Autumn is not only the season for crisp, cool riding weather but it’s also time for some major horse show events. Before the cold, rainy weather hits, regional equestrian associations hold their year-end championships. Last Saturday I was honored to be asked to judge at a championship show north of Los Angeles. I was assigned to the arena with all the flat classes, which was fine with me since perfecting the art of maneuvering through the chaos and calamity of a large flat class while still maintaining control of my horse had been my life’s work.
1. Because I declined the offer of a motel room provided by the show manager, Ron and I had to leave our house before dawn to make the 80-mile drive. That meant I was tossing hay in the dark to a nearly invisible horse. Fortunately, my husband and I are pretty good company for each other on long drives. Unfortunately, that constant yammering can lead to distractions. More than once we were yakking so much that Ron drove right past an important freeway exit. This makes me contemplate the necessity of “Do Over Lanes” for folks like us. You know, like a second chance to make that transition from the 210 to the 134.
2. Despite an extended tour of the Southern California Freeway System, Ron gets me to the horse show on time. It’s a lovely setting. Many years ago my sister Jill, our good friend Debbie and I used to show regularly at this very same facility. I can’t help but feel a little bit nostalgic. I’m then overcome by a sense of dramatic irony: I’m judging the same year-end show where I won the huntseat equitation medal finals…. In 1985. At first I feel thrilled. Then I feel old.
3. Okay. I see the judge’s booth where I’m going to sit all day. I just can’t figure out how to get there. Then the announcer for my arena, Chris, vaguely motions toward a pathway. “You kind of have to hike your way through the bushes.” Oh joy. Instead of wearing cashmere I should’ve worn my LL Bean gear.
4. I figure I scored some Oh Look, She’s a Nice Judge points when, in the very first class, I get on my walkie-talkie and tell Chris to pull one of the riders from the arena before we start the class. She’d ridden straight from her hunter class to her flat class, and her horse still had his martingale on. If the class had started, she’d have been eliminated. Instead she got a chance to dash back out the gate, yank the martingale off, and come back in. (Martingales, while allowed in over-fences classes, are not allowed in flat classes).
5. When staring out into a sea of horses, it’s easier for me to keep track of certain animals by making quick notations on my scorecard rather than memorizing their numbers. If you were looking over my shoulder you’d think I was either loopy or daydreaming. My scribblings include: “Wally,” “Topper,” “puffy,” “fuzzy,” and “pink horse.”
6. About mid-day I glance across the arena and see that Ron has disappeared from his seat in the bleachers. Gee, imagine that. He’s gotten bored watching a horse show. Apparently horse shows with me judging aren’t any more entertaining than horse shows with me riding. Since he’s my dedicated chauffeur for the day, I hope I can find him when I’m finished. It’s a long, long walk home to Norco from the San Fernando Valley.
7. Once again I’m presented with the Bay Horse Dilemma. There are four plain bay geldings in one large class. Each one is ridden in a D-ring snaffle. Each rider is wearing a navy blue huntcoat and a white shirt. Conformity is admirable in the huntseat world, but for the love of humanity, find some subtle way to differentiate yourself and your horse from all the other clones in the class! It would make my life so much easier! I’m just sayin’.
8. The nice gal who hikes to my perch every hour to collect my scorecards asks if I’d like something for lunch. I fumble around for the most polite way to decline, due to my notoriously twitchy digestive tract. But before I can come up with my response she pats me on the arm and says, “I wouldn’t trust this catering truck.” Alrighty then. How about a can of soda and a factory-sealed bag of chips?
9. Since I spent years competing as an amateur adult, I have a lot of empathy for the “mature” (*cough*) adult riders who mosey into the arena for the so-called rusty stirrup division. I’m happy to say that they were all mounted on suitable, trustworthy horses and they seemed to be having fun. Yet not all the riders were championship ready. Each time I asked for the posting trot, I could hear the voice of a trainer on the rail call out, “Claire!” I soon realized those were code words for, “Claire! You’re on the wrong diagonal! Change it before the judge sees you!”
10. The day ended on a great note. After the final class, as I was wandering up the hill to the horse show office with my clipboard in hand, several trainers and riders stopped to tell me what a great job I did. Then one horse show mom asked me to say something to her daughter, who was sitting on one of the world’s cutest dapple gray mares. She really had been a good little rider that day, and I told her so. I added that I was sure she’d grow up to be a wonderful horsewoman. The little girl just beamed, and you know what? I really think she will fulfill that promise. Maybe some day she’ll be judging this very same horse show.
Well, that’s how my day went. I finally found Ron half asleep in the car, which was parked at the back of the furthest show barn, near the wash racks. Yes, my day started with a hike and ended with one as well. At least I got some exercise. And I got to spend the day revisiting a horse show wonderland.
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