The author isn’t quite sure why she puts herself through the demands of showing—but she’s addicted.
It’s 3 a.m., and I’m up again for the third time since the start of this already sleepless day. It’s going to be a long and trying one, I conclude, sitting on the toilet again. It’s horse show day.
“And this is supposed to be fun,” I mumble.
While my horse, Sunnyboy comfortably rests on his fluffy bed, nibbling on the stray remains of his late-night snack, I toss and turn and battle the digestion gods. The butterflies in my stomach are bouncing off the sides like B-52 bombers.
I haven’t slept since midnight, and I have to get up in two hours, so there’s no way I’m going to feel refreshed and invigorated. Instead I ride the dressage test in my mind. Sports psychologists say that if you visualize yourself riding well, you will. Several rides later, I’m no better at this mind game.
Once I’ve dragged my dehydrated, middle-aged carcass to the barn, I work on Sunny, whose only concern is missing breakfast. It’s always about him; thank God I couldn’t possibly hold anything down.
According to the rulebook, the horse is paramount and I’m just his blubbering maid. My first duty is to primp and spit shine him clean for the judges, regardless of the caliber of the show. Unfortunately, he laid in something warm, moist and green, so grooming his 10-acre body is a monumental undertaking. The cleaner he becomes the dirtier I get. So much for my shower.
The next task of the day, loading Sunny onto the trailer, requires Herculean strength. It’s a game of tug of war; I pull, while three helpers attempt to push against his best giraffe imitation, upright, rigid and locked. Advantage Sunny!
Who can blame him for not wanting to jump into the back of a dark, dirty, cramped vehicle, where he has no control of where he’s going? Unfortunately, we all have to do things we dislike, so deal with it, Sunnyboy. This morning, he’s cajoled into the trailer by a small mountain of carrots.
“Have fun,” call the girls as I drive away.
All of my safety precautions are shot to hell when some nimnut runs a red light, forcing me to slam on the brakes and bringing Sunny to his knees. Frantically, he scrambles to stay upright as I screech to a halt, nearly jack knifing the trailer. His hooves clamor on the floor in an attempt to regain his balance, alerting the woman next to me of the extreme proximity of my trailer to her car. She hightails down the road, escaping by mere inches.
Due to my neurotic paranoia, we arrive at the show grounds more than an hour early. It’s better this way, more time for both of us to recover from Sunny’s near-death experience. Dare I wonder if he’ll go back on the trailer for the ride home?
Opening the trailer door reveals a filthy Sunny, soaked in diarrhea and sweat and all my pre-show cleaning trashed. The best I can do is to rinse him off, so I go in search of a hose. No need, the heavens just opened. Luckily, the rainy season here in Florida doesn’t end for another two weeks.
Once in the saddle, my stomach begins to settle down. There are more important things to think about, like staying right where I am. In Sunny’s mind, the world is full of monsters that exist just to scare the living daylights out of him, so I’m forced to battle the no-see-ums, the real and the imaginary. It’s definitely a vision thing, but whose?
As usual the warm-up goes really well, and I win, like the practice swing in golf, effortless and fluid as long as there’s no ball. If I ride like that in front of the judge, then I could go home and back to bed happy.
I’m afraid that once inside the big sandbox all communication between Sunny and I will disintegrate, along with his attention and my riding ability. He’ll be the rider and I the passenger, and as his marionette, he’ll be able to pull any one of my strings. The test is up to him and perhaps a few minor external influences, i.e. mischievous bugaboos or flags blowing in the breeze, but I resolve this time will be different.
The steward of the warm-up ring tells me I’m next. I swallow hard, but there’s no spit in my mouth. It’s bone dry. I wonder why I do this to myself. Calling me crazy is an understatement!
“This isn’t the Olympics, only a schooling show. Relax and have fun,” she assures me.
If all goes well, Sunny will garner the accolades. If not, it’ll be my fault entirely. So I put on my best game face and ride in like I know what I’m doing.
The test actually goes fairly smoothly until the final ride down centerline. Sunny’s head goes straight up in the air, and his forward motion comes to an abrupt halt. Suddenly he’s back-pedaling double time and not even straight, more like a drunken sailor on a gangplank in reverse. I look up and see the wayward gremlin (a section of a vendor’s tent) sail across the arena and realize that if I don’t stop Sunny, we’ll be in the next county in 2 minutes. So I do what anybody else would do—salute the judge and smile, then pull out all the stops to prevent Sunny from shattering the land speed record.
Back under control, we stroll casually back to the trailer as if nothing happened. As I pull out the remaining braids, I search for the reason I do this. Why do I torture myself and my horse, for a ribbon that cost the show $2 but me a cool $100? For the glory and fame I’ll gather from possibly winning a schooling show class? For the sympathy fellow exhibitors express when I leave the arena and not by choice?
I realize that the list could go on and on. Everyone says they do it for the fun, but I wonder what the hell are they thinking? Crazy or not, I’ve another show in two weeks.