Competing in a horse show prompts some self-reflection
My heart almost stopped when my mom parked our gray Honda minivan on the grounds of the annual Halloween Horse Show. Horses were everywhere. Horses being led, horses being groomed, horses being tacked and warmed up. The usually quiet grounds of Hybid Farm looked like a beehive. I smoothed my baby blue schooling show button-down and grabbed my ebony helmet and lavender tote bag before hopping out of the car. My heart beat even faster, if that were possible.
I hastily marched up to the barn and strolled in. I inhaled the sweet smell of hay as I grabbed a teal cotton lead line from the hook on the wall. I nervously pranced over to Sky’s stall and clipped the lead to her matching teal halter. Today she wore a cerulean stable blanket that stood out and blended into her lustrous, burnished, fox-red coat. Her white sock on her back foot and star on her forehead looked like they had been made from the icy snow that littered the ground outside. I unlocked her ecru stall door and walked her out into the crowded aisle and clipped her to the only pair of open crossties.
“Hang tight,” I whispered to her. Then I marched to the buzzing, leather-scented tack room, grabbed a grooming bag, and hauled my tack back to her side before hanging them both on a rack. I snatched my currycomb from the bag and rubbed it on Sky in wide circles. Thankfully, she had kept herself moderately clean.
I started to think about all the things that could go wrong, a talent of mine. What if I fell off, or Sky spooked, or I didn’t remember the basics? These what-ifs filled my head. Sky nudged me with her nose, and I realized that I had stopped brushing.
Jeez, Augusta, I chided myself. Brush the horse! I remembered that I was doing something I loved and that no matter what the result, I knew I was going to have fun.
I switched brushes and flicked all the dirt off of her till her coat shone like a horse-sized penny. I selected a purple soft brush and smoothed over her coat, then picked her hooves.
Finally, I cleaned her ivory sock and combed out her fiery mane and tail. I polished her face and smoothed the spotless, white saddle pad onto her gleaming back. She turned around and gave me the characteristic “Sky Eye.”
I carefully leveled on her half pad and freshly scrubbed saddle and tightened her soft girth. I walked up to her head and fished a peppermint out of my pocket, and she gobbled it up. Then I kissed her velvety nose. My moms delivered our numbers (77) and exchanged the usual “We love you,” before heading off to see my sister. I pinned my armband to my sleeve and put on my helmet. I looked down at myself and brushed a strand of hay off my tawny breeches and wiped a smear of mud off my boots.
“I’m ready,” I told myself.
I gently lifted Sky’s cocoa-colored bridle off the hook and placed the silvery bit in my hand while pulling the reins over her head. I unclipped her from the crossties, then took off her halter and let her take the bit. I pulled her ears through the crownpiece and adjusted the noseband and bejeweled browband, then tightened the throatlatch before pinning her number to the side of her bridle.
As I walked out of the barn, I took in the warm sun glinting off of her shining coat. I walked Sky to the sunny warm-up ring where my instructor, Kelly, waited.
When the final competitor entered the ring, the judge sent us into a forward walk and my nerves started doing somersaults in my heart.
“Sky looks beautiful, Augusta,” she said.
“Thank you,” I replied as I mounted and adjusted my stirrups. As I moved Sky out on the rail for our warm-up, I shoved my heels down as far as they would go and encouraged Sky to wake up. She responded well and picked up the pace, moving into a more forward walk. After we had walked both directions, I urged her to a working trot and adjusted my diagonal. Soon I changed directions and went the other way.
“You are doing this perfectly,” said Kelly. “You are going to crush this. Now it’s time for you to go to your ring.”
As I walked out of the warm-up ring on Sky, I felt a little more confident.
When the final competitor entered the ring, the judge sent us into a forward walk and my nerves started doing somersaults in my heart. I shoved my heels down farther and took a deep breath.
“Change directions and trot!” yelled the judge, and I gave Sky a nudge with my heels. But Sky, clearly picking up on my nerves, tried to canter! Thankfully I got her collected and focused and tried to pretend that this was just a normal lesson. I instantly calmed down, and the class just unfolded from there, so when the judge called us forward to the center for our ribbons I was amazed at how fast it had gone by. As we lined up our horses to see what places we got, my nerves picked up again. I felt so nervous that I barely noticed the judge call sixth and fifth place.
Well, at least I’m not last, I thought. When the judge did not call me for fourth, I almost gasped. I had made it on the podium!
“In third place, we have number seventy-seven.”
As I walked forward, I almost believed this was a dream. But No, I told myself. This is not a dream; I worked hard and deserved this. As I reached down to collect my ribbon, the judge said, “Nice job out there.” I only smiled, and walked out of the ring. As I dismounted and ran up the stirrups, a nervous-looking girl of about ten came up to me.
I smiled and said, “Are you riding Sky next?”
“Well, you are going to do great out there.”
The relief was evident on her face; it was as if she had taken off a mask.
I gave Sky a scratch and handed the reins to the girl.
“Good luck,” I said and went to join my family.
Right at that moment I knew, for me, the sense of accomplishment was even better than getting first place.