I braided and bathed Patrick myself, which meant I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 2:50 AM. It had been a long time since I had to get up that early for a show, although I went to bed early, so it wasn’t too bad. I trudged out into his paddock at about 3:20 to fetch him. It was so dark that I had to approach each of the three bays in the field to figure out which one was him. Of course he was the last one I looked at in the very back of the pasture, but when he saw me, he marched right up to me with his ears pricked. It was very cute.
I was pleased with my bathing and braid job. It was the first time I had braided Patrick and he looked quite handsome. The braids were neat, even and not distracting which I was glad about. Being able to do my own braiding is a big money saver which might even allow me to do more shows. “Well” I said, “if things go terribly awry at the show, at least we’ll still look good.”
I was worried about how things might go because the temperature had dropped about twenty degrees overnight. It was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly summer turned to fall. Luckily Patrick was unfazed. He was very calm all day and acted like a real pro.
I have been riding and showing since I was a kid, but this was my first USEF rated show. If you’ve never done one, let me tell you, it’s a different world. The classes are basically the same, the rings are the same, but that’s about where it ends. When we arrived before the show, there were horses being lunged in circles everywhere, clearly by grooms and not by owners or riders. The permanent stalls were all decorated with banners, tack trunks and coolers in the stables’ colors. Blinged out golf carts zoomed by, carrying people in breeches and designer sunglasses with their packs of fashionable dogs. The horses were all big, beautiful and warmblood-like, basically without exception. With the arrival of “the A Show people” and their horses and their stuff, the whole ambiance of our familiar showground had changed. The whole place reeked of money. It was a little surreal for me, who had only spectated shows of this quality in the past, to step into the ring on a horse I owned and actually compete against “the A Show People.”
The local divisions were large because “local” was considered to be within one hundred miles of the showground. There is a lot of good horseflesh within that radius. There were many pros riding extremely good quality horses. It looked like they might be using the local divisions as a warm-up for other divisions. There were about 30 horses in the 2’6” division and about 25 in the 3’. I had expected the divisions to be a mix of the really nice horses that were at the show for other divisions and a few horses of lesser quality that you wouldn’t normally see at an “A” show, but that wasn’t the case. The horses were top quality across the board. Holly and I had good, respectable over fences rounds. Each round had a least one minor mistake which could put us out of the ribbons. Holly had one 3’ round that we thought was good enough to place, but it didn’t. Of course, we didn’t feel disappointed because competition was fierce and Patrick had really done his job well. Who could complain?
However, we didn’t walk away empty handed. Patrick is exceptionally talented in the hack. He’s an A++ mover and he couldn’t care less about the traffic in a crowded hack class. I walk into my division hack confident of this fact. Holly’s major advice to me beforehand was to stay to the inside track of the ring where I could be seen the best by the judge. “Do not go on the rail. Ever.” She told me.
The class got underway. I steered Patrick around the other horses as if they weren’t even there, staying to the inside track. We extended the trot up each long side of the ring. His canter departs were prompt and flawless. I let all of his gaits be forward beyond my comfort zone. I asked him to tuck in his nose very slightly but otherwise left him in his natural frame. It was such a big class that we hacked at each gait for a long time. He was so perfect and consistent in his responses that it was like driving a machine, not riding a horse. Lining up, I knew it was the best I’d ever showed off any horse in any hack I’d ever ridden in. I also was prepared not to get a ribbon because, well, that’s out of my control. The announcer began calling the class. Sure enough, first through fifth walked away to collect their ribbons. All professionals, we thought, on hulking warmbloods. Then they call our number! Sixth place in a highly competitive hack class of twenty? I’ll take it. I knew that we did a great job, but it was really nice to be recognized by the judge for our effort. That little green ribbon is on my mantle! Holly went on to ride to 7th place in her flat class too. So we have ribbons from our first “A” show. Patrick was great and after that experience, I don’t think there is any hunter show in America where I would take him and feel outclassed. Of course, I have a lot more learning to do, and I prefer to do it primarily at the local shows which are cheaper and more accessible. I’m feeling comfortable competing at 2’6” at this point, so over the winter, I will continue working on my goal to compete at higher fence heights in hope that I’ll eventually feel comfortable competing at 3’. However, the Maryland Horse and Pony Show was a fantastic experience and I think the “A” circuit hasn’t seen the last of us!