You can spot me as a horse owner when you see me toss six pounds of carrots into my cart at the local market, then have to shift two sets of leg wraps, three dirty saddle pads, and one pair of schooling chaps to fit my grocery bags into the back of my Durango. What's less apparent is just how entrenched I've become in the world of horses and showing--even more now than during my Junior Hunter and Amateur-Owner days in the 1970s.
My current threefold involvement as a riding instructor, horse-show mom, and Points and Membership Secretary for the Western Pennsylvania Professional Horsemen's Association has enhanced my appreciation for my lifelong sport, even as it sometimes nearly overwhelms me.
I flash back to myself as the horse-crazy preteen who lived to ride when I watch the anxious faces of my once-a-week students at Dave and Amy Albert's Pheasant Hollow Farm, where my 12-year-old daughter keeps her pony and I teach in the lesson program. Like the younger me, these kids fuss over a favorite school horse as if he belonged only to them, struggle to learn their diagonals, and work hard to correct heels that just won't stay down.
My twin sister Barbara and I were lucky: Not only did our parents make the sacrifices that allowed us to own horses competitive enough to show on the A circuit; when we returned from a weekend of showing, they never asked how many ribbons we'd won. They shared with our two wonderful trainers the belief that there was much more to showing than that. I knew, when I came out of the ring, that I'd get a calm explanation of my mistakes and lots of praise for my stellar moments.
My experience as a young rider sets the tone as I travel the A circuit once again, now with my daughter, Leslie, and her large pony, Peek Abu. When we found him, Leslie was eight and he was a 16-year-old veteran of the Large Pony division and several trips to National Pony Finals.
They spent three successful years in Short Stirrup and Children's Pony Hunters before moving up to the much more competitive Large Pony division last year. The four year-end High Score Awards Leslie won in the lower divisions pale in comparison to the satisfaction she feels in finally being what she calls "a real pony rider."
The championships may not come as easily, but I've never been more proud of my daughter. My eyes tear up as I watch her execute a lovely rollback to an oversized 3-foot oxer in the Pony Medal classes she couldn't wait to enter. I smile as I see her congratulate her friends, even when they've beaten her, and watch her run around the showgrounds with pony riders she's met from other barns.
What most other parents and kids don't see is how Leslie must give herself several shots of insulin each day to control the juvenile diabetes she was diagnosed with last year. Even through that, she's never skipped a beat. I'm proud to be her horse-show mom. I'm happy that Barbara Armbrecht and Jeannine Scigliano, the trainers she so admires, have taught her the same values of good sportsmanship and kindness that I learned as a young rider. And I'm grateful that my husband and our 14-year-old son put up with our daily trips to the barn and the countless weekends we spend away at horse shows.
Horse show people are a wonderful breed, and I meet and deal with hundreds of them in my position as Points and Membership Secretary of our local PHA chapter. I process all membership applications and go through endless stacks of show results, tabulate the points members earn, and post them on our web site for all to see--and, sometimes, dispute. I've been asked to check and recheck some members' points in search of the few extra that may put them over the top of their division. I spend hours answering e-mailed questions and talking on the phone with parents trying to understand the rules of this complicated sport. But when problems arise over those rules--for instance, when points earned at certain shows in another state can't be counted toward our standings--frustrated members see me as representing the whole Association and get angry with me.
At times, those situations have tempted me to pack up the envelopes full of results and throw them over the nearest cliff. But I can honestly say that I take on this monumental and unpaid position for the love of the sport and the opportunity to be with, and talk to, horse people each and every day.
We all have seen competition bring out the worst in people. I just remember how I've seen horses bring out the best.
This article appeared in the March 2002 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.