They are not wrong. Banquets are by law preceded by wine and cheese cocktail parties, which always feature some kind of bacon-wrapped hors d’oeuvres and Heineken by the bottle, and this is where you will find us. Leaning over the bar, holding up two fingers, gathering drinks and bacon wrapped skewers for the missus, but only if she finds me before I finish mine.
Sometimes you finish both bacons in the beer line, and start drinking in the bacon line, and by the time you find the missus, all you can report is “they ran out." This is expected of course, and it gives the ladies more time to wrap up discussions about what bit works best in which situations.
Awards banquets are dress up, so plan accordingly. Trying on your suit is a good way to measure yourself against last year, girth-wise. Always remember before you leave the house to bring clothes with a little “give.” It doesn’t have to be elastic, but it helps. I chose a tuxedo with a cumberbund—there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.
I went to two very different banquets this year. One was an hour from the house. I was invited and picking up an award my wife’s horse had won—a big fat trophy and a ribbon the length of your arm. That one looked like a prom, a college formal perhaps, and as I walked in it briefly crossed my mind I wouldn’t know where to go for a last-minute corsage if I needed one. Picture ballroom gowns and high heels that would require permits in some jurisdictions. My tuxedo was the right call, and a rented limo would have been just over the top—just. So, next time.
The other was 1,500 miles away, I was not invited, not receiving anything, traveling under a pseudonym and going to great trouble to arrive undetected by the organizer of the event.
We were going because my mother-in-law was receiving the award. At this event, tuxedos and elegant black formals abounded, and I saw two white stretch Hummer limos in the parking lot. Think Academy Awards, where everybody was a benefactor and no one would take credit for anything.
“I had a great year, but I would be nothing but for my grandfather, and it is my groom who deserves all the credit. That’s it—thanks Grampy. Thanks Renaldo. Congratulations to the other winners and their grooms.”
So they had some differences, these banquets, and some similarities, even beyond the bacon treats and Heineken I mentioned earlier. Like everything in the horse world, there is an abbreviation to make sense of it all. You have your GHHJA (Greater Houston Hunter Jumper Association) awards ceremony and your USHWA (United States Harness Writing Association) banquet and all you’ve got to do is figure out what the letters stand for.
I’ll tell you a secret I’ve learned—the “HJ” always means “hunter/jumper” and “HR” always means “harness racing.” You would think the “H” would stand for “horse,” right? That’s what I thought too, but remember, the horse is implied.
There are some minor rules differences between hunter/jumper competition and harness racing, mainly around the relative position of the rider, horse, and fences, but it gets pretty technical, so I’d better just refer you to the internet. Everything in the horse world is so specialized, you almost never see crossover riders or horses, and the only banquet attendees in common this year were myself and my wife.
Some of the awards themselves even have names. They are named after famous horse people or famous horses. They are called perpetual trophies—with sculptures or engraved bowls—and you get to keep them a year until they are given to the next year’s recipient. On the other hand, all the other awards, they just give them to you. They are yours to keep. Perpetually. Does that sound backwards?
Anyway, I’m not complaining, it’s a darn nice trophy and I’m happy to have it in the dining room for the year and read through the nameplates of horses who won in in previous years, all famous now in my house.
One of the awards banquets itself had a name—the Dan Patch Awards. So I ask my wife at the end who is Dan Patch, thinking he must be either a rider or a paddock named after a rider, or a really good paddock. Dan. Patch. These are your clues.
It turns out Dan Patch was a really famous harness racing horse, like a hundred years ago. Everybody in the room knew that, except yours truly. How famous do you have to be to get a whole sport’s award ceremony named after you? Now THAT’s an achievement award!
It is something I have come to realize. Longevity in the horse world is measured in generations. And I suppose those legacies are built in part with memorable years on memorable horses, punctuated by banquets awards.
Congratulations Dev Branham for winning the Sandy Harger Sportsmanship Award—it means something when your peers vote for you. We are proud to call you our trainer.
Congratulations Judy Davis-Wilson for winning USHWAn of the Year. You missed no detail of the banquet, except your daughter and son-in-law sneaking into town to adjoining seats at your table. We got you good.
I hope someday to see perpetual trophy awards for some of the shadow participants in the sport. The ring steward trophy could be a clipboard and a microphone. The groom trophy could be a muck bucket and a fork. And maybe just maybe there could be a horse husband trophy, a grooming bucket and a martingale and a riding whip.
Or two Heinies and two empty bacon wrap skewers in one hand, two fingers held high, “two more please”. It could happen.
For my part, I have been practicing for that day. Always be on time with the grooming bucket. Wear a tux when you attend banquets. Hold the trophy high, and thank the folks who helped along the way. “I want to thank Malloy for being a good horse, and thank Dev for telling him which way to go, and thank my wife for doing the same for me.”
Jesse married into the horse world in 2009. His wife, Diane, rides and trains with Dev Branham (on whose website these blogs are also published) in Tomball, Texas. He has ridden, if you must know, but he does not ride regularly. Jesse prefers to interact with horses more on an eye-to-eye level, two and four feet firmly on the ground, respectively. He enjoys long walks in the pasture and grazing on a rainy afternoon.