Monday, February 16, 2009

The Judge Has Frostbite

It's amazing the things horse lovers will do to earn money to spend on their horses. As an example, yesterday I judged a regional English horse show for the 4H. Now, before you think I have something against the 4H organization, or those who ride as part of their 4H activities, let me correct you. I think it's wonderful that in today's increasingly mechanized and computerized society, young people still have opportunities to raise and care for animals in a supervised, structured setting. And 4H provides that opportunity. I also like the local leaders I've come to know. They're enthusiastic. They engender a sense of, "Put the animal first" in their philosophy. But judging a large 4H horse show has its challenges.

First of all, a significant percentage of the kids participating do not have a professional instructor. That means that as a judge I spend about 25% of my time educating the riders and their horse show moms on basic rules and regulations that a professional trainer would normally provide. This time, the 4H show manager encouraged me to periodically use the microphone to explain why some exhibitors did not get a ribbon. For example, I reminded everyone to study rules about appropriate tack and equipment so we wouldn't have any more hunters under saddle coming into the arena wearing flash nosebands or huntseat equitation riders entering the arena adorned with roweled western spurs.

Next, a lot of the kids train their own horses. Sometimes, that works out admirably. I was really impressed with one young girl on a pretty pinto pony. She rode quite well, the pony jumped beautifully (I'd love to have him as a lesson pony!) and she was impeccably turned out. She had trained the pony herself. But in general, I have to take certain precautions when judging a bevy of home schooled horses and ponies. I split the large flat classes before they cantered, so only 6-8 horses were cantering (or galloping and bucking in some cases) at a time.

Finally, 4H shows tend to be run in a very relaxed manner, mostly because they're manned by volunteers who are already sleep deprived and exhausted from being overworked. There are no posh surroundings at 4H shows, no cozy, cushy places to relax between classes. Yesterday my only refuge was the mobile trailer that served as a cramped show office. It was kept warm with a propane heater. I ran in there during breaks to thaw out... until the heater ran out of propane. I spent the remainder of the day bundled up in three layers of wool (knitted scarf included), a rainproof parka, gloves and boots. Still, sitting in the judge's booth-- which was perched above the arena-- I was freezing. Honestly, I shivered for the entire day. I forgot what my toes felt like, because they went numb shortly after 10 a.m.

So why did I agree to take this judging job?

Well, I actually like the regional director for the 4H. She has an outrageous, down to earth sense of humor. She promotes good horsemanship and responsible horse care. She also reinforces proper protocol at horse shows. That means that I don't have to worry about horse show moms ambushing me when I rush off to the bathroom or try to gulp down a Pepsi during breaks in the schedule.

But mostly I took the judging job because I needed the horse money. On Friday Wally is getting his new shoes, and I'm sure they're going to cost even more than his already expensive regular set of shoes.

After having a confab with both my vet and my farrier-- we all happened to be at the same place at the same time-- we're going to try a special kind of "floppy" pad called a "non-vibration pad" underneath his regular shoes, and inject silicone underneath the pad for added cushioning power. We're holding off on the eggbar shoes for now. So instead of costing me a fortune, the shoes will only cost me a small fortune.

And between pulling off the old front shoes and putting on the new front shoes, my vet is going to x-ray Wally's feet. She doesn't really think this is necessary, but I want her to do it. That way, if Wally goes sore again, I'll know what I'm dealing with instead of conjuring up images of doom and gloom.

Do you see how this Friday is adding up to be a very expensive day?

But just to reassure everyone-- including myself-- Wally looks perfectly sound and happy in his paddock. Right now he's meandering around, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting, with his big orange cone in his mouth. In fact, I'm sure he's wondering why the heck I'm not saddling him up and taking him for a ride, or at the very least leading him down to the arena for a turn-out. A heavy rainstorm is brewing, so by the time I got him booted up and headed out, we'd be drenched. Besides, I don't want to risk making him sore again before he gets his new-fangled shoes.

Maybe I over-reacted to Wally's sore front foot. My vet and farrier try to console me, saying it could be nothing more than a deeply bruised sole or a sore heel. So maybe Wally doesn't have navicular problems. Maybe I just have to spend several hundred dollars to find out precisely what's going on. Maybe I'm just an incredibly neurotic horse owner.

All I know is that when things are not right with Wally, my world doesn't feel right, either. I'll do what I can, within reason, to make things all better. I'll even freeze half to death at a 4H horse show if necessary.

Thanks for all of your good wishes and comments about Wally. If you'd like to add some further thoughts, just click on "comments" below or email me at:


Anonymous said...

I'm sure many of those kids, parents, and organizers at the show were so thankful you were willing to brave frostbite to judge them. It means the world to children just to be a part of the show, probably, even if their horse does run maniacally around the arena bucking. I hope Wally's vet-farrier appointment goes well. Happy Presidents Day!! :)

Jessica said...

What a lucky pony Wally is!!! You're a great mom! :-D

Here's hoping everything works out well with the vet appointment!

Nancy said...

Now, I chose not to have human children, just horses and cats. I can totally relate to being the worried, neurtic, horse mom. Do you think those people with human babies feel the same way about the human babies ;-)

Anonymous said...

Bless you for taking on the 4-H show. The PA State 4-H horse show is held where I work. The first time I watched it, I could barely refrain from covering my eyes nearly every other round. I lost count of the number of riders that didn't make it past the 3rd fence. It was scary! As a former Pony Clubber who had to test out of different levels, it sure is a different world. But I have to applaud their courage and determination.

My Horsey Life said...

I wish you well for Wally's vet-farrier appointment, and applaud you for sticking out the cold. If it were me, I would have packed up and headed for the heat of my house. Keep up the good work!

Cindy Hale said...

So I see that I am not the only one who approaches 4H horse shows with mixed feelings. You know what, though? While I never belonged to 4H, I was once a brave-hearted, somewhat misinformed kid on a half-broke, unruly pony myself. So perhaps I have some sympathy for those youngsters. Yet I do see judging a large 4H horse show as my Christian charity or community service for the year.