It's finally spring here in Michigan. At least, I think it is... but it could snow any day I suppose. It has been a long, hard winter for this Florida girl, and the only thing that kept me sane was my time at the barn with Missy Abbey. The ulcers are gone, and she is as healthy as a horse (which is a really strange expression when you think about it...) and we are keeping her fit with lots of training rides, access to hay almost all the time with her round bale and nibble net, and are slated to show this year with our trainer, which makes me so excited while wanting to puke at the same time.
I started down the showing road when I bought my used chaps on eBay last year, and have been collecting horse show things steadily ever since. I don't think that it fully hit home that I am going to go through with it until last week, when I made the leap from mostly-insane to fully-insane with the purchase of a false tail and a (what I hope will be) a beautiful, crisp white cowboy hat that frames my face perfectly, letting the judges know that I am the one to watch. Both of these items are the most extravagant purchases in my mind to date, the hat because I bought it brand new and have tried (and been successful at ) purchasing everything used so far, and it is a 40X American Hat Co. hat from Kendall's in Pavo, GA, and cost almost as much as I paid for my horse two years ago. Insane. The false tail, well, HELLO! It's a false tail that serves no purpose at all other than to look pretty. Doesn't make me a better rider, or her a better horse. Certifiably. Insane. The tail is really nice though, from Kathy L. Williams in Findley, Ohio.
So, now that I have spent thousands of dollars on board, thousands on training, and thousands on lessons, saddles, tack, vet bills, and show attire, we will be ready to head out to our first show in July where we will try our best to look like we know what we are doing and belong there with all the people and horses who have been doing this for years, decades, and lifetimes.
I get stressed about how I am going to handle it if we don't do well at the shows, since I am a complete perfectionist. I guess in order to be stressed about not doing well, I have do decide what that means to me first. My aspirations change with the wind; win a ribbon, win a class, win a high point (someday), ride a clean pattern, hear my trainer say "good ride", don't fall off, ride a good trail class, don't run into anyone, keep it together and stay calm if Abbey freaks out, don't ruin the class for someone else because I have no idea what I am doing.... the list continues.
A few weeks ago I was supposed to have a lesson and we had begun working on riding patterns recently, which made me feel really good because I finally felt like I had graduated from beginner to intermediate rider. I always tried so hard not to be jealous of the younger riders half my age getting handed a pattern, studying it for a few minutes, and then departing from cone A to ride in a strait line, transition from a walk to a lope with ease, execute a flying lead change,halt on a dime, spin a 270 degree turn, back (in a strait line) and trot off, all without readjusting her seat or belying a moment of doubt. My trainer was behind for the day, so we were going to get to ride with one of the best riders in the barn for the lesson so I could watch and learn from her. I was excited that we were considered worthy to ride with her :) Well, I hadn't warmed up enough, which may not have mattered, but Abbey was a complete butthead from moment one at the cone. It was probably my nerves that did us in, but man I was pissed. She would hardly walk off, let alone pick up her left lead at cone A. We struggled down the arena, me getting more and more angry with her for embarrassing me.
K calmly suggested that instead of getting frustrated and working so hard and not getting anywhere, that I get off and put her to work if she wouldn't listen. So, I "calmly" dismounted, and with rage burning at my gut, went and got my lunge line and whip. We returned to the indoor and I watched my fellow rider practice her patterns while Miss Fussypants cantered in circles until she finally decided that it would be easier to lope when asked in a short, strait line. It only took 45 minutes. Silly horse. Needless to say, when I got back on there were no patterns for us that day. Instead we took ten steps back to circles, changes of direction, up and down transitions. We ended on a good note, which is something that I am still learning how to do. I thanked K for the lesson, and for sticking it out far beyond the hour that she had planned for us. As I cooled Abbey out, I was mentally bemoaning the decision to ever show a horse. How stupid was I for thinking that a complete novice has what it takes to go out there and ride in front of other people when I can't even walk off from a cone in our indoor at the barn. What a waste of money. Still fighting back tears of frustration, I was joined by my trainers daughter, Miss A, who is now four and master of her universe. I look up to her more than she will ever know.
She bounced out of the aisle way into the arena, bopped over to me and Abbey, looked up, and said, "I want to ride with you." *GULP* I have let her ride Abbey with me leading, with her mother's consent, in the past. She rides every horse in the barn with her mom all the time at the end of training sessions. She has no fear of these animals that outweigh her by more than 1,000 pounds. She just loves them, and they love her back. She stood there, waiting for the verdict while I looked to her mom. K said, "do you mind?" I was floored, and stuttered, "Um, oh, no! Not at all! I mean, if you trust me with your daughter, that is." K walked over and swung Miss A up in front of me in the saddle. Her shiny brown braid hung in front of my nose and her tiny feet dangled above the tops of the saddle skirt. K walked out and left us three to our own devices. Now I was flying blind with a tiny human blocking my view - what the hell was K thinking?
"Come on! Let's go!" said Miss A. So, I nervously closed my legs a little on Abbey's sides and off we went at a walk, one hand on the reins and one on Miss A. "I want to trot!" she said. "Well, let's ask her then," I said. A few clucks and some tiny butterfly kicks from Miss A and Abbey decided that she could deal with the awkward weight distribution and off she jogged. It was awesome. Not being able to see where we were going or what her ears were doing made me have to trust her even more than usual, and her jog felt even more soft and springy than normal. I started to smile, and then Miss A laughed out loud with her cute little giggle, "This is fun, isn't it." It was a statement, not a question. I choked back more tears, this time of sheer gratitude for all the blessings in my life. "It sure is. It's the best." I said.
We jogged around together for a little bit, and everything just sort of slid back into perspective. I have a horse of my very own who is healthy, who loves me, misses me when I don't get to see her for weeks because of work, a barn home that is exactly that, a home away from home with a horse family that loves me and accepts me for who I am, who I can learn from, talk about life with, and sometimes just be quiet with. I have a husband who doesn't even begin to understand my passion for this expensive four-legged creature, but who allows me the time and money to have this therapy in my life. And, I have a tiny little teacher in the form of Miss A who is a constant reminder to stay busy, stay kind, and to look for the joy in every little moment of each day.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a coworker about competing. My husband and I were preparing to compete at our local Crossfit box in a couples competition, and I was terrified of coming in last after working so hard. Kind of how I felt about the horse shows, too. My coworker was a competitive dancer and pageant queen before some health issues got in the way. She is working on accepting that she is not that person any more, but that she can still work hard, compete and be proud of herself. She said, "It takes more courage to go out there and compete knowing that you aren't the best, and probably aren't going to win than it does to win every time."
Both of these experiences are ones that I know I will call to mind more than once while we show. Does either one make me less desirable of placing in our classes? Not for one second. But, I do know that no matter what, as soon as I zip up my used chaps, put on my glitzed-out Lisa Nelle jacket, settle my more-expenseive-than-a-month's-rent hat down onto my perfectly coiffed head, and walk into the show pen, I will have already won the biggest victory - the one over fear.
Here's to life's best teachers: the young, our animals, and experience.