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May 9, 2014

Mom: The Star Behind The Scenes

Through the good, the bad and the ugly, Momma Pope has been a guiding force in my life.

If you ever meet me at a show, you’ll probably also meet a similarly petite woman with insanely curly blonde hair who looks almost nothing like me, aside from build. She certainly doesn’t look old enough to be my mother, but she is. 

There are many “behind the scenes” people who are rewarded in the success of their clients, or in financial bonuses, or gifts, and there are a number of people who make my mare Nikki’s success possible, but there’s one person in particular who stands out and doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. 

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share with everyone all the amazing ways that my mom, whom I refer to as “Momma Pope,” has made my riding career possible and whose support and love I’m forever grateful for.

When horses are announced at shows, you hear about the owner, the rider, and the horse’s name, maybe with some details if it’s a big class like a hunter derby or a grand prix. People hear my name, Nikki’s name, that she’s a Thoroughbred, and that she’s getting up there in age, but they never hear about the people behind the scenes who make the whole thing work. 

In my case, that’s Momma Pope. Momma Pope takes care of Nikki, from getting her ready and bringing her down to the ring if I go somewhere in the order where that works better than my going back to get on her, to keeping Nikki in shape and entertained while I’m in Minnesota. While I was in college, Momma P always kept Nikki going back in New York, calling me regularly with updates on her antics and sending me the absurd number of pictures that I requested.

There’s no question that Nikki and I wouldn’t be successful without Momma P keeping both of us going; in addition to taking care of Nikki, she’s always there to be a shoulder to cry on, to share in excitement about a class going well, or to give me a dose of tough love when I need and deserve it.

Riding As A Family Affair

Momma P is an accomplished rider in her own right; she showed in the big equitation, junior hunters, and junior jumpers (all on the same horse—see a theme in this family?) with Victor Hugo-Vidal when she was a junior, and went on to show in the preliminary and intermediate jumpers in Connecticut. She competed very successfully in intercollegiate competition, winning alumni over fences at IHSA Nationals, and gave me countless tips for my own intercollegiate experiences.

My mother’s involvement with my riding started long before Nikki was in the picture. My first experience in the saddle was on one of her retired horses, when I was the tender age of 18 months old. She sometimes rode with me sitting in front of her—the first time I cantered was before I turned 2.

She didn’t pressure me into riding, but she certainly encouraged it when I demonstrated that I had caught the “horse bug” by crying and only calming down when she took me out to see the horses.

Momma Pope started both of my ponies when they were babies and did an amazing job with both of them. My first pony, “Duckie,” did walk-trot classes with me when she was 3 years old and I was 6. There aren’t many ponies who can do that, but the combination of great ponies and great training made it possible. 

Duckie’s half-brother, “Sly,” was my mom’s project for years while I grew up on Duckie. She took him from a gangly 2-year-old to a pony hunter who just missed ribbons in the model and under saddle at the USEF Pony Finals with me in the large green pony hunters. I know it was difficult for her to see me fumble through learning to ride Sly; he was really her pony, and she always rode him better than I did.  I’m sure she would royally school me on how to ride him if we had him now.

My mom’s involvement with my riding wasn’t limited to breaking and training my ponies—she always braided and trailered my mounts, and taught me to do the same. We’ve shared many hours in a truck hauling to various horse shows, singing along to the “Jersey Boys” soundtrack, laughing while reading The Chronicles of the $700 Pony, or just chatting about what we expect the show to be like. 

Whether going to show a pony at the crack of dawn in the dead of winter or getting Nikki ready for a big class in 90+ degree weather, Momma Pope has always been supportive of me. If that’s not enough, she also videos every class that Nikki and I do, as well as some of our lessons, as she and I agree that watching videos is a great way to learn and to analyze how things went. 

Even when things go wrong in my rounds and end near-disastrously, she manages to keep filming; I have a round from the low junior jumpers where Nikki stepped on herself and fell going into a combination, ultimately jumping out with me hanging off the side of her head, and somehow pushing me back into the saddle. 

Not only did Momma Pope’s hands stay steady, but at the end of the round, the announcer congratulated me for staying on and you hear a snort from my mother as she laughs. We’ve spent hours reviewing these videos and used to watch them with my grandmother on my mom’s side; even as she aged and her mind failed her, she always got out a clear “again!” when she was watching Nikki!

Shared Emotions And Moments

Over the years of showing, my mom and I have shared a lot of moments that are high in emotion, whether in a good way or a bad way. We both were elated the first time I qualified for Pony Finals, we laughed when I fell off at home trying to ride side-saddle without the proper tack, and we cried when Nikki suffered a bout of colic and had to have surgery. 

I think one of the moments that stands out most to me is from the second grand prix that Nikki and I did. We jumped around with just 4 faults, having never jumped a course that high before (even at home), and finished just out of the money. I came out of the ring hugging Nikki’s neck and was greeted with the sight of both Kip and my mom fighting back happy tears. 

I haven’t seen my mom cry much at all, but I’d never seen her cry happy tears before! She’s been there for all of our major moments and I know that I’d never be where I am today without her.

I don’t know if there is a way for me to accurately capture how grateful I am and how much I love my mom, as she’s done so much over the years and continues to be there for me every day, even when I’m living 1,200 miles away. She’s an incredible, amazing person and horsewoman, and I hope that someday, I can be even half the woman she is.

I hope she gets a chance to read this—I’ve run a few of my other posts past her, but I’ve kept this one a secret. So, Happy Mother’s Day to all the horse show moms out there, and to the best one of all, Momma Pope!

Emily Pope, 23, started her relationship with Seize The Moment, an off-the-track Thoroughbred and a chestnut mare, in 2006 and they began in the junior hunters. Emily quickly realized “Nikki’s” talents lay in the jumper ranks, and they worked their way from the junior jumpers to the grand prix. She rides with Kip Rosenthal and Elzabeth Lampert.

Emily graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2013 with a B.S. in animal science, spent a semester studying aboard in Madagascar, and now works in cancer research. Read Emily's introductory blog, "Taming My Inner Gecko."

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