Thursday, November 13, 2008

Harvey's 15 minutes of fame

I recently changed my blog logo and header. The new logo is Harv's face cropped from this photo from New Jersey horse show, taken perhaps 7 or 8 years ago. Of all the horse shows we competed in, this is the one I remember most. Here is the story...

How I remember it...
After testing our mettle in schooling shows, Harv and I enter our first USDF rated show, at Hobby Horse Hill Farm. My trainer Amanda is my advisor, trainer, hauler, and braider. I wish I could say she is a cheerleader, but her personality is decidedly unperky. Her lessons are a blend of Zen master and drill sargeant, depending on what I need. Not given to praise, she has taught me to listen carefully to the brightness or neutrality of tone in her standard compliment, "Not too-too bad." Insightful instruction is one of her qualities; warm fuzzies, not so much.

Timeliness is not her strong suit on this day either. We start late and get lost on the way to the farm. Trying to contain my panic, I pull on my boots and tie my stock tie in the truck. When we arrive it is only 20 minutes until my first ride time. We unload Harv and Amanda runs to to the steward's stand. My hands are trembling as I tack up Harv. This is SO not my style. I'm absurdly early for any event that matters to me, and for horse shows I follow a thought-out methodical routine to get ready. Today, my usual psychological preparation is out the window. I can hear my mother in her lugubrious singsong voice: "All it takes is for one person to drop the ball, and then pieces start flying off."

I am on Harv in ten minutes and we warm up in drizzling, chilly rain. Once I am in the saddle, my panic subsides but my mood is dark. How could we be expected to perform well? There is no time even to run through a test. We trot a little, then walk around on a long rein. Nearby, a nationally ranked grand prix rider, Hannah Mitros, is schooling a young Andulusian gelding. As she passes me she smiles and nods. She doesn't know me, and she'd probably smile at anyone. But small kindnesses have a power all their own, and her gesture sends a wave of encouragement. What can I say? My motivation returneth. I take up the reins and nudge Harv into a trot. We practice a few circles and a leg yield in one direction, and then the gatekeeper calls our number. A few moments later I'm in the ring, feeling more ambitious but also stiff and unready. We haven't even cantered.

How does it go? It is first level test 3. Harv looks beautiful, sleek and shiny from the rain with a line of perfect white-taped braids lining his neck. He is relaxed and moving well. As we proceed with our test, my glasses fog up. I could reach up quickly and wipe them off, I suppose, but Harv is nice and round, right where I want him. I'm not going to drop contact just to have the ability to see. The final halt is Harv's favorite movement -- he knows what the center line means (almost done!), and he likes to end with a flourish. When we leave the ring, Amanda relays her "not too bad" in an upbeat voice.

There are ten or twelve horses riding the test, and it takes over an hour for the results to be announced. The results are finally called, in reverse order. Sixth. Fifth. Fourth. Third. Nope. Darn. Disappointed, my mind turns to the drive home, what needs to be done....

"Second place, Harvard, owned and ridden by...."

We had gotten second place, with a score of 66%. Amanda literally jumps up and down. Then the first place winner is announced, and it is the pro rider who had smiled at me, Hannah, with a score of 68%. A second place behind Hannah somehow makes the moment even more remarkable. I grin and pat Harvey, who is looking smug. At that moment, Amanda reaches over and hugs me.

Amanda. hugged. me.

I can't believe it. A rather perky-seeming Amanda heads off to pick up my ribbon and scores while I prep Harv for the ride home. When she returns, she thrusts the scoresheet toward me. I notice we got an 8 on our halt, but Amanda's thumb indicates where I'm to direct my attention. "The judge went easy on you. Your stretchy trot was non-existent, and you halted at least ten feet in front of X. We need to fix that stretchy trot, okay?"

Things had returned to normal. We packed up and went home.

Looking back
In re-reading this I wonder if it seems like a braggy story. Actually Harv and I triumph in all of our stories! I guess it is a bit of a dramatization, because I my memory has probably made it a little larger than life. I've my share of embarrassments and disappointments as a not-particularly-gifted older rider. This was just one of those days when you feel you've stepped into someone else's life. Thanks for reading, and for your indulgence :-)


  1. Aww what a great feel good story! Thanks so much, and LOVE the first pic of Harv, he's beautiful.

  2. I hate to be a bummer, but... doesn't the photo of Harv show a "broken neckline" where there is excessive flexion between the 2nd and 3rd, or 3rd and 4th, cervical vertebrae?

  3. Perhaps -- but I love his expression in the pictures :-)

  4. What a rude comment! Your pic is incredible and that is the dressage snobbery that makes me want to grit my teeth.
    Anyway, what a wonderful story, and I'm sorry, but you have talent if you are riding at third level. Seriously in doubt that you are an old wanna-be rider. I'm 37 and I want to be a lot of things with my horse--i just keep plugging along! Nobody who sits in a saddle is ever a loser right? Cheers, I'm new to the blog. Mine's called Always there are the horses....

  5. Absolutely NOT bragging! We all love a great story of success, because most of us are just like you--trying and wanting. Great pics of Harv. Congratulations! Very enjoyable reading! You have my permission to remove the anonymous spoil-sport comment.

  6. Enjoy those 15 minute ventures. It's perfectly OK if they are larger than life to you, they are for most folks. That's part of what keeps us all doing this....the amazing feeling when we get it right....or even pretty good.

  7. First, level, first level (schooling second of course). But maybe third is our our grasp!

  8. A horse not overly schooled does better in their tests as a rule. This post is excellent and not bragging at all. Accomplishments are meant to be cherished and shared.

  9. I wrote the comment on Harv's photo (broken neckline). I never intended to be "rude", just correct. Dressage is all about physiological responses, in horse and rider, and is cut and dried on what creates the proper response. With your blog, which I love, you have a responsibility to present correct info. and if something is presented as the ideal, uninformed people will be mislead. Sorry if I hurt Harv's feelings, he is a lovely horse.

  10. Hi Anonymous, your remark made me think you must be a "typical dressage rider" -- always a perfectionist :-). I've gotten a lot harsher comments on COTH and UDBB.

    For the record, I wasn't presenting Harv's photo as an ideal or representation of correctness. If I waited for that moment I would have no photos of Harv under saddle. I like that photo b/c of his expression and the set of his ears. Everything else just "is."


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.