Thursday, March 13, 2008

Just Like Yesterday

Though my recent trail rides have been quite memorable, I think that my favorite memories involve the many years I spent competing on the show circuit. They're all so vivid that it seems like yesterday, though I haven't dressed myself in show attire since my riding accident, and that was almost 3 years ago. Yet when something gets me to thinking about a particular show ring incident-- whether it's glimpsing a faded photograph or chatting with an old horse show buddy-- I almost feel transported back to that time and place.

The first big show I ever rode in was held during the Orange County Fair. I boarded my own little horse at the fairgrounds, which was located just inland from the beach here in Southern California. Though it was July, the cool ocean breezes made for perfect horse show weather and I decided that I couldn't miss an opportunity to join in with the festivities. But I couldn't possibly ride Honeybee, my scruffy, barely civilized sorrel mare. Instead I set my sights on showing Smoky, a coal black gelding who, rumor was, had been professionally trained as a western pleasure and trail class horse. Though he was definitely out of shape and out of practice (I remember his bony, angular frame and his unruly mane), I brokered an agreement with his owner: I'd muck his stall and work him regularly in exchange for being allowed to show him in the 14 & Under Trail class.

Being an industrious 13-year-old, I spent hours with Smoky. I shampooed and curried him until his ebony coat glowed with a midnight blue sheen. I finally got the dreadlocks out of his tail. And I could almost get him to step directly from the walk into the lope, something I figured would be required for the rail work portion of the class.

As the county fair got underway and the horse show approached, I became so excited about my debut! I settled on what to wear: my black Wrangler jeans, a checkered red blouse and a bolo tie. I scrounged around and borrowed assorted western show tack from the other boarders. In retrospect, nothing Smoky and I wore matched. But that really didn't matter because, as you can imagine, I knew next to nothing about showing in a trail class. All I knew was that I wanted to be a part of the atmosphere of a nationally rated horse show.

When the show day came, I warmed up in the schooling area with all the other riders. Some part of me recognized that Smoky and I looked like foreigners among the sleek, royally bred Quarter horses, Paints and Appaloosas that seemed to glide along at the jog and lope. Their riders were so sophisticated, so poised. And then there was me: flogging Smoky with the end of my romal reins with one hand to get him into the lope, and holding onto the brim of my straw hat (that I'd spray painted white, by the way) with the other hand.

When the class was called to order I rode Smoky through the in-gate with the rest of the competitors. I don't remember much about the rail work or the trail obstacles, but I do clearly recall gazing up into the grandstands and being enthralled by how many people were sitting there, watching me. I was on stage, and my performance was taking place on the back of a horse. How cool was that? I'm sure that's when I was officially hooked on horse shows.

The fact that I got fifth out of five riders didn't dim my enthusiasm. I clutched that huge pink ribbon and trotted Smoky back to the barn, and breathlessly recounted the entire experience to anyone who'd listen. Though I've certainly won more prestigous ribbons during my life with horses, that inconsequential piece of pink satin changed my world.

On the home page of Horse Channel you'll find a short article about horse show memories. It's part of Horse Illustrated's "HI Spy" series, where we ask readers to contribute their thoughts and experiences. You can read the article and contribute your comments by clicking here:

Favorite Horse Show Memories

I hope you have something to share. Some of your comments may end up in a future issue of Horse Illustrated magazine!

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

My first ribbon was also a pink 5th place, and I can tell you that it was all the encouragement that I needed to fall head over heels in love with showing!

Anonymous said...

That sounds like my first experience, only not as a 13yo, but a 30yo! Showing can be such a hoot!

Ceci said...

My biggest moment was definately when I beat my instructor in a hunter class...I was riding a very well trained horse and she was riding a green horse first time at a show for her horse and just for experiance but still I loved it!! I told anyone and everyone I beat my instructor. Even if I didn't beat her fairly...

Gina said...

I remember my first show. It was a leadline class and I was on this evil mini. Fun times.

But my first *real* show (off the leadline!) was a C show where I did walk-trot, and I did get a fifth. I think.

Showing is so much fun, and the memories are just worth it.

On a more solemn note, I was rereading your blog entries and came across one about older horses. I remember I did mention something about my old hunter, Teddy. I have Teddy news - he has cancer and is dying. His owner is waiting for the right time to put him down.

Anonymous said...

My first show was also amazing. I don't even think I got a ribbon, but I was happy. riding a fat hairy pony. so much fun. :D then I had my HUGE year in hunters, and won everything in site. it was amazing.
And gina, i'm SO sorry about Teddy. :( my prayers are with you.

~Halsgal~

Anonymous said...

My first fairly large show was our 4H district horse show, and it was also my second time showing. Whereas in my first we had placed averagely in a few classes (it was just a small local show, and at District I was up against some really good kids!), here I didn't place in any, but I still did pretty good. Well, my Western Pleasure class came along, and I was a little worried about our left lead lope. Sas would almost always take the incorrect lead. I am left-handed, so my strategy was to pull her head to the right a little to block her from taking the wrong lead. I didn't take it up enough, and she took the incorrect lead. Throughout almost the rest of the class I was trying to get her to take the correct lead. I never even heard the announcer tell us to do different gaits, I was so concentrated on fixing Sas' lead. Once I heard someone laughing, and I thought they must've been like "she can't get her horse on the right lead." Once I got it, I looked up, and to my horror everyone else was walking! Obviously, I lost, but I got Sas taking the correct lead, which was all that mattered to me then (I didn't want to fight with her later about it). Anyways, even though me and my trainer and everyone else that saw it laughed tons about it later, my trainer was real proud of me and Sas having done so well at our first two shows.

--Sasafrass

Anonymous said...

Oh, Gina, sorry I forgot to mention this in my last post, but I'm so sorry about Teddy. Keep us informed about how things go on with him, will you?

--Sasafrass

Cindy Hale said...

It's interesting how some of our best memories are not necessarily about winning first place.

I have so many more memories to share. Hopefully I won't bore you.

Gina, I'm so sorry about Teddy! But try to take comfort in knowing that he had a wonderful life and that YOUR life was enriched by having shared some time with him.

Anonymous said...

My first show was a small lesson show at my barn where all the lesson kids compete against each other. I was riding an old, slow 16hh gelding for the second time- the first being the day before. My first ribbon was a first, the middle ones were a third and fourth, and the last one was another first. I ended up taking home a Grand Champion trophy. Needless to say, I was very pleased. He understands the whole showing process and gets very excited and speeds up a lot, which is good, because the events are mostly gymkhana. Grizzley is still alive, retired, and acting like a much younger horse at the rich old age of 33, even if we're pretty sure he's got cancer- Gina, I feel your pain and I'm so sorry.

I'd have to say my favorite memory, though, was a different lesson show that I was helping at after I'd quit lessons. One of the ponies who everyone loves, an adorable Appy who's blind in one eye and loves everyone, Commanchee, made it to the top during poles. It was at that point that he decided to stop and pee. The poor little girl riding him just had to wait for an eternity to stop, with the clock still running and everyone laughing at the circumstances.