At the heart of it, there are four reasons one shows a horse. One is that you just want to go and have a great time, and the results be damned—you’re in it for the social element. Awesome. The second is that you and/or your horse have loftier aspirations, but you need mileage. Maybe you’re inexperienced at showing, or maybe you’re an experienced rider with a young horse, and it needs to learn to go to the shows and behave.
The third is that you have some sort of accolade you need scores to achieve. Maybe it’s a mare or stallion approval thing, or maybe you have a horse for sale who needs to prove his proficiency at a level, or maybe you need one more score for a rider award, or whatever.
And the last is that you’re going to win.
When Fender was 4, he went to his first show, was a doofus on Day 1, and then settled right in and behaved like a pretty professional dude for the rest of the season. And I said, “OK, he doesn’t have anything more to prove to me; he can stay home from the shows until he gets up to Reason 1/Reason 4—doing the Prix St. Georges and winning.” I figured this would be around 2014. And between 4 and 8, I’d put the money I’d be spending showing first and second and third levels into his training and just plug along.
But lately, I’d been doubting my resolve. I keep seeing videos of Valegro as a young horse, out winning a national championship at every level there is. I keep having people ask me, “What’s Fender up to? When are you going to show him?” I took him to the Global to school a few weeks ago, and he was perfect, and I got my confidence back. I was making the right decision.
And then Midge, who was entered in this weekend’s Palm Beach Derby, came down with a man-eating case of thrush that rendered him Not Quite Right, and I had to pull him from the show. (He’s fine now, of course.) And I found myself with several hundred dollars of entries going right down the tubes.
“What the heck?” I thought. It’s Thursday afternoon, too late to take him over to the showgrounds, to which he’s never been. I haven’t practiced anything from a test—no centerline-halt-salutes, no reinbacks, hardly any walk pirouettes—in eons. The temperatures have dropped 30 degrees, and there’s 20-30 mile-an-hour winds. And I don’t have the tests memorized yet.
As it turns out, it was a great decision. Because Fender was pretty tight on Friday. Let’s be clear—Fender being tight does not make me fear for my life or the lives of others, because he’s an Incredibly Good Boy. But I did not get a lot of say in the execution of that first test. Bless Michael’s heart; in the warm-up, he kept saying, “Yeah, good! OK, good!” I just wanted to tell him: Dude. Seriously. I’m cool with the fact that this sucks. It’s all good.
By Saturday I got to drive about a quarter of the time, and by Sunday, I was totally the boss of Fender’s exhausted self, save one moment where, of course, just as I’ve come to the walk work, a flock of birds flies up from the canal (a Derby specialty); his brain returned promptly, and we carried on.
His scores went from 62 percent on Day 1 to almost 68 percent on Day 3, and that’s all still with MUCH greater possibilities at this level.
But that’s not why we’re showing. It’s back to Reason 2 now, mileage, proficiency, showing Fender what The Rest Of His Life is going to look like. We’ll do it again at the Global in two weeks.
I’m questioning my convictions. I still believe that it’s absolutely not required that a horse demonstrate proficiency at every level on his way up to The Big Level, but maybe it’s more important to show them at those middle levels than I thought. Midge and Ella were both such ding-dongs as kids; they showed straight through. Fender is certainly more level-headed than they were at his age, but he can still clearly benefit from mileage. I guess I have my whole life to test the competing theories!