I started taking riding lessons in someone’s back yard when I was 10 years old. For a backyard barn, it was a great one with a grass ring and good horses. My trainer’s main focus was fox hunting, and while I learned so much about good horsemanship in general – equitation and the finer points of showing hunter/jumpers were not on the radar for my early equine education.
I don’t remember anything about my first horse show except that it was the day I learned what a red ribbon meant (the hard way) and I didn’t win any ribbons (shocker). Based off that experience, you’d imagine I’d think twice about signing up for a huge overnight county wide 4H show as my 2nd venture into the show ring… but oh no. In the spring of 1998 off we went to the Raleigh fair grounds.
I signed up for Mare halter, Hunter Hack, Hunter Over Fences (2’6″ I think?), Hunter Go as You Please and Hunter Under Saddle with my first horse, Lydia. Lydia was a 1990 16hh ish OTTB mare that had some decent training but needed to be in a program to not be an ass… And 15 y/o me was not doing a very good job providing that program to say the least.
The first class of the day was halter in the big main indoor arena. I had stayed up late the night before bathing and braiding her, but my trainer must have helped me braid because the pictures don’t show my trademark upright crooked “Christmas light braids” that
were all the rage looked really awful.
With the mare looking sparkly, we started to head down to the ring for the 8:00am sharp class when I started to panic. See, I had gotten a brand new bright red nylon halter and lead for my halter class, but all of the horses walking to the ring had on bridles.
“Should we be in a bridle?” I asked my trainer.
“It’s called a halter class,” she replied.
“But all the other horses are wearing bridles…”
“Do you want to put her in a bridle?”
I nodded, and we quickly made the switch before running to the ring – all the while my trainer mumbled about how you should have to your horse in a halter if the class was called halter.
Feeling more confident with my mare now in her bridle, the start of the class was easy. All I had to do was trot her past the judge and the go line up with the other horses, no problem. Lydia was a fan of anything that involved moving forward, so we trotted past the judge with a big goofy smile on my face. As I waited for the judge to come look us over, I realized there may be more to this halter class than I originally thought.
All the other girls were doing some strange combination of moving around their horse’s shoulders from side to side when the judge came over to look at the horse. Me however, I just stood by Lydia peering down the line at these dancing robot children. As the judge got closer and closer to us, I realized that I needed to figure this shit out… and fast. The girl one before me was from a giant lesson factory barn that was known for having perfect school horses and winning lots of ribbons. I watched her every move and when the judge came to me next I copied everything she did.
It worked. When all was said and done I was both surprised and delighted to hear my number over the intercom for 3rd place (and out of more than three no less!). This was at least one place higher than the girl I copied, and she was none too pleased. Little did I know at the time that this would be my only ribbon for the whole day, and not only that but I was soon to be disqualified from over half the classes I had left… But more about that in part two.