Just Keep Smiling
By April D. Ray
The long weekend in May marked the second horse show this year for Fire and me. The previous horse show hadn’t gone quite how we had planned (see my blog post about it: The C Word), but I was hoping for more success this time around. At this point in Fire’s training, success is getting on the trailer, getting to the horse show, and NOT parting ways while on the ground or on her back. Anything else is icing on the cake.
Warm-up day was tough. We went lunging three times, once at home and twice at the horse show when she was so worked up I couldn’t even get her tacked up by myself, let alone get on her back. Thanks to the kindness of an old friend we managed to get the tack on and make it to the ring. Thankfully, by this time she was tired. And so was I. We jumped around and went home to get ready for the next day.
While I have countless things to worry about (both real and imagined) one of my most significant stresses right now is getting Fire on the trailer. After having spent more than five hours one day last year trying unsuccessfully to get her on my new trailer, I’m still a little tentative and apparently so is she. We’ve worked on this a lot, but evidently not enough. Looking back, we have a lot of homework to do on the ground and with the trailer, and just because she got on yesterday doesn’t mean she is going to get on today. With no one else at the farm to help, I recruited my husband to help load. He got a crash course in how to use a lunge line to encourage a stubborn horse into the trailer, and we were successful!
Smiling away the nerves while waiting to go in for our first round of the day. Photo: Maia Smith
After our struggles getting tacked up beside the trailer the day prior, I decided to tack her up in the trailer once we got there. Then we went for a brief walk around the grounds to calm our nerves – hers and mine. I got on and made my way to the ring. Our rounds went off without a hitch. I made mistakes here and there, but I refused to beat myself up for them. It's all a learning experience and one I am embracing. We had our first flat class, and not only did she behave herself, we placed! I didn’t even check the results of our jumping classes before I went home because in my mind we had already won… even if once again we needed assistance to get to and on the trailer.
I was surprised to learn that we had placed quite well, which only increased my sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, it also slightly raised my stress level. As a real competitor at heart, I started to think about winning – something that is never a successful thought for me. So I tried to put that out of my mind and think about just doing the best job I could, and of course having fun!
I knew that getting on the trailer on the third day would be tough. She was tired and a little weary of the horse show game. So far we hadn’t made it to the third day of a show for various reasons, so I was a little psyched out. Sure enough, my 1300-pound horse said no when it came time to load. She wasn’t scared, and she wasn’t worried, she just said no for today. Thanks to the quick thinking and generosity of a fellow boarder at my barn who made room for Fire in her trailer, we were off to the show. It’s much easier to get Fire on a trailer that’s bigger and has two friends on it already. Without this help, I would likely still be at home crying and cursing my horse.
After many thanks, especially after accepting more help to get tacked up and ready, we were off to the ring. I had four rounds to ride and again felt that I’d made a few mistakes in the first one. But that’s okay. I talked with my coach about how to fix them and I kept smiling. Second round, even better. The third round was almost perfect, although I started to get a little stressed partway through. A voice in my head began to have a conversation about how well it was going and that I’d better not mess it up. I told that voice where to go, plastered a smile on my face – not caring if I looked like a crazy person – and I carried on. By our fourth round, I was ecstatic, and that smile was not going away anytime soon. I could have gone home happy right then and there.
Photo: Maia Smith
I cooled Fire out in the warm-up ring and listened to the results. She was second in one of her classes, more icing on our cake! And she won another one! Then they called the Champion and Reserve, and that’s when I realized we had a lot of icing on our cake – and icing is my favourite part. Fire was Champion of the Baby Green division, and I had to stuff the tears back in my face (not wanting to be “that girl”). For me, that moment culminated hours and hours of work, so many dreams I have for Fire, and overall a total confirmation of the decisions I have made for my horse over the last few years. It’s been almost a week, but I still haven’t stopped smiling and don’t think I will anytime soon.
Main photo: Maia Smith