Taking young riders to horse shows is a snap. It may snap your mind, your back and your pocketbook.
Ah yes, I remember those days well.
Admittedly, I am responsible for starting it all by buying my boys ponies to ride on our new farm. My thought was that they just might like to join their friends competing in the most novice of equine competitions.
“Wouldn’t you like to go to shows with your friends?” I asked. And so it began.
It All Begins With Lead Line
Indeed, they would and did enjoy the shows, beginning at the easiest level in lead-line classes at local equestrian competitions in rural Maryland. It seemed innocent enough.
I realized early on that lead line was aptly named as the first rung on the horse show ladder, leading to short stirrup, pony hunter, junior hunter and junior jumper classes. Each class, of course, calls for increasingly better riding skills, more talented horses and much higher levels of mothers’ patience.
We began with small schooling competitions. These “fun” shows, as they were called back then, were warm-ups to more challenging classes as the boys began to set their sights on the “big time,” a.k.a. Devon, one of the best-known horse shows in the world.
“Please mom, that’s the best show in the universe. Please can we go?” they begged in unison. And so we did.
Best Show in the Universe
Anticipation for our inaugural trip to the big time kicked into high gear with approximately 22 trips to the tack shop to find the boys matching jackets, riding britches and handsome new hard hats unscarred by low hanging branches and water pistols battles.
It was also essential that their mother buy a new ensemble, preferably monogrammed with ponies and topped off by a spiffy straw hat, under which she could unobtrusively stand at ringside biting her fingernails.
Obviously, the ponies were also in need of an updated wardrobe. This makeover included new bridles and halters of butter-soft leather with tiny brass nameplates, and light blankets, embroidered on the side with their names — their real names, not the ones I called them when trying to catch them in the pasture.
Nor could the ponies be expected to ride in a trailer unless it had fresh paint, brand new floorboards, rotated tires and the farm name elegantly hand-stenciled on the side.
After all, we were going to Devon!
Packed up and mostly organized, we were heading for the revered Pennsylvania show grounds before dawn. Normally a three-hour drive, it took us six, including a snack stop, lunch break, four restroom pauses (none of which coincided with food stops) and a 45-minute delay at the toll booth.
It was mid-afternoon when we pulled into the Devon show grounds, low on patience and even lower on gas. The station wagon had averaged approximately 800 feet per gallon while pulling its load. As I turned into our designated parking space, the car radiator and I heaved simultaneous sighs of relief.
We had arrived at Devon.
Though the lure of the Ferris wheel and Country Fair games was more powerful than the prospect of bedding down cranky ponies, all dimes and nickels were withheld until the ponies were bathed, groomed and tucked in for the evening. The braiding yarn was hanging in readiness to be woven in their freshly shampooed gray and black manes.
And oh, how I’d worked learning to braid properly, practicing at all those early schooling shows. I was now well aware that the usual six fuzzy clumps knotted together with rubber bands wasn’t going to cut it. After all, this was Devon.
Before heading for the hotel, we double-checked entries, toured the fairgrounds one more time in case we’d missed anything, and gave the ponies their good night carrots and hugs.
The first walk/trot class was scheduled for 9 a.m. the next morning, which meant rising before dawn. So, two pillow fights and half a “Swamp Thing” movie later, we were all sound asleep.
Magic of the Oval
Dressed in their show-ring finery an hour before sunrise, the boys’ help consisted of standing propped up against the stable wall in a mostly successful attempt to remain unsullied, while I tidied stalls and braided brightly colored yarn in the ponies manes.
With a “leg up” in the saddle as the “walk/trot on your own” class was announced, I wished the boys good luck and watched them trot smartly into the ring.
I longed for a nap.
Then, automatically, the magic of Devon kicked in as a dozen or so fresh-faced youngsters astride their spanking clean ponies entered that very special Dixon Oval, where little
hooves have echoed over countless decades.
Beginning that moment and lasting all
weekend, my young riders shared the delight of Devon fun (and Devon fudge). They enjoyed the thrill of hearing their numbers announced among the winners, but managed brave smiles when their numbers weren’t called.
It was an unforgettable weekend of too little sleep and too much pizza, a smorgasbord of fairground fun against a staccato of hoof beats as novice and world-class riders strutted their stuff.
Propped up against the fence, straw in my hair and rub rag hanging from my pocket, I knew then that every minute had been worthwhile. And I still do. -CL-
Watch the Lead Line at Devon on Saturday, May 28, at 1 p.m. You’ll be glad you did!