Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Blue Ribbons Later

When I bought Gabbrielle as a yearling, I was determined not to make the same mistake with her that I did with Bombay. I bought Bombay as a yearling also, but I deprived him of worldly experiences. I was new to horse ownership and not totally confident that I could handle Bombay in strange places, so I kept him sheltered at home throughout those early years. That only made it more difficult for me to handle him in strange places when he got much bigger, stronger, and heavier. I decided to take Gabbrielle to a local horse show and show her in both the Arabian Yearling Filly Halter class and the All-Breed Yearling Halter class. I paid my show fees months in advance and began "training" Gabbrielle to show at halter.

Of course, I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. The only thing Gabbrielle knew how to do really well was to halt immediately when I said, "Ho!" Despite that I couldn't figure out how to get her set up in that pretty pose that I always saw Arabian horses do in halter classes. I bought a book on halter training, but it was for Quarter Horses, which is a completely different arena. One thing I did get out of the book was the importance of physically conditioning your horse so that it is in good shape before showing it at halter. So, I spent the majority of those months longing Gabbrielle in the round pen.

I talked to an Arabian breeder about halter training. She showed me how to get a horse set up by modeling it with one of her horses, but she couldn't put into words what it was that she was doing. I think communicating with horses becomes second-nature for the pros, so they don't realize that what is obvious to them is invisible to the rest of us. I asked questions, but the answers didn't clarify anything for me. I was just too far out of the loop to put it all into context. She did show me the type of whip and show halter I should buy, and I promptly went home to search for them on the Internet. Who would have known that a little string of leather could cost hundreds?

As show time grew closer, I got more and more nervous as I still could not get Gabbrielle to stretch her neck up and out. I'd lift the handle of my whip up high like the handlers do in the shows, and she'd just look over my shoulder at something more interesting. I decided to leave work early every day for the week before the show to work with her. However, as we all well know, you can never count on having that time you plan for being available.

In the week before the show I received a phone call informing me that my mother had fallen and was being transported by ambulance to a medical facility just a few blocks away from my house. My mother lives 400 miles away from me, but at the time she fell, she was vacationing near us. I left work and drove to the hospital. The doctor sewed up the cut on her forehead and placed a brace on her broken leg. He then sent her home with me, handing me the card of a local orthopedic surgeon, a wheelchair, a walker, crutches, and a bed pan.

I spent that entire week running back and forth between my job at the computer and my mother's bed. It turned out that her insurance was an HMO that would not cover out-of-network costs. I had to set up an appointment with her primary physician in her area 400 miles away, and that physician had to concur that indeed she did have a broken leg that needed surgery before she could see an orthopedic surgeon in her area. That meant I had to take off several weeks from work to drive her the 400 miles, take her to all the preliminary doctor and lab appointments, and take care of her after her surgery.

I figured I would have to forget about that horse show I had spent months preparing for, and chalk it up to a loss. They wouldn't return my entry fees, and who knows if I would ever get to use that expensive show halter. However, since my mother is part-owner of Gabbrielle, she insisted that I show her. I explained to her that I would need to take both kids with me to the show to help, and my husband would be the only one home to help her if she needed a drink or pain pills or needed her bed pan emptied. She was okay with that.

So, off we went to both my and Gabbrielle's first horse show. I arrived right at the time that was slotted for the show to start, and the organizer's hadn't even arrived yet. I really had hoped to get in and out of there quickly since my two classes were two of the first in the morning. Despite my mother's reassurance, I did not feel comfortable leaving her at home. I spent a good half hour grooming Gabbrielle, which was no easy feat. There was a dog show going on at the same time as the horse show, and people kept walking their dogs right behind Gabbrielle. She was dancing all over the place trying to get away from all those predators.

I decided to take her for a walk, and she gave my muscles a run for their money by jerking the lead rope around and whinnying at an ear-deafening volume every few seconds. I tried longing her in a rectangular warm-up area, but without a round pen to guide her, my arms were getting jerked around as she cantered in whatever direction struck her fancy. I could not get her to focus her attention on me. I tried practicing getting her set up on the lead rope, but she just got annoyed and pinned her ears back at me -- something she never did at home. When one of the judges showed up about an hour after the show was supposed to start, she said to me in a sympathetic tone, "I know it's so hard when you have a baby."

Organizers kept assuring me that the show would start in "just a few minutes". They wanted to give others a chance to show up. I was growing angrier by the minute, as I needed to get back home to my mother, my horse was totally out of control ripping my arm out of its socket, and all these people around me were just taking their sweet time like they had the whole weekend ahead of them and nothing better to do. Wasn't an hour plenty of time to wait for latecomers? I realize that not everyone can get her horse right into the trailer and arrive on time, but there truly should be a limit on waiting.

I put my expensive leather show halter on Gabbrielle to get ready for her class and an organizer immediately ran over to me to inform me that my halter was illegal. I had neglected to purchase the thin cable chinstrap to hold it in place. I thought that when you buy a halter, they sell you the whole thing. Who would have known there were other parts I had to buy separately? She told me I could use the nylon halter I previously had her in. Things were not going well. After another half-hour wait and literally dodging Gabbrielle's rearing hooves, I made the decision to go home. Just as I walked up to the gate to let an organizer know I was dropping out of the show, they called my class.

I froze and looked around me. I waited for someone else to bring their yearling to the gate so that I wouldn't have to go in first, since I didn't know where to go or what to do. No one showed up, though. The judge asked me if I knew what to do. I told her I didn't. She explained in the tersest of terms, none of which I understood, so an organizer re-explained it to me. They opened the gate and I walked Gabbrielle up the rail and turned in toward the judge. Just as I started leading Gabbrielle at the trot, she took off at a gallop and ran circles around me. I heard someone yelling, "No, no no! You're not supposed to do that!" No duh! I wasn't doing it on purpose.

I got Gabbrielle under control and trotted her up to the judge, then stopped her and tried to get her feet in position. By that point I was dehydrated, frantically worried about my mother, exhausted from being on my feet for several hours, and completely fed up with my horse. The breeder who had tried to teach me how to get her set up came running out into the arena yelling, "Get her feet set up! That's not right!" She almost took the lead rope out of my hands to do it herself, but the judge stopped her. (This was not a show affiliated with any big organization. It's was just a local fun show.) I didn't even bother trying to get Gabbrielle to stretch her neck out since I had zero time to work with her on it since my mother's accident.

The judge then asked me to walk Gabbrielle straight to the rail. Someone started hollering at me to walk her straight. I couldn't even walk myself straight. I knew people were just trying to help, but I no longer cared. I just wanted to get my horse back into the trailer and get home to take care of my mother. The judge asked me for my number, and I had no idea what it was. I blandly turned my back toward her so she could read it off my back, and of course Gabbrielle had to step between us. Each time I tried to step out so that the judge could read my number, Gabbrielle blocked her. The judge must have seen enough of it at one point, because she wrote something on her card and walked over to the announcer's stand.

The announcer said that Gabbrielle had won the blue ribbon. I half-expected to receive no ribbon at all since our showmanship was horrific, but the victory of the blue ribbon was lost in the fact that Gabbrielle was the only horse in the class. As soon as we walked out the gate, her next class was announced. I turned around and went right back in. I guess the rules had changed as far as what I was supposed to do, because the judge yelled at me for not paying attention to her. Apparently she had been instructing me on where to go, and I blasted right past her. I couldn't hear anything over my own huffing and puffing. I think she was contemplating not giving Gabbrielle any ribbon at all for that class. She spent a lot of time at the announcer's booth having a long discussion with the organizers. It seemed an eternity that my filly and I stood at that railing, and no announcement came.

Someone opened the gate, so we started to walk out. The ribbon girl handed me the blue ribbon, but she must have received some signal from the judge, because she jerked the ribbon away. I stood next to the ribbon girl waiting, but no announcement came. I said, "Are we done here? I need to get home."

The girl then handed me the ribbon, despite there being no announcement. Gabbrielle jumped right into the trailer because she was just as eager as I was to get home, and I heard my name over the loud speaker. They wanted me back at the announcer's booth. I figured they wanted to revoke that last blue ribbon, but I was too exhausted to walk all the way back there. My legs were shaking and I was on the verge of collapse. I needed to get home, and I felt like they had already wasted enough of my time. Just as I was climbing into my truck, the breeder who had previously helped me now stopped me to explain everything I did wrong and what I needed to do in order to show at the Arabian Horse Association events. As she listed all the rules and fees for one thing or another, my eyes glazed over and my brain lapsed into a semi-comatose state. I knew that after this experience, I probably would never show again.

Unfortunately, I had also pre-paid for two more class entries on Sunday, so I had another day of misery ahead of me. The next morning I woke up and got ready, walked outside to halter Gabbrielle and get her into the trailer, but logic prevented me from going any further. I turned around and went back in the house, and announced that we would be dropping out of the horse show. "The whole point of me showing Gabbrielle was to get her used to strange places, and I succeeded in taking her to a strange place yesterday. I don't see any point in doing that again today. I honestly don't think I have the strength to do it again."

Everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and we all had a nice, low-stress, quiet Sunday before I had to load my mother into a car and drive her with her broken leg 400 miles to the one and only doctor in the world who was allowed to see her. I ended up being away from my husband, kids, dogs and horses for six weeks while handling my mother's affairs and making arrangements for her in-home care. Every time I see those two blue ribbons hanging in my trailer, I always wonder if that second one was handed to me by mistake, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Oh yes, and I did have the courtesy to call a show organizer to let her know that I would not be attending those Sunday classes. I didn't want to make anyone wait for me.

P.S. I have a better idea about halter training now the MiKael at MiKael's Mania posted her series on the Mike Neal Halter Clinic. Thanks for that.


onthebit said...

I was torn between laughing and crying through the whole story. I went with laughing at the end because what else can you do right? At least you had gotten her first show out of the way! And you should still be proud of those 2 blue ribbons because she earned them by leaving her safe home and not taking your arm out of the socket, even if it felt like she did.

Anne said...

Oh, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Poor you! I think you earned those two blue ribbons. One for being a great daughter and taking care of your mother while taking care of yoru family and going to a horse show, and two for surviving the horse show without slapping anybody, and there were plenty of people who needed slapping.

Strange places will get less strange when you don't have so much on your mind AND now that your horse has been out. Halter classes have always been beyond me.

I hope your mother heals quickly and that you try again to show on another day.

Bless you!

Beckz said...

Oh lordy what a trial that was for you. Makes you wonder why you show horses eh. You did really awesome though considering everything. Taking young horses to shows is relly difficult. awesome blog.

ranchette said...

I'm with onthebit: I couldn't decide whether or laugh or sob at your terrible show experience. Good call on canceling the second show. By the way, I love that rose grey color of your filly.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Lord have mercy...You must be a lot nicer person than I am because I think I would have unloaded on those people. I bet Sunday felt extra good knowing how much "fun" you could have been having.
Don't worry-it does get better...eventually(wink).
Hope your mother healed okay-that was awefully sweet of her to encourage you to go ahead and show.

Rising Rainbow said...

I'm with the others about laughing or crying but I want to add, you're not alone. I've been there. As for your halter not being legal, my guess is you needed a throatlacth. You can add that cheaply with a black string and black masking tape and yes, it is legal. That's how most of the big boys show. The string is waxed, I think, if it's not waxed, it's really smooth, not fuzzy like string we used to tie packages with.

Lulu said...

I hope you don't swear off shows completely.... I, for one, am proud that you survived your first show!! Though the day was long, and very trying, you accomplished what you set out to do! Bravo!

The first show with a young horse is ALWAYS an experience. Especially if that youngster has never left home before. I will be taking my yearling out of the first time in May....I'm sure it will be interesting! ;)

Callie said...

That's sounds absolutely taxing! But she's such a pretty horse and that was a brave thing to do and you survived!

dressagemom said...

That must have been awful for you! And having people hollering at you and telling you what you did wrong instead of helping you and encouraging you is terrible! I hope your next show experience is a much better one.

BarnGoddess said...

my heart was sad for you!

I literally grew up on the horse show grounds. My home (as a child until I was 18yo) was across the highway from the COunty fairgrounds. I took my pony and horses to every show that was there not to mention the ones on the road we traveled to. Ive seen many people just starting out, young kids and adults both. Showing is VERY confusing and I am a believer that you arent going to learn unless you do it for yourself. SOmetimes show people can really suck.

You are a brave and smart woman!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Thank you, EVERYONE, for your comments. I half-expected to be told that I am an idiot and I should have prepared myself and my horse better. With your encouragement, I might just consider showing the horses again. Horses get bored and need goals.

Twinville said...

I am in complete and total awe of you. Yes I am!
You are just so brave and strong and tenacious. You even stuck with it when things steadily went downhill.

But then you had the wisdom to realize that situation wasn't going to change and be a good experience for either you or your horse, and you ditched it for some peace and reflection.
You go girl!

I cannot ever see me entering shows or competitions. I'm just not as brave, strong or organized to do it, I think. There seem to be so many rules and so much chaos. I'd just sgrink up and shrivel away and buckle under all that pressure.

Quiet trail rides are my place to be.

But I want to live vicariously through you.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Twinville - Thank you. I feel the same way about horse shows. It would be nice to have someone to show their horse with me and mine, so we can at least laugh over all the unfortunate things that happen.

At the same time, I find trail riding to be somewhat intimidating, as you never know what's around the next corner and whether your horse will handle it. My husband and son went hiking yesterday and said that horses use the trail. They suggested that I could ride while they walk with me. I'm contemplating it as long as one of them is holding the lead rope. Until I take my horses out on a trail for the first time, it is an unknown, and therefore very scary to me.

I'm planning on doing a series of posts addressing fear, because it has been a big part of my adult life around horses, and I think that most new horse owners feel it too.

Twinville said...

Ok. I'm thinking now I must have a few screws loose, because I actualy prefer being out on a trail over riding in an arena or round pen.
I get to feeling bored and 'penned in' when I keep riding around the round pen.
Maybe my claustrophobia overshadows my sense of fear?

When I get out on a trail, I just feel so exhilerated and free. My fear actually goes away.

Of course, I can probably get away with saying that because I've always had calm, level headed horses to go trail riding on.

I'm really not sure how my Baby Doll will do on a trail. She seems more spooky than the other trail horses I've ridden.

Maybe when I'm on a trail, I get so distracted by the sights, smells, and sounds that I don't allow myself to be afraid?

Kind of like re-focusing or distracting a horse, by keeping their minds busy so they don't think about getting into mischief.

I like your plan to walk the trail, with your family leading your horse, at least until you feel confidant. It always feels less scary when you're not alone.

I'm looking forward to reading your next posts on fear and horses, too

deserthorses5 said...

Oh, my! What a story! I haven't even been to a show yet. That's probably what I would be like, too! (i.e. "DUH")