Julie Howard, our favorite adult re-rider doing this crazy thing called eventing, charmed us with her first Confessions post here on EN, and now she’s back to talk about show mornin’ blues. Thanks so much to Julie for writing, and thanks for reading.
As I contemplate the beginning of the show season, in this, my nascent third year of owning and showing my now 7-year-old OTTB, this occurs to me:
What we do is hard. Really hard. I know it has been said before by those much more learned in equestrian pursuits than I (although I challenge those same folk to read a complex legal document and not completely lose their minds or their souls — this is something I AM learned in and do have SOME talent for, which allows me to support somewhat my ever increasingly expensive horse habit). It is hard to put ourselves and our horses through the triathlon that is a combined training (am I dating myself?) event.
As if that isn’t hard enough, we are told, that to be GOOD at it, in practice we must make it HARDER, by intentionally not using our stirrups (seriously? They are there for a reason! To be used! It’s like jumping out of a perfectly good plane). Or by SITTING THE TROT good grief, who made THAT one up, Satan?! I KNOW good riders don’t bounce, but do I really want to be good that badly? Can I be just ok and not have to experience the tooth-jarring, back-jabbing, hip-displacing, head-bobbing, tongue-biting sitting trot?
You’re darn right I can … I am the king of my own world, not to mention king of the manure pile (from which I crow “I’m king of the world!” from the top of every day and amuse myself with apologies to Leonardo D.) And no one is going to tell me I have to learn to sit the trot and and … and well OK, I’ll do it because, well, just because I have to … but it doesn’t mean I like it … and well it CAN have its uses … and OK it’s giving me a six pack. So what if the six pack is insulated by a layer of winter fat, it’s still there, really. Seriously. But I digress.
And knowing that what we do is hard, and knowing we get nervous, here I am this morning leaving my perfectly good living room and my perfectly good favorite chair sitting in the spring sun with my perfectly good cat (surprisingly yes, I have only one, contrary to popular belief, my single-hood notwithstanding) with a steaming cup of coffee after what is now commonly known in New England parlance as the “worst bleeping g.d. winter in the history of the world.”
Yes, I am leaving this idyllic scene in order to willingly enter into this little soiree: to go to the barn to primp and clean my bestest horsey friend to once again attempt to guide this hair-trigger, high-strung, spring-fevered, green young Thoroughbred mare with PMS through a series of very precisely choreographed geometric patterns and get scored on “relaxation and rhythm,” simultaneously attempting to maintain a serene expression, relax my own body, make it move correctly even though it is trussed up in a stocktietightbreecheshelmetwhiteglovesstiffboots.
And invariably right before my dressage test I have to pee so I’ve got that going for me too — all the while trying to ascertain by reading my horse’s infinitely complex body language whether she is getting ready to freak out, rear and potentially injure unsuspecting pedestrian parents, who I’m sure are extremely lovely, well-intentioned, normal, happily oblivious people out to watch Muffy on her pony, and to whom I just want to scream, “INCOMING!” whenever my horse gets within a furlong (do I know my OTTB parlance, or what!?) of their helmet-less heads.
These poor folk are just trying to watch pretty ponies trot around with children in pigtails complacently collecting ribbons to put on the wall to feed dreams of future equestrian pursuits (or more accurately, future days of toil, working numerous jobs simultaneously while constantly trying to avoid bankruptcy to keep riding because it’s the one thing that keeps them happy and sane despite what everyone who knows them thinks — but I digress). So hop in the car! Here I go! Pah! Easy peasy! More like, “easy queasy.”
THEN, after barely surviving the precision of THAT little exercise (free walk? More like “I’m not letting go of these reins so that I can watch you do what I suspect you want to do, which is take off to parts unknown, you hot hyper jerk-face horse but really I love you” walk), I get to guide my lovely-now-calm-because-I-already-rode-the-heck-out-of-her mare around a tight jumping course that appears to be the height of my ex-husband (read: very tall) and just as hostile. Wahoo! Who wants in?! (crickets chirping …). And this was only a two-phase. Sigh.
I have to ask myself, why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this show stress? Why am I not content just deluding myself into thinking I CAN do it, I just don’t CHOOSE to show? I ask myself this at least 14,573 times on the morning of a show.
I have this conversation with myself. Julie, and you know you are not making this up, yes, there are lots of people who event. Lots of people like you (hopefully not as neurotic as you, Julie, for their sakes *insert silent prayer for others here*) event. You all (my newfound bff Eventing Nation friends) event. And you all make it look as easy as a Desperate Housewife making a soufflé.
And really, stepping back from the immediacy of the panic that IS the morning of a horse show, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. You go. You ride. You walk, trot and canter, sometimes in a circle, sometimes in a big-*as rectangle. You jump a series of poles. You go fast. You jump logs. You repeat at a show what you do at home at least 343 days a year (assuming your poor Dobbin gets a day off a week, which is the one day you feel you must see your family or they will divorce you and I don’t mean just your spouse but your children). So what’s with the big scare?!
Seriously. We all do this every day. We LIKE to do this every day. We daydream during our day jobs about doing it every day. We watch the clock hands s l o w l y make their way around the many too many numbers until it’s time to blow the whistle for quittin’ time and race to the barn, every day. We spend our free non-barn time (and, truth be told, some of the time when someone is paying us for our non-horsey abilities) attempting to figure out a way to make a living doing the horse thing every day. We bore our spouses and significant others with our schemes for making a living spending day after day with Dobbin and the required school horse versions of Dobbin trying desperately not to sound like we love Dobbin more than the aforesaid s.o. and attendant family (give it up people, they know this is true, so just admit it).
So, if we all do it, and keep doing it, why the heck do I turn into the biggest chicken-euphemism for excrement in the world on the morning of a show? And, even in the face of the previously mentioned chicken-ness, why do I proceed apace to the show toting my satan-spawn high strung mare in my rust bucket of a trailer?
Because, and we ALL know this, once we get through dressage, we LOVE EVENTING. Apologies to the dressage aficionados. Dressage is just the necessary evil so we can go fast, jump things and fly. While it’s nice to do well, and maybe even win sometimes, it’s certainly not about the ribbon. If it IS about the ribbon, we’re in trouble because there are a whole lot of flies that can get in THAT ointment when you’re talking three-phase eventing. Nope, it’s the buzz that comes from those 5-10 (ok, 4:35 usually in my case at my baby level) minutes with your equine buddy taking on previously unseen (or embarrassingly unremembered, as in my case) obstacles at a frightening pace. That’s the hook, that’s the fun, that’s the why. That and just getting to be with your horse for one full day because you have a reason! With nothing to apologize for. Ahhhh. Bliss.
If it all sounds crazy, it’s because it IS crazy. Stressful crazy. Financial crazy. Organizational crazy. Operational crazy. On the morning of a show, the crazy factor seems scary as hell all the way around. You know it, I know it. BUT, my crazy pals, we’re in this all of us, together. If this is crazy, then call me, and us, living for crazy. Guilty as charged.
I love these mornings.