There is poultice in my ring – and other signs horse show season is upon us!

sunday morning

Bones and I are spending an unusually lazy free Sunday morning editing videos from the weekend, reading the most recent Chronicle, and most importantly, napping.

We sat down for dinner last night after returning from a schooling show in Madison, Wisconsin smelling like roses and dressed to the nines. We kindly asked the bar keep if he might bring us something to quench our thirst when he had a moment free. Then we carefully selected healthy items from the menu, as we are athletes and must treat our bodies as temples. Conversation centered around international affairs and how the stock market is performing.

HA!

You know what really happened – we rolled in to a crowded sports bar right before Wisconsin took on Kentucky in the Final Four wearing our farm baseball caps, stinking like only the inside of a horse barn in winter can, and immediately demanded beer and fried food be piled on to the table. Which we then set upon with the gusto and grace of a horse to sweet feed. Jess remarked, “I don’t even need to shower today – I did that yesterday!”

Horse show season is here, and of course, I couldn’t be happier 🙂

I posed this question to our table – what makes it official? What is the quintessential thing in your life or the trademark that the next however many months (usually 4 ½ for me) will revolve around standing ringside in the hot sun, pouring rain and hurricane force wind, which truly marks show season?

Camden (left) and Sydney (right) ready to show off their skills this season.

Camden (left) and Sydney (right) ready to show off their skills this season.

Trainer Lane, with a rather frightening and harried look in her eyes, replied, “I have a list in the back of my head of things that need to get done that just keeps rolling and rolling…” She also described her car as “full of stuff” but I jokingly argued that was a day ending in Y for her. Something true of everyone at the table.

Nine year old Sydney, who had proudly participated in her first over fences horse show earlier in the day, initially responded with one important word – FUN – before declaring that the first thing she thinks about are “my diagonals” when it comes to horse show season. I couldn’t agree more. On either point.

Jess was next. She exclaimed, “Oh, I know! The majority of my wardrobe is found in my trailer (dressing room).” Starting my now second show season with Foremost Stable, I personally attest to the validity of this statement. Makes it so much easier for her to pack than the rest of us.

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It will remain like this until my jeweler father cleans it – which luckily makes him laugh!

For me, the truest sign that summer show season has arrived is that the ring I wear on my right hand is always covered in poultice. Inevitably I’m either out of gloves or in a rush or frankly just don’t care, and dig that hand in to the vat of clay at the end of every day to spread on Jorge’s hind legs before wrapping. Despite washing my hands, taking (semi) regular showers and giving (regular) horse baths, a thick layer embeds itself underneath the sapphire. And honestly, I like it that way. When I’m sitting in a dull work meeting between shows I can look down and remind myself that soon again I’ll spend my entire weekend traipsing between rings with cameras, grooming boxes and Littles before mounting up myself to compete.

Ah, the life!

We went on to discuss that the start of our summer local show season has typically been celebrated by a competition held since at least 1983 (which I do believe was their first year) over Memorial Day weekend called Run O’ the Mill, or more affectionately, ROM. When I was a kid, my grandmother would always make pudding filled cupcakes, both vanilla and chocolate, and bring them to this show to honor my birthday. Usually this was the only thing I ate all weekend, and I miss her and that kind gesture every year.

Another bold sign show season is here? Dry cleaning bags. I do not dry clean anything in my life other than my hunt coat and show breeches. Nothing. Not even the cashmere sweaters or the wool pants. I have washable suits for work. Somehow those things seem relatively unimportant when compared to ensuring the navy show jacket and skin toned pants are promptly taken to and picked up from the professionals.

It means I never really unpack. My show trunk remains at the barn, containing Jorge’s show bridle, halter and other essential items like boot polish and braiding kits. My Tahoe is filled with camping chairs, standing wraps, beer coolers and dog pillows covered in shavings. As I went to pack for the schooling show this past weekend, I found that the duffle bag I took to Ledges two weeks ago was still full of clean and dirty clothes – saved me some time so I could clip him before we left.

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One thing I refuse to miss is the Riverwest 24 – a community bike “race” in a hip Milwaukee neighborhood.

Horse show season does mean I miss some other fun things with non-horse friends, and I do cringe every time I receive a text that asks when I am free for drinks or would I like to go to the beach today. But as much as I love and miss them, there’s no place I’d really rather be than braiding my naughty pony at 3:30 on a Saturday morning before waiting hours on end for my fifteen minutes of fame later that day.

This year we have a new show – Capital City Challenge in Madison – which will mark the start of the local calendar in Wisconsin the first weekend of May. A new indicator that the season is upon us. And now that I’m an older amateur, maybe we should start Champagne Sunday or something similar at the show, as a kick-off tradition. What could possibly go wrong with that?!?!

Sure, the weather is finally starting to cooperate for outdoor rides. Most days, it seems. And yes, the pounds of winter hair that cling to you after a solid grooming session are tell-tale that Spring has sprung. But there are other indicators, for me at least, that my waking hours will be consumed wholly with thinking about and preparing for our next competition. As if somehow this isn’t true the other 8-odd months of the year…

I know you are as excited as I am to welcome the best time of the year – horse show season. No matter your discipline or the amount you intend to compete, there is a thrill in the preparation that dramatically ramps up as the days get longer and warmer. So I encourage you to take an extra moment to commemorate those little things that help build the anticipation of getting in the show ring.

Good luck out there this summer. More importantly, have fun.

And may all your rounds be blue ribbon!

Mimi and Murray

My grandmother “Mimi” and Murray at ROM. Likely the only time she ever held a horse, but she was a good sport about coming to watch me ride circles in the dust.

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Just say YES!

Paris F&F

Showing the jumpers like a boss!

 

It all started so innocently.

Lane, our trainer, went out of town for a few days and asked me if I wanted to ride her jumper mare whom had just returned from a year lease. Sure, I said, as it is always nice to get on other horses, especially those of the “trained” variety that actually move off your leg rather than blatantly ignoring it as if it might be some type of decorative saddle ornament.

After a lovely sunny late October afternoon hack in the outdoor, I was enamored with the mare, regally named Paris (aka The Princess), and I sent my trainer a text joking that we needed to work out a deal regarding my new “equitation on the flat” horse. Which led to a lesson upon her return to town. And then another. And another.

As our lessons progressed, so did the heights of the jumps. Rapidly. In short order Paris was navigating her way to some pretty serious oxers while I clung for dear life to my inside rein and tried to act nonchalant about the whole thing when really I was about to “soil my breeches.” And of course, there was never any pressure I put on myself because I was riding the trainer’s horse. No, there was definitely none of that. Especially when it seemed that everyone was inevitably at the barn, and in the ring, every time I rode! 🙂

I don’t usually like mares and I most definitely do not ride jumpers, yet it wasn’t long before I realized how much I looked forward to these lessons, jumping higher than I had since I was 19. I found that I am willing and able, dare I say eager, to be an adult and jump big girl jumps. I might even go so far as to allege that I am not half bad at it, though Paris and Jorge may take issue with that assessment.

So I decided that this winter I would invoke a little tough love on both Jorge and myself if I wanted to truly be a better equestrian, and I would adopt an attitude of YES, no matter the question.

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Clearly I needed to use the momentum of my body to propel us across this ginormous jump.

Have time to ride another horse? Yes. Want to jump big jumps? Yes?! Should I give Jess $7.50 every time I looked for my diagonal? Oh yes, but only if it goes into the beer fund. Want to take Paris to a horse show and compete in the 3’ jumpers for the first time in over 20 years? Umm… gulp…I’m a hunter rider, but if I can buy us sparkly matching jumper outfits, well, then a resounding YES!

A mere 3’, let alone 3’6”, may not seem like a lot to you, but let me tell ya there have been many days when I’ve questioned if that oxer reeeally seemed more like 2’9” than our comfortable 2’6”, invoking waves of panic. And, inevitably, the determination that if Jorge and I are to clear said obstacle I will need to pick out of the corner then hurl my entire upper body toward his ears to help him to the other side. This uniquely trademarked “whole neck release” really impresses Lane and I’m sure instills confidence in her decision to let us represent our farm in the show ring. Or to even be stabled near my fellow barn mates.

My key learning from these sessions with Paris and my new-found resolve has been that it is significantly improving my rides on my own horse. I am more confident to the jumps. I am becoming tighter in the tack and therefore less afraid, meaning that I do not dismount and lunge every time he tosses his head (though that line is never far in the winter – the Virginia thoroughbred can buck like a rodeo bronc when stripped of his toasty coats!). Most importantly, I am truly excited and determined to step up into a higher division this year with Jorge and by the end of the season show the 3’ amateurs.

Jorge probably doesn’t share this goal, and as he told the pet psychic this summer – yes, the pet psychic – he’s not all caught up in being the best of the best, he just wants to have fun. He likely thinks I’m setting the bar a bit high and would prefer something a little less pressure-intensive such as finally hacking the entire 40 acres alone without a single buck or spin & run by the end of 2018. Maybe 2020. Or convincing me his true calling in life is to become a professional winter blanket model. But I’ve got to push us both to get there because it is time to up our game.

In all seriousness, I know I need to do this for me. I’ve written about my fears and getting older, I’ve also written about being the best of the best. This is about all of those things, and more – enjoying the struggle to get there because #thestruggleisreal. And I tend to be the type to want it all now so we can move up again soon, so this exercise in patience and new learning experiences is a wonderful life lesson for me as well.

While some snow-filled days I’d rather binge on Netflix and eat Nutella out of the jar with a spoon, our first horse show this spring is right around the corner. Which also means I must say YES to putting down the glass of wine before I’ve gone through the entire vat of chocolatey-hazlenutty goodness.

Because when Lane turns to me at the in-gate, she won’t have to wonder if I’m ready to go into the ring and kick some tail. Thanks to a winter of tough love, my answer will be a resounding YES!

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Yes, it is okay to let everyone know just how much fun you have!!!

 

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My heart aches.

Every time I hear someone has lost their best friend, my heart aches.

Every time I read a facebook post thanking a special horse for the time they were able to share, my heart aches.

Every time a person close to me or an acquaintance or a random stranger shares a story about a beloved pal who has passed, my heart aches.

But if you’ve ever loved a horse, your heart hurts, too.

Our hearts ache because we’ve been there. Maybe we’ve lost that best friend, written that post. We have been the friend, acquaintance and stranger that drew strength from the support of others to make it through the day.

Our hearts ache because we know. We know the love, the bond, the secrets kept between you and your soul mate. A mate that communicates without words. One that shares a love so pure and true it doesn’t seem to make sense. A bond forged through trial and error, trust and respect.

We hurt together because words cannot even begin to explain the hoof print left on your heart.

But my heart is also full. And yours is, too.

We know that through the tears are wonderful memories. Of living and learning and feeling like you’ve got the world by the tail.

Those tears represent frustration and disappointment, yet an eagerness to get back at it again the very next day.

Through the tears there is laughter. Of those times you two shared an inside joke that no one could possibly understand.

So to all my friends, acquaintances and those strangers out there who have loved and lost that special horse – my heart aches for you. But as you well know, for every horse loved, there is another in need. And while one can never be replaced, there is always more room in our hearts.

Horses offer us a new perspective in which to view the world. We choose whether or not to accept it.

“In riding horses we borrow freedom.” Helen Thompson

But it is in knowing horses that we are truly free.

 

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In loving memory of Joey, best friend to Jeri.

 

In loving memory of Romeo, best friend to Jessica.

 

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Never turn right out of Ledges: A summer to remember!

Always the best seat in the house!

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?

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The Littles

“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.

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Chillin’ on vacay with Hillary in Eagle River, WI

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.

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Is that Jorna or Jason?!?!

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.

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Brown boxes eat Thoroughbreds, in case you didn’t know…

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.

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Sunday afternoon beverages aren’t half bad, either!

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.

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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

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Jorge thought he wanted her ice cream but then realized he didn’t like the cold. So she chased him around the stall with it!

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!

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Art Night Out with the lovely ladies of Foremost. I think we should probably keep our day jobs.

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Not a bad show, I’d say.

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?!?!

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Best horse ever? You bet!

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Diary of a horse show weekend warrior. (What’s not to love?)

Not a bad first day haul!

Not a bad first day haul!

Monday before the horse show:

Barn has the nerve to be closed. Prepare and pack clothes for every occasion – heat, rain, snow, tornado… and definitely bring that adorable new seersucker sundress as you’ll likely have the perfect place to wear it. Create checklist of everything you will need, as well as show day-by-day breakdown of what you will wear for schooling, showing and post-ride. How else will you ensure your belts, saddle pads and shirts match?

Tuesday:

Go to barn for lesson. Horse acts okay, but not terrific.  Be extra grateful he’s not lame.

Wednesday:

Get call in morning that job which pays for the horse show will require you to be gone all day Thursday. Try to stop full on anxiety attack from taking place. Head to barn for last lesson. Tell Trainer that you need her to ride horse the day before the show. Do your best to explain that if she doesn’t feed him an ample supply of treats, he may not act nice this weekend. Attempt to convince Trainer you aren’t certifiable. Trainer laughs, shakes her head and reassures you it will all be okay, crazy lady. Disaster seems imminent.

Spend next 5 hours at barn packing for show and clipping horse. Have half a bottle of red wine for dinner.

This was for one horse. For one overnight.

This was for one horse. For one overnight.

Thursday:

Wake up refreshed and realize that you are completely ready to go to the show! Start grappling with new-found revelation that this is actually how most amateur owners do it and be glad Trainer has your back. Start worrying about “what-if” scenarios – what if he’s lame tomorrow, what if you forget the proper bit (of the 25 you packed), what if the footing is bad…

Drink remaining half bottle of wine for dinner. Double check you’ve packed the xanax.

Friday (show departure/schooling day):

4 a.m. – Bolt upright in bed, convinced you forgot to pack an extra set of wraps. Get up to look, take dog outside. Lay back down to sleep but toss and turn for hours. Putz around house until it is a reasonable hour to leave for barn. Somehow convince self 6a is actually not reasonable and will make you seem (more) insane.

8 a.m. – Arrive at barn for an 11a departure. Hook up trailer, ensure that you’ve taken enough stuff for 3 horses. Get reluctant horse out of pasture to lunge for soundness. Phew! He’s sound. Barn mate’s horse is not. Feel sense of glee that it isn’t you this time. Feel minimally guilty for improper thoughts.

11 a.m. – Start horse loading process.

11:30 a.m. – Still trying to load, most of barn now watching. Curse at your precious baby who is trying to cow kick anyone who gets near him. Think about taking up tennis instead.

He will stand like this for hours...

He will stand like this for hours…

12:00 p.m. – Trainer and barn owner ready to beat horse. Definitely would if you weren’t there to “protect” him. Unload horses from big trailer who are waiting patiently for horse to load. Hand over horse to aforementioned parties.

12:03 p.m. – Horse gets on big trailer. Apologize profusely that horse is an ass and has held everyone up for an hour. Vow to self it won’t happen again but know it will. Vow to talk to horse about current state of finances and that larger trailer is not in budget. Know conversation will fall on poorly clipped deaf ears.

3:00 p.m. – Arrive at show. Teammates graciously give you corner stall so you “have enough room for all your stuff.” Feel slight moment of embarrassment but nevertheless haul three weeks worth of equipment out of trailer.

Consider cracking first beer. Realize children are schooling in same ring, think better of it and pop xanax instead.

4:00 p.m. – Get on horse, start flatting. Usually unflappable horse pretends he’s never been anywhere. Realize you have powder keg underneath you. After jumping a few, tell Trainer he needs to lunge. Trainer gets on horse.

4:15 p.m. – Lunge wild horse.

4:30 p.m. – Get back on horse, manage to get over four of nine jumps in the ring. Trainer suggests putting him away and trying again tomorrow morning. Feel heart sink a bit, consider exploring alternative sports. Like day drinking.

4:45 p.m. – Have that beer. Maybe two.

Spend next 4+ hours doing who only knows what at horse show. Realize all you’ve consumed that day is a large cup of coffee for breakfast. Head back to hotel and eat pizza in lobby with team. Consider not showering but you’re sharing a bed with barn mate and that seems unfair to her. Definitely don’t brush hair.

11:30 p.m. – Set alarm for 3:30 a.m. Apologize in advance to roommates. Count how many hours of sleep you’ll get and do mental equations of how well you’ll be able to hang on in show ring next morning. Lament you aren’t 17 anymore.

Saturday:

3:30 a.m. – Alarm goes off. Doesn’t matter, you weren’t sleeping anyway. Try not to disturb roommates but find they are both wide awake as well. Feel mixture of excitement and dread that it is show day and wonder if horse will have his brain back. Head to show to braid.

7:00 a.m. – Get off horse after schooling with giant smile – horse has regained composure and acted like rock star. Allow excitement of show to take over. Yell at horse for rubbing braids.

7:30 a.m. – Ask Mom to stop and get more beer on way to show. Check facebook and like multiple posts of people up at crack of dawn to engage in equestrian competition. Don’t think about fact that most non-horse friends won’t be up for hours. Yell at horse again for rubbing braids. Horse glares at you, continues.

Cute pony kids from our team.

Cute pony kids from our team.

8:00 a.m. – Show starts! Huzzah!!! Cheer on pony kids and jumpers from the team. Think about how dangerous the schooling ring is at the moment with those two levels of competitors. Get worried you won’t have time to change before your classes if you don’t do it now.

Pass harried looking Trainer. Ask if she needs anything. Consider bringing her whiskey.

11:30 a.m. – Dad arrives at horse show. While he’s an old hand at this, tell him you promise you’ll be on soon. Actually get changed to ride.

12:30 p.m. – Awesome! They are on last class before course re-set in your ring. Go back to barn to prep horse.

1:15 p.m. – Realize ring has come to absolute standstill for no apparent reason. Continue to wait. Think about having one of those beers Mom brought.

2:00 p.m. – Yay! Course is being re-set. Hurry hurry hurry!!! Get on horse and hack, wait for Trainer. Head up to in-gate. Find that they are going drag now. Seriously?!?!

Trainer ponders why you’ve been on horse for over an hour now. Wishes she hadn’t passed up that earlier whiskey.

2:30 p.m. – Post first for class. At last minute another trainer runs down and claims her student has to go RIGHT NOW. Agree, thinking you can flip flop round for round. Other person stays in the ring for all four courses.

2:45 p.m. – Wake horse up from nap, head in to the ring. Ask Mom to wake Dad up from nap. This is IT!

2:50 p.m. – Horse has performed brilliantly, smiles all around! Head back to barn, done showing for the day.

2:55 p.m. – Pour that beer – it’s five o’clock somewhere, and definitely for your internal clock having been up since basically Thursday at this point. Pour beer for Dad. Offer one to Mom, she smartly declines sugary sweet “refreshment”.

Lose rest of day tooling around show doing really important stuff like poking at horse, videoing and watching teammates compete, and organizing giant pile of stuff by stall. Forget to clean tack.

8:30 p.m. – Arrive at chain restaurant for dinner with teammates, still wearing sweaty breeches and smelling like gym socks. Twelve year old suggests you might want to start trying to load horse sooner than later. Touche, young lady! Realize that again you haven’t eaten anything but coffee and beer. Demolish giant dish of pasta. Try not to pass out at table.

Trainer indicates you need to school again in the morning. Protest to no avail. Start to wonder if Trainer isn’t a Soviet dictator…

11:30 p.m. – Set alarm again for 3:30 a.m. Lament a bit that it isn’t nearly as much fun this time. Pass out between snoring dogs.

Sunday:

3:30 a.m. – Alarm goes off. Hit snooze. Goes off again. Consider more snooze, but drag self out of bed. Have fistful of aspirin with tall glass of water. Head to show.

7:00 a.m. – Get kicked out of your ring before having a chance to school. Grumble and bitch in general vicinity of show management. Trainer suggests heading up to pony ring to jump a few. Try your best not to get hit by out of control kids. Tell Trainer you don’t really feel like showing today.

Trainer pretends she can’t hear your whining.

8:00 a.m. – Restart process of hurry up and wait. Watch teammate kick some serious tail in the big jumper classes. Feel stupid that you are complaining about doing a few 2’6” rounds. Adjust attitude and get show clothes out of car. Explain to horse it is only a handful of classes. Realize horse’s eyes aren’t even open, and if they were, he wouldn’t care anyway unless you were providing snacks.

11:30 a.m. – Feel enormous relief that you might get to show before 1p today! Start thinking about long drive home after show. Pack as much of unused equipment in trailer as possible, chastising self for not showing more restraint. Know reprimand will go unnoticed next horse show 🙂

Consider having beer. Then consider 3 hour haul home with horse attached. Sigh. Head to ring to watch. Feel exhaustion starting to set in.

1:00 p.m. – Somehow you are already done with classes. Wait, what happened? Who got you ready? Did you warm up at all? Find you’ve lost the past 2+ hours of your life. Hear you’ve won a class, feel confusion on how that happened but happily collect your ribbon.

Trainer shakes her head at you with amused grin. You deserved worse.

Spend next few hours packing trailers and tracking down piles of your belongings. Once it is time to load, hand off horse to friend and hide in truck so he can’t see you. Horse walks right on big trailer. Call horse a jerk under breath and resolve to have that tough conversation about finances again with him. Begin long trek home.

8:00 p.m. – Arrive back at barn – hooray! Unload horses and crack open beers with teammates. Everyone pitches in to help you unpack trailer. Stand around in barn aisle with team and talk about… horses.

Hiding from Jorge

Hiding from Jorge

9:00 p.m. – Finally leave barn and head in general direction of home. Smile at passed out dog on front seat. Wish you were being driven home and napping. Realize you again haven’t eaten all day, stop at drive-through. Choke down vomit from consuming fast food at breakneck speed.

10:00 p.m. – Too tired to shower off the stink of the horse show, crawl in to bed with equally smelly dog. Consider yourself lucky you are sleeping alone. Post facebook status about your awesome weekend, making sure to thank patient Trainer for not strangling you and commend teammates for their wonderful support.

Smile as you crash toward sleep, thinking about how great the weekend really was and how much fun you had!

Monday after show:

5:00 a.m. – Consider this “sleeping in” and lay in bed while checking facebook. See pictures rolling in from horse friends of their show adventures over the weekend. Understand that this is your life, this is what you live for.

Count down the days until the next show because what’s not to love!!!

Not a bad way to end a weekend!

Not a bad way to end a weekend!

 

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To the father of a horse crazy girl.

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I think all the fathers of crazy horse girls

(even the ones whose daughters wear pearls)

Will easily relate to this father’s story –

It’s full of tears and guts and maybe some glory.

It is an ongoing tale of being part of our team

That is an essential element of realizing our dream.

 

We don’t just “like horses”, we exist just to ride,

And we’ll always have a noble steed by our side.

Though at times it may seem that we’ll outgrow this phase

We’ll always obsess over shiny chestnuts and greys.

But back to my dad, who didn’t know at the time

That horses might cost him every single dime!

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Dad, you and Mom may have had too much that day

When I was just three and you both shouted, “Hey!”

“We’ve come up with the perfect birthday present,

A sweet mini tease stud, we’re sure he’ll be pleasant!”

You led me around town on that rouge Shetland pony

That stopped, dropped and rolled on roads the most stony.

 

I demonstrated promise by the time I was five                                                                          Image

So you jumped in the deep end, an awkward high dive

To add Gloria, a small bay, to our happy little family

And she took to her life with an attitude quite gamely.

I rode that pony round and round, lap after lap

With fly-away hair under a velvet hunt cap.

 

It was time to move up when I was seven years old

To a fancy grey pony, that you called “The Stro”.

A pony so smart that he lacked any fear

And you came to the shows and fed him a beer

One day unexpectedly, the Stro Pony died,                                                                                     

And you wiped away my tears as I cried and I cried.  

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But being without a pony was never a question

Even you laughed at that absurd suggestion!

So with Mom, my trainer and you all in tow

We went to look at a pony into which I could grow.

You liked Andy best, with his strawberry roan coat

And we brought him back to the barn, instead of a boat.                                                                      

 

When I was 14 leaving the barn one night,

You leaned over and asked, with total lack of foresight(!)

If I’d like to learn how to drive the little red bug

I replied, “sure”, with an ominous shrug.

I suppose now might be time to fess up and say

That I drove to the barn many a day!

 

One day I turned 16 and you said with a grin

“First I’m going to take a big shot of gin

Then we’ll go hook up the red truck and two horse

Because you’ll need to haul Murray and Jordan, of course.”

And on your two door pick up with a manual tranny

I learned to pull horses, and still drive like a granny!

 

You didn’t bother trying to teach me to back

Knowing that was a skill I (still) sorely lacked.

Is it time now to admit what you’ve always known

(Even though I am indeed fully grown)

That I did hit that telephone pole in reverse

But swear I slid on the ice, it was some type of curse 🙂

 

During my teen years you were a competitive sailor

When you’d stop at a show, we’d visit the tack trailer.

There was always something of which I was in dire need

My incessant whining probably made your ears bleed.

But whether I was begging for new shirts or hats

You always gave in before it was time to watch flats!                                                                 Image

 

(Not that I blame you, it’s like watching grass grow,

And still, is an essential element of any show.

Who wouldn’t want to cough up a strong lung or two

Trying to pick out their kid on a brown horse in blue?)

 

The summer before college we lived like frat boys

No milk in the fridge, no clean socks, lots of noise.

Mom would have been appalled that we never did laundry

Who dry cleaned my hunt coat was often the quandary.

Yet you always made sure before I left for a show

That I would want for nothing with a pocket full of dough.

 

One day you and Mom came home with a rangy looking paint

Not knowing this horse would eventually become my saint.

You thought it silly, the money I spent on my Mouse

When I should have been saving for my very own house.

But I know you saw just how much he changed me

At a time in my life when I felt lost out at sea.                                                                              Image

 

There came a time when you finally “gave in”

And realized that the only true way to win

Was to become a working cowboy yourself

Whose boots gather no dust sitting on shelves.

Now you’ll head out in the desert to help round up cattle

Though you’d like a nice soft pad for your worn saddle!

 

You’ve sat at a million different types of tables

While Mom and I debate our ultimate dream stables.

You jokingly ask about a double twisted kimberwick

And I wish you’d invent it, it just might do the trick.

You pretend you don’t know the words to “My First Javelina”

Perhaps that’s because we sing it a bit like hyenas.

 

Dads of horse women are their own brand of strong

And you can correct me if you think that I’m wrong,

Though you may not want the flat class play by play

You are waiting to hear how things went through the day.

You celebrate with me, and share in my tears,

Listening to me grow as I expound on my fears.

 

I’m excited that next weekend you’ll meet Jorge in Green Bay.

And surprise! This time, I have my own check to pay.

I want everyone to know just what you’ve endured

Through all my horsey ups and downs that may have occurred.

I love you, Dad, I hope you spend your day on the water

Thanks for all your support, love your horse crazy daughter!

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Building Character

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

My trainer sent me this quote after a long weekend that didn’t exactly go as I had planned.

I was convinced that, owning such a talented and beautiful thoroughbred such as The Jorge, I was sure to be the class star, performing complicated grids and basic dressage moves with breathtaking grace and ease. Sadly, this was not to be, despite the perfectly coordinated outfits I had chosen for us. Instead, the events of the two days left me doubting my 30+ years in the saddle and questioning whether or not I still had the right to enter the show ring.

The dictionary definition of character is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive of an individual.” I’m likening that to Patrick Swayze pulling Jennifer Gray out of her chair and chastising Dad for putting Baby in a corner! But in all seriousness, this business of riding horses, quite simply, cannot help but to build strong character – along with seeing its fair share of characters inside and alongside the ring. 🙂

Focusing on the true definition of the word, I have always prided myself on my commitment to a strong riding foundation, or the basics – flatwork, gymnastics and doing your homework. I was tortured, err, brought up right in this horse world. You did something until it was executed correctly, you worked hard for what you wanted to achieve in the saddle, and even if someone were to hand you a blank check for the fanciest horse in the world, you knew if you didn’t have a solid base then you’d still end up in the dirt. And that you’d have to get right back on again.Image

So okay, okay… I don’t actually ride without stirrups anymore, but when I was a kid they spent more time locked in trainers’ trunks than on my saddle so I feel like I’ve paid those dues. (I’d like to point out that I am an older amateur, and I’ll play that card like a 50 year old uses their AARP membership at the Old Country Buffet. Acceptable, yes. Questionable? For sure.) But I believe in doing it and if my lower back didn’t hurt so much most of the time, I actually might try a lap or two of sitting trot. Or not. Yeah… probably not.

But back to character. Because my trainer was right – Jorge and I were indeed building strong moral and mental qualities this past weekend through trial and suffering, emphasis on the suffering. It was rough, we performed quite poorly, and I wanted to quit after the first day, which is very unlike me. I was really embarrassed that I could not execute even the seemingly simplest of foundational exercises I had done hundreds of times before. I’m pretty hard on myself most of the time when it comes to riding, even though my Mouse brought me quite far in that regard. Being excused from a walk/trot class at an open show will do that to ya! Still, I was frustrated beyond belief and a bit mortified that people saw us in an #epicfail.

I spent a big chunk of Saturday standing in Jorge’s pasture while he snoozed in the sun, engaged in what seemed like endless conversations with my best friends – Jodie, Hillary and my mom. I’m incredibly lucky to have such friends who have both the compassion to empathize with me and listen, but also the conviction to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. And I hope I provide that same moral compass for them. True testaments to their unflappable character.

They had talked me off my ledge of course, and I rode the second day. I popped a couple of xanax to take the edge off my growing anxiety and not unintentionally amp up my horse, armed Jodie with my video camera, and with Jorge still half asleep we headed off to the ring for round two.

Which arguably went even worse!

Right before the end of the session, fighting back tears, I made a decision. I stopped trying to be the valedictorian of the class – that ship had looooong since sailed – and went back to those instinctual basics which had brought me this far in my riding career. I stopped worrying about being perfect and doing everything I was told, then being embarrassed when I couldn’t instantly put it all together. Instead I took the cues from my tired and confused horse to do what I felt was right.

Wouldn’t ya know, I started enjoying my ride. Because through this struggle, I finally allowed myself to draw upon my inner strengths and achieve (some limited) success. That’s not to say what I did was textbook by any stretch of the imagination! But it got the job done, and more importantly, I didn’t let it defeat me, rather it taught me some very important lessons about my psyche. Which is a conversation for my therapist. You’re welcome.Image

I put an exhausted Jorge in the wash stall when we were done. Just as I started to engage in the game where Jorge wants to play in the water stream and I pretend I’m annoyed, my friend Jess came up behind me, grabbed the hose out of my hand and turned it off. Before I could say a word she wrapped her arms around me in a giant bear hug and told me it was going to be okay. A pure demonstration of the type of person she inherently is and the strong compassionate character she possesses.

And boy did I need it!

This sport isn’t easy. Contrary to popular opinion, the last time I “just sat up there and did nothing” I ended up ass over teakettle with my horse and I on opposite sides of the jump. Riding horses takes coordination, resolve, patience, perseverance, and yes, strong mental and moral qualities to get you through the inevitable ups and downs when dealing with another being who weighs 10 times more than you and is innately afraid of, well, everything!Image

So thanks to my trainer Lane, I’m determined to chalk this up to yet another character building learning experience in my now 34 years of owning horses. I’ve come out of this (48 hours later) inspired to achieve what I absolutely know in my heart Jorge and I can do together. I’m also simply grateful to have the opportunity to share my passion for all things equine with so many amazing women, both at my barn and a text message or phone call away, whom also often experience similar situations and understood exactly how I felt. Did I happen to mention that I’m additionally thankful for a barn fridge that contains a tasty adult beverage or two for these occasions?!

In retrospect, it is true what Katy Perry croons while sporting skin made of blue latex, “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter dancing through the fire. Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar…”

And since Jorge couldn’t join me that evening in enjoying a sizable glass of red wine with my fistful of Advil and maybe a side of Skelaxin after two hard days of complicated exercises, he got the horse version. Which I believe he’d say speaks to my impeccable character! 🙂

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