Saturday, September 7, 2013

Show Season 2013.....

Today should have been the last show of my season, like so many others this year it didn't happen, and I spent the day home wishing I was there. For a season that barely happened, it may turn out to be the most educational of my lifetime.

It was a season I had big dreams for, and had put in a lot of work preparing for. I spent the winter riding multiple horses to advance my riding, I invested in traveling to a Wendy Murdoch clinic to help with some of my seat issues. My goals for the year had been to show in my age group and to show for the first time at the breed show level (my first season had been all open shows and I had always shown novice).

But, from the get go this season never quite felt right. Even before the season started it seemed cursed. In January we all held our breath while our horses battled strangles and we just hoped everyone would be healthy in time for us to have a season at all.

Then the schedule was published and drama ensued, overlapping shows, conflicts, worrying if I would get to have the season I had worked for. Looking back now those conversations seem so ridiculous and at the same time I wish I could go back to that place. Because those now trivial concerns were so much easier to fix than what would follow.

Somehow we got through all that and then I threw myself a curve ball. I decided to change horses, and bought B'sheret, barely a month before the first show of the season. We picked him up and brought him home 10 days before we planned to show him. A totally crazy plan but one that honestly I was so excited for. My own horse, our first show together. Etta and I both worked tirelessly to try to get him and I ready, to try to build as much of a relationship between him and I as we could in a little over a week. But despite all the effort again fate intervened. Three days before the show B's stifle locked up and we had to scrap the show plans and work on getting him whole again. I spent the day I would have been showing walking and conditioning B' and praying we would get past it.

To make up for it we plugged in an extra show a week later. We showed in halter, showmanship and W/T western pleasure, and Etta rode him in WP. It felt great to show him, but of course it wasn't without adventure. Ten minutes before my riding class a dog broke loose from it's trailer, charged us, B' spooked and I landed in the dirt. My first fall from a horse. But I did it I rode in my class. I look back and am glad I fought through it, because it turned out to be the only class I would ride in this season.

One week later we did accomplish my big goal for this show season, I got to show in my first breed show, an AQHA show. I showed B' in showmanship and Etta showed him in Western Pleasure. He handled the show so well and I remember how much promise I left that day feeling. This was going to be my riding partner for a long long time and we were going to rock it. Little did I know it would be our last show together.

Two weeks later as we were getting ready for our next big goal, the AQHA Regional show, my first show at the fairgrounds and in the coliseum, B's stifle locked a second time and the dream ended. I made the hard decision, with a lot of support from those around me, that the best thing to do was return B'sheret to his previous owners.

I still know in my heart it was the right decision but it has been far from easy. Losing him left me feeling really lost, something I still am trying to sort out. Without a horse I felt very separated from the barn and those around me there. I have fought a lot of sadness, have spent most days that should have been show days home in tears, and am still trying to find my footing.

Some of that footing though has returned with my old friend Joker, His owner graciously has allowed me to start leasing him again. This has done a ton to ground me, to help me fill the hole in my heart that only a horse can fill. Unfortunately pairing back up with Joker came really late in the season and the two remaining shows didn't work out schedule wise for him and I to show together this year.

It would be really easy to sit and think about all this and only see the bad, and I'll admit there are many days that is where I get trapped. But I have always believed everything, even the worst things, happen for a reason. That there are life lessons in everything we go through and in every challenge placed in our path.. And as much as I wish this season had looked a whole lot different than it had I did learn and change a lot through the cards I was dealt. Some of what I learned was:

How much I horses and showing are now a part of me. It is never lost on me when I am at my lowest over this and can't seem to stop the tears, that I am crying over something I never wanted to do in the first place, and two years ago not only could have cared less about, but would have run from. For something I was never going to do, it is now part of who I am, and losing it left me very unsure of who I was anymore.

No matter how bad it hurts you have to get up and get back on. Realizing you can fall, literally and figuratively, and it wont be the end of the world may be the biggest lesson I am walking away with this year. When I fell of B' that day it was pointed out to me how relieved I looked after I hit the ground. I had feared falling so much in the two years before that, that it had held me back as a rider. I did so much to protect myself fearing the fall, that I wouldn't relax and take chances. After that day my seat changed when riding, because I knew that I could fall, the world wouldn't end, people would there to help me back up and I could go on. And I really believe when I look back in a few years that is going to be the big lesson about losing B' too. That as much as this has all felt like the end of my world, and many times through it all I have considered staying on the ground, not buying another horse, giving up showing, once I am through it and look back I will realize that I made it through and will be less fearful of the next fall.

You find out who your friends are. All the philosophers are right, when the chips are down you find out who your real friends are you, who your fair weather friends are and who is really going to be there when you need them. Anyone who has known me very long knows that letting people help me and be there for me is a challenge for me. I fear it, I fear the cost of it, because growing up it always had a steep cost. And in most cases I try to avoid that risk. But through this season I really haven't had a choice, this was more than one person could handle alone. And I have been blessed to have a select few people around me who have stood by me, even when I did my best to shove them away. Who have put up with my moods, my attitude, my ugliness and have still hung on. Was everyone around me, that I thought were friends, that supportive, no. Sadly I found out that many people were less than true. But I am ok with that, because the value of those who have stood with me far outweighs the cost of shedding those who didn't.

I have the best trainer in the world. Of those people who have stood by me no one has done more for me and at the same time taken more crap from my than Etta. Through all the ups and downs, all my meltdowns and temper tantrums, she has somehow continued to believe in me, that we would get through this, has reminded me this is just a bump in the road and not the end. She has put up with me finding flaw with almost anything she tries to do to help me and has put me in my place when I needed it. She did the hardest thing in the world for me and returned B' to his owners so I wouldn't have to face that task and has helped me try to find the next riding partner. She helped me deal with my fears  that going back to Joker was a step backwards and has made sure I didn't give up completely. There is probably an award somewhere she deserves for all I have put her through.

This is not a sport for the faint of heart. Over and over again I hear the comments and read the debates about whether being an Equestrian is being an athlete and whether riding is a sport. If I had any doubts on either this season cleared those up fast. While riding may or may not be as athletic or demanding as other sports, I challenge any other athlete to face emotionally every day what we do being partnered with horses. Football players never have to worry if their ball will be lame, Baseball players never have to worry about their bat spooking, Golfers never have to worry about the tee being injured or not in the mood. We as equestrians not only have to have the skills to do our part, but we walk into every day with the unknown of what will happen with our partner. Beyond my own struggles this year I have watched others on our show team lose many shows to illness or injury of their horses, struggle with the impact of an aging horse and ponder what their future will be. In no other sport do you live with the unknown from one day to the next whether your partner will be able, willing and ready. You can prepare for months to have one misstep cost you weeks or months, you can plan and hope and pray only to come up empty. There were many days this season that I wished I was a ball player, or a rower, or almost any other athlete, where I could grab another piece of equipment off the shelf and move on. But we who ride, we go into it knowing that we live the unknown, the uncontrollable and the illusive, that more often than not our plans will be sidelined and we will spend our time bandaging, soaking, conditioning or just sitting on the sidelines watching. It would be easy to look at my season and want sympathy or tears, but the sad reality I have had to accept is to call myself an equestrian what I went through is part of the territory. This wont be the last time my season is threatened or trashed. That that risk is the cost to be part of this world.

PS Many have asked what now, yes, I am shopping for another horse. This round of shopping is going much slower for a bunch of reasons: 1) I have refined my wish list and it greatly narrows the horses available. This time I am holding to what my heart wanted all along and looking for an Appaloosa in a set age range with a specific set of skills 2) shopping during show season is much harder, there isn't much available, and 3) I am spoiled, outside of his stifle issues B' had some truly amazing qualities and I am not willing to end up with anything less this time. There is great irony in that when I decided to start shopping for a horse the first time around we had said that we weren't going to start looking til this fall or winter, but then moved it up, in some ways, I am right on schedule starting my serious shopping in October.


  1. Welcome back to Joker!

  2. Life is a roller coaster, some times the twist and turns are faster than others. Sometimes the changes are more gentle and slow. You will find the perfect big scary monster and the two of you will find the best sunsets!
    love ya girl!