Our two most popular classes were the Great Equitation Derby and the Chase-Me-Charlie. Let me explain. The idea for an Equitation Derby was born when one of the kids, in a moment of childish arrogance, told me there wasn’t a course designer alive who could design a 2-foot course that she couldn’t jump. In equally childish reaction, of course, I said, “Oh yeah?” and bet her that I could do it.
So I did. The course had five jumps (about all we could safely get into the arena) at 2 feet. The first jump had aluminum foil strips dangling from the cross-pole with a fan running to make sure that the strips waved in the breeze. The second was a spread fence with a water sprinkler arcing under it just below the height of the jump. The diagonal fence was our masterpiece—a pig. Once before, we’d caged two chickens in wire crates and placed them under a spread fence, but the horses seemed to have gotten used to that, since the farm’s free-range chickens liked to free-range in our arena. To be different, we placed the piglet under the spread fence. All still at 2 feet. The fourth fence had helium balloons (shiny ones) tied to the ground rail. The last fence, just to startle everyone, was a simple post and rail.
The course was a very simple hunter one, and the class was to be judged by equitation standards. We ended up awarding placements in order of the lowest number of refusals. When that didn’t provide us with enough placements for the ribbons we had, we placed by the lowest number of times eliminated. There were, I believe, 15 entries (after all, how difficult can a 2-foot course be?), and every single horse took exception to something on that course. In fact, several of the trainers later requested permission to school over those fences!
And there was the Chase-Me-Charlie class. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s essentially the kids’ version of a puissance class. You start with a jump at a suitable height. All the entries line up, and one after another they hop over the jump. It’s then raised a notch, and anyone who’s clear so far goes again, until either the rail falls or the rider chickens out, whichever comes first. By the time we’d gone over 3 feet (remember this is a backyard show with backyard horses) there were three entries left, and everyone else was on the sidelines cheering. There was Carolyn on Addie, Kathy on George, and a little girl we didn’t know named Rachel on a huge lumbering hulk named Mongo. (Someone had been watching Blazing Saddles too often.)
Addie was an elegant little show pony who actually would have preferred to be an event horse. She’d go politely in the hunter ring, but her eyes would light up on cross-country, and then you had a horrible time getting her back to jump a civilized round in the ring. Addie and her rider bowed out when they cleared 3’9”, on Carolyn’s mother’s orders and much to Carolyn’s disgust. The mother took objection to the pony’s looking up at the fence she was about to jump.
George was next. George was a foxhunting collection of bad points, but he had heart. He wasn’t very careful, and he wasn’t a really good jumper, but the kid on his back was enthusiastic and vocal, so George kept going because it was much less trouble than stopping with that infernal noisy nuisance on his back. George’s very straight shoulders finally caught up with him when he dragged his front end at the 4’3” level and had the rail down.
Then came Mongo. Mongo had lumbered into the jump every round like a knight’s charger, making the ground shake each time he took a step. How he got over the rails, nobody knew, because he really shouldn’t have been able to. Rachel sat perched up on his back (she was maybe 80 pounds, and Mongo easily cleared 16.3-hands and was correspondingly broad), pointed him at the jump and hung on.
When George had the rail at 4’3”, we all thought that this would probably be it, but the rules gave Rachel her turn, and she was determined to take it. So there went Mongo. As one of the parents put it, you could almost see Mongo muttering to himself in a raspy bass voice like Stallone’s on a bad day “Mongo jump fence for Rachel” as he made a huge effort, cleared the rail, and landed with a thud on the other side to huge cheers from the audience. Mongo looked inordinately pleased with himself, and everyone at the show seemed to have had a good time. In fact, I was asked, at the show, when we were going to have the next one.
Sadly, not long after we got the place spruced up and presentable, the owners sold the land to a developer who was going to put up a championship golf course with an “equestrian community” of McMansions. The first perk tests dropped gaping holes in the middle of our galloping track. Our access to the forest was restricted to one particular path, and a good many of the pastures were placed off limits entirely.
The barn still stands. One side is now elegantly faced with bright-white siding (so that it looks good on television when they film the golf tournaments), the arena is fenced in (liability, y’know), access to trails and fields is almost nil (those McMansions), but the horses are still fat, glossy and happy.
Kathie P. Mautner grew up as a "Foreign Service brat," and now she works as an insurance attorney and competes in ballroom dancing. Her horse experience includes eventing, dressage and hunter/jumpers as well as volunteering as a Pony Club D.C. "I'm a survivor of ponies of all sizes," said Mautner. She also writes humor pieces for the Chronicle recalling her mispent youth as well as a serious column every now and then.