This guide is meant for anyone that lives with, loves, knows, or is raising a horse addict, and is intended to explain (justify?) our quirks and the mysteries that surround horses and horse showing.
This Part 2 will attempt to explain the state of our vehicles, why we always get back on a horse, why the show season never ends, our priorities, what we wear, our horses’ “hair,” and why riding is a sport and not a hobby.
Our vehicles are merely a conduit to get from home to barn to horse show (and sometimes) to work. Our cars are an extension of our absurdly large but nevertheless overflowing tack trunks. Typically, you might find in a rider’s car a Baker sheet (nothing to do with cookies), a cooler (not an Igloo), and a pair of high black boots (not for dancing in a club).
To my husband’s utter confusion, at any given time of the year (and particularly in spring and fall) my upholstery has more hair than my horse. And, unless the obligatory four French Vanilla Yankee Candle car fresheners are dangling from the rearview, our cars smell like equal parts sawdust, molasses, and manure. My husband once asked me: “If I give your car a show name, will you clean it?”
Funny, honey. But, not likely.
Injuries and Falling:
A couple of things you need to know: 1. It’s not the horse’s fault. It is never the horse’s fault. Even if his spooking at the sponsorship banner (that was not an issue in the three previous classes) was a performance worthy of the PBR, he couldn’t help that the wind blew at the wrong time and it caught him off-guard.
2. We will always get back on after a fall or injury, unless a missing or dislocated appendage physically prevents it. And we’ll mount from the right (wrong) side if said missing or dislocated appendage so requires.
3. Years of getting kicked, stepped on, and thrown off have given us perspective on pain. Or, just enough nerve damage to have unreasonably high pain thresholds. You won’t catch us crying or wearing Band-Aids.
4. We will always get back on a horse 99 percent sooner than a doctor recommends. Even if pregnancy is involved. Doctors’ orders are more like guidelines, anyway. Besides, we know our bodies and our horses better than a doctor who went to school for 12 years and assesses injuries for a living.
There isn’t one. Or, there are multiple, depending on what we want to qualify for or what year-end goal we’re trying to achieve.
Suffice it to say, there is no “off season” so don’t count on us spending leisurely months honing our golf skills. The show “season” doesn’t stop, it just moves. If we’re on the East Coast, we might go from Florida or Mississippi in the winter to Kentucky or Vermont in the summer, and then back again with a few stops at such exotic locales as Aiken, Saugerties, or Culpeper along the way. Spring Break in Aruba? No way—we might miss a spring series finale! Take us to Conyers, Ga., and you’ve got a deal.
This is our spring break. Sun, sand and water, they’re all here!
Photo by Mai A. Hazlett Photography
Show seasons have nothing to do with weather, or actual seasons at all. We will ride in 102° heat, pouring rain, snowstorms, and temperatures below freezing, all while wearing an outfit that makes exactly zero sense for any of these climates.
It’s happened to all of us at least once. There is a wedding/funeral/graduation/prom that someone had the nerve to schedule on the same day as a horse show. No, we will not “just skip the horse show.”
We’ll show up to a funeral (late) in show clothes, or arrive at a wedding reception (late) with helmet-hair, smelling like glycerin and sweat. I graduated (late) with a cap and gown over my boots and breeches and have gone right to horse shows from prom (of course, I was late to prom, but was on time for the horse show).
I rode the day I got married (no, I was not late to the altar) and the day before giving birth to my son (not recommended). Believe us when we say, we’ll stop at nothing to ride. This is not all purely selfish—riding and horses are a constant in our lives. Riding takes commitment and we are fully committed (my husband frequently suggests I should indeed be committed, but not to a horse).
In other words, the horses are the center of our universe, and everything else must revolve around them. This is subject to change if we have a child that is a pony rider. Then, the universe revolves around them.**
We don’t wear “silks” or “colors,” or anything else to distinguish ourselves from one another, for that matter. Nope, we all look pretty much exactly alike, and not much different from our 17th century brethren that chased the hounds through the British countryside.
Black mushroom helmet, dark jacket with a long-sleeved button-down underneath, long pants and high black leather boots over them. Not flattering, not comfortable, and definitely not practical for the majority of climates or circumstances.
The attire is, however, particularly insulating when the temperatures climb of above the 90 degree mark, and particularly airy when they dip below freezing (yes, we ride in both extremes). We rock hairnets (yes, the school lunch lady kind, but so much cooler, of course). Sometimes we wear a double breasted suit with “tails” which, of course, makes perfect sense in a sport where you spend 98 percent of the time sitting on your butt.
If you’re looking for us at a horse show, don’t rely on distinguishing attire. A horse show looks something like a disorganized army of bobble-head soldiers with spurs, big belts, and the occasional bling. Horse shows are like a life-sized Where’s Waldo without the Waldo.
Most of us spend money on our hair. You may even think too much money. But it’s nothing compared to the small fortune we spend on our horses’ manes and tails. Those gorgeous button-perfect braids in our horse’s mane and swan-neck braid in our horse’s tail—those are a professional’s work of art worth every penny.
Braiding takes time and skill. Oh, we’ll rip and unravel the braids 90 minutes after they’re put in, only to have the horse braided again in less than 24 hours.
Yes, we pay ridiculous amounts for these braids then rip them out hours later.
Photo by Mai A. Hazlett Photography
Yes, from time to time we entertain the idea of braiding our horses ourselves (usually after writing a check for the braider), but then we remember that braiding takes time and skill. And yes, we’ve tried to leave our horses braids in overnight, and it does not work. If you can picture a hairy ninja with four legs, that’s a pretty accurate visual of a horse who remains braided 30 seconds longer than he wants to be.
Sport vs. Hobby:
We’ll argue this one like we’re arguing a landmark case before the Supreme Court. Riding is a sport and we—and our horses—are athletes. We dare you to disagree. Riding takes skill, strength, grace, stamina, and grit.
Our teammate has about 1,500 pounds on us, and has all the leverage. Using only our legs and a little piece of metal attached to two pieces of leather, we have to convince our teammate that it would rather jump over AstroTurf and fake stone walls than go back to the barn and eat dinner.
Riding is the only sport where men and women compete head-to-head, and even as a team, we all compete in the ring individually. Whether we’re jumping fences the size of SUVs, attempting a half-pass without stirrups, or simply trying to convince a horse to trot over a flower box, riding is physically and mentally demanding. Scrapbooking is a hobby. Riding is a sport.
We know there are a lot of mysteries and questions surrounding us and our horses. We know you still wonder about the differences between hunters and jumpers, eventers and racing. About why riders must jog for soundness when it doesn’t really matter if we’re sound at all. About why we won’t get a ribbon if we create our own route from jump-to-jump, or only make it over nine out of 10 jumps. Not all mysteries and questions can be “solved” or answered in a blog post or two, but again, just a marginal understanding of what it is we do will take you a long way.
We don’t expect you to get it, but we love it when you try. And as long as you live with, love, or are raising one of us, it will save your own sanity to try and understand and accept us and our horse addiction. You might hate our addiction, but trust me, you’d hate us more without it.
** Though it is probably clear, this is one place where I must qualify that many of the comments in this post are for humor. While horses and riding are an integral part of my life, my son (who has neither a pony nor a desire to ride one) and my family are actually the center of my universe.
Christiane Campbell is a lawyer, mom and amateur hunter rider from Pennsylvania. She rides with in the amateur-owner division and has shown at Devon and the Pennsylvania National. You can read all her blogs here.