classes, brought me coffee and isn’t holding a grudge that my mouthy, naughty horse drew blood. #equestriancatch #mymomwarnedhim
You’re never too old to want your Pony Mom with you. Sorry everyone, but I have the best Pony Mom on the planet. What we started together over 30 years ago as a team is still going strong to this day! While she doesn’t get to every show, as I am now capable of driving (and paying) myself, she was able to come to our first and last shows of the season this year. When she wasn’t there, she was on the edge of her seat back home with phone in hand waiting for the reports throughout the day. Just knowing that she was thinking about us gave me comfort and confidence.
But once she’s at a show, it is game on. She polishes boots and cleans stalls and lectures me to stop worrying like I’m 10 again. She feeds me and hauls my stuff around from ring to ring. She stands at the in-gate and rides every stride with me, and is proud no matter what color ribbon we procure, if at all. I couldn’t ask for more, and I just wish she could be there every time.
There’s no I in team. But there is a me and a Jorge. I love being part of “Team Foremost”. They are the best bunch of supportive, fun-loving, horse crazy people who really are drama free (no one ever believes me but it is true). I enjoy hanging out with them at the barn, at shows, and especially when we go on special outings to do things like paint…horses, of course!
Though sometimes at shows it would be way easier to take a much-needed quick nap on my tack trunk rather than watch whoever is showing at the time, I haul myself up to the ring. Because they are always there to cheer me on and it is important to me to reciprocate that support. They laugh at me because I was often found collecting armfuls of our hard-earned ribbons this summer to put on the banner, then insisting we take group pictures to plaster on facebook. But I want everyone to know how awesome they are and how honored I am to be a part of the team – and if some 50 cent ribbons with mismatched rosettes can help make the case, I’m all for it!
So as I stream Capital Challenge on my iPad, and as I envy every facebook status from Minnesota Harvest, I am eternally grateful for such an amazing summer. And that’s the attitude I intend to keep as we move in to the season where it is acceptable to wear cowboy boots for any occasion (some call it Fall).
I look forward to my future with my horse, my barn mates and the unfortunate – more shared laughs, more quality learning, more interesting experiences that I’ll hold close to my heart.
Because this summer was exactly what I needed – now, how many days until the first December Ledges?!?!