Search This Blog

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Horsemanship, Indeed - Part II

"Uh, I don't know." - Maclay Region 5 Finals competitor, when asked the breed of horse he was riding

To say I was disappointed in this young man's response is an understatement, and I have no doubt that Alfred B. Maclay would agree with me. Excuse me? This is supposed to be a Horsemanship class? Knowing the breed of horse you're sitting on, that you're supposed to have a partnership with, just might be something you ought to know? Now, I know a lot of these Big Eq horses are leased or borrowed. I suppose I could give the kid the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe he'd just met the beast the day before. Maybe I'm being far too picky. However, I can tell you that I would want to know every single thing about a horse that was supposed to carry me to fame in short order, including what breed it is, but that's me...

I must have had a look on my face, because after that the boy did turn turn, mutter something to the groom who was busy cleaning his boots, and then reply to me, "Warmblood." Gee whiz, I never would have guessed! >.< (And for the record, yes Honey, I do know that Warmbloods come in specific breeds.) The reason I asked in the first place is that I was playing "spot the TB" during this class (and also during the Hunter Derby).

I'm afraid I came up blank... I could be wrong, but I doubt it. You already know Thoroughbreds are my favorite breed; back in the day, everyone in the H/J world rode them, including in the Big Eq. Here's some clips I found from the 1982 and 1984 Maclay Finals which illustrate this nicely:

In contrast, here's last year's Maclay winning rider, Hayley Barnhill, on a Warmblood:

Whoo-ee, look at those olden-days riders go (especially Peter Wylde - he was flying)! I was cracking up at some of the Comments posted on these videos by today's youth, particularly the ones that noted, "Those horses look really hot" (I'm sure the kid who wrote that had absolutely no idea they were TBs) and "It looks really jumpery." Yes, that's how we used to do it, there was none of this slow n' genteel Warmblood loping around the course business (what's ironic, though, is today's courses are so twisty and technical they practically are jumper courses). You'd be left in the dust far behind the hounds if you tried that look in the real world, and hello, HUNTERS are supposed to be able to actually hunt! I've read stuff that says "we need Warmbloods to get down the lines," but maybe the course designers started building them longer when everyone began showing up on Warmbloods? Seems to me it's the classic chicken/egg conundrum.

Anyway, I saw no Thoroughbreds, which saddened me, but I did see some very nice horses. Some of those parents shell out serious money for a special Big Eq horse and for the most part I'd say they got their money's worth. I've heard that some are BTDT babysitters and others are real firecrackers, guaranteed to give anyone you have to swap with fits - I think I saw the latter in person during that first Big Eq class I watched the week before!

Let me hasten to add that in general I also was impressed with the sportmanship and conduct of the young people in this Maclay class. Their poise, class and nerves of steel were very evident. When you have worked your tail off to qualify for an event like this, it would be extremely upsetting when Horsie suddenly decides to be a jerk and buck and kick out when you ask him for a lead change, something I would imagine he's done perfectly thousands of times in the past. Or slam on the brakes in front of a reasonably-sized, non-scary oxer to which you've found a great distance. Maybe they went back to the schooling ring afterwards and had a meltdown, but I didn't see it happen in the ring. I saw smiles. I saw focus. One rider fascinated me for her absolutely neutral expression; I don't think I've ever seen someone with such immobile features, especially someone less than 18 years old. She kind of scared me!

I had a nice conversation with the young lady who wound up finishing third, while she was watching earlier go's. She was sweet, friendly, and didn't mind answering my questions. No stuck-up attitude there. I went back into the barn area to congratulate afterwards, and tell her I'd be looking for her in Lexington, but it was like she'd vanished into thin air: I could not find her or the horse. Oh, well, I remember her name, so that gives me at least one person I've met to root for. What's that? YES, I am going to the National Horse Show! I'm terribly excited and of course I'll be writing all about it. First time in 30 years or so that I'll see the Maclay finals... no Victor H-V announcing, no MSG, but that's okay, I'm still delighted the big event is finally going to be within driving distance.

As far as the results of the class, I mostly agreed with the placements. I kept careful notes. Here are my score sheets:

Out of 35, I really only saw one or two riders that I thought were clearly outclassed by the competition. Most fell somewhere into the middle, earning a Very Good from me. A couple were absolutely, obviously superlative, none more so than the eventual winner. Literally from the second she stepped into the ring, I just knew that she was top-notch. Why? Beautiful position. Invisible aids. Horse balanced perfectly between hand and seat. Legs nailed to horse's sides. If you look on the first page of my notes, you'll see her about 3/4 of the way down, with her number (204) and the word EXC. circled, along with a *. She also rocked the flat phase, which included a request for trot lengthening that went on... and on.... and on. My legs would have been Jello!  I told my daughter, who was watching with me (she's a "horse-liker," not "horse-lover," to borrow a phrase from a fellow blogger), "If that girl doesn't win I'm hanging up my helmet. She. Is. AWESOME."

On the other hand, I sure was perplexed at the choice of a couple who finished in the top 10. For example, #206 earned a No Good from me for her jumping round. Yet she was called back in the top group and finished 8th. Huh? (Contrast that to poor #10, who'd gotten an EXC., and fell out of the top group after the flat. Didn't see her do anything awful but she was out, replaced by #39 who'd been brought back in the second group). The one that bugged me the most, though, was one of the boys. He got an OK after jumping, but I thought his position was horrible. Very hunched over with a swinging leg. He finished FIFTH, and the only other boy got 4th (he'd earned a Very Good for his jumping and truly hadn't impressed me all that much). This annoyance was only reinforced when #5 boy appeared the next day in the Hunter Derby, more hunched than ever. I don't just mean over fences, either, though he did roach his back there in a way that would have GM in fits. No, he rode like my old trainer who was 50ish and had back trouble. But apparently his dad is some big cheese trainer??? Makes you wonder... Do you think maybe they like to send the boys off to the Finals, no matter what they look like, since there are so few of them?

A note, regarding tack and apparel: I think that maybe, just maybe, I saw a bit more variety in show coat color this year. Generally these riders are indistinguishable from one another, all sporting the ubiquitous greige Tailored Sportsman breeches, navy show coat, Ariat Monaco or custom boots and Charles Owen GR8 helmets. In addition to the slight variations in coats, I also spotted some of the "bug head" looking GPA Speed Air helmets with lots of vents, which I was a bit surprised to see in any hunter ring, much less this one. I thought those were favored by jumper riders. Nothing different in saddles, bridles, martingales or fleece pads, but that's no surprise. (What's fun to look at is those perfectly flat zero knee-roll saddles the riders are using in the old Maclay clips. I used to ride in one myself, and boy, do I appreciate the return of the padded flap!)

I will wrap up this discussion of the Maclay Regional with this moment, my favorite of the whole competition. As I said, I headed back to the barn area after the class was over. The first thing I saw was the rider who had finished 11th, still mounted on her horse. She had tears streaming down her face and was hugging and petting the horse over and over. Her mother was crying and petting the horse. The trainer was crying and hugging the mom, hugging the rider and hugging the horse. I heard the mother say, "I'm just so proud of you and you worked so hard for this!" It was all very emotional, and I was so glad to see it! Just writing about this is making me sniffle again. It was wonderful to witness true appreciation of achievement, and of course appreciation of the horse; after all, they're the ones who "do all the work." Wink, wink! :-)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Horsemanship, Indeed - Part I

To everyone in the Hunter/Jumper world, it's simply "the Maclay." The sight of that trophy alone is enough to almost move me to tears. When I think of the hopes and dreams, the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the win of every single rider's name engraved on it, I get the chills. Some of them are legends: Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, George Morris. Some of them I've never heard of: Lane Schultz, Keri Kampsen. Every one of them, no matter how wealthy their parents, no matter how expensive the horse, still had to get on and ride. The Maclay may be the culmination of a nearly life-long dream for some of these young people, and there is nothing quite like watching them in the ring.

I grew up in New Jersey and was fortunate to have a mother for whom New York City was Mecca (I knew kids who never went into the City, despite our location only an hour away by car). For a number of years one of the highlights of my existence was our annual trip to the National Horse Show. Oh, the sheer magic of that show! I can just hear Victor Hugo-Vidal's voice booming over the loudspeaker. I would be beside myself with excitement over everything, but the Maclay in particular. Two years stand out in my mind: watching Leslie Burr win in 1972, and watching a young lady who boarded at Tricorne Farm, where I was a humble lesson student, compete. I can't remember if the latter made the cut or not, but just knowing someone in the ring was awesome. Mom and I have delighted in following Leslie's amazing career ever since. She hasn't done half-bad for someone who won the Maclay at age 15. :-)

The actual full name of the premier huntseat equitation competition for Junior riders in the US is the "National Horse Show ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Championship." However, if you look closely at that beautiful silver plate, you will see the words "Horsemanship Trophy." I found myself mulling that over a lot during the class here...

A little bit about the background of the competition: Mr. Maclay was one of the founding fathers of the American Horse Show Association, now the United States Equestrian Federation. He came up with the idea for the class while president of the National Horse Show. Here's a quote I found on the ASPCA website:

"The ASPCA Maclay, a championship class at the National Horse Show, was initiated in 1933 by Alfred B. Maclay, an ASPCA board member, accomplished horseman and president of the National Horse Show. Maclay conceived of a trophy that would inspire young riders to develop the best horsemanship skills and instill in them respect and compassion for their equine partners."

Here's a little more, found on this year's National Horse Show website:
"The first endeavor put forth by the organization called for amateur riders, 15 and under, to ride horses not exceeding 16 hands over a course of eight jumps that were no taller than three feet.  The contenders were judged on their seat and control of their mounts.  The “Horsemanship Cup” was donated by the late Alfred B. Maclay, an officer of the ASPCA and President of the National Horse Show from 1922-1924. Since that time, the Maclay Championship has been a significant presence in the Equestrian World, and cherished by those who have had the honor of competing."

Pretty funny that there were only eight jumps and a height restriction on the mounts! That's a far cry from today's Big Eq rings full of ginormous Warmbloods. So, on with the show I saw - 35 kids qualified for the Region 5 Maclay Final. Here's the course map:

A glance at this pretty much told me where the trouble spots were going to be. A look into the ring only added to that; Fence 8 was three options built out of these faux brick and stone elements, as seen in a prior equitation class (in the Maclay they were all 3'6"):
As always, sorry for the lousy photography - this ain't a photography blog! :-)
Definitely scary to some of the horses, I would say! I went in the ring and felt those blocks afterwards. They were heavy, and I'm sure gave any horse that touched them quite a whack. Anyway, besides 8, the other fence I predicted would be bad was the very last one. An oxer off a long, bending line, at the end when horse and rider would be tired and ready to be done, towards the in-gate... yep, watch out.

I was not proved wrong; a number of riders botched the last jump, some after an otherwise really good round. Lots and lots of chips occurred. I'm pretty sure the judges were looking for the brave riders to pick up a head of steam towards that jump and really show 'em what they could do, but most kids at least attempted to keep a steady pace. The horses occasionally had other ideas, unfortunately. Don't tell me they don't know when it's about over!

Fence 8 also was a real issue. To set yourself up for a good Fence 9, the smart thing to do was jump the most inside element of 8, and that's just what almost everyone tried to do. But the tight bend from Fence 7 proved to be a killer. Horse after horse arrived at 8 with a crappy distance, took a hard look, and then finally popped over from a near stand-still. It wasn't pretty.

What surprised me, however, was Fences 1 and 2. On paper you would think, no big deal, a related distance and an easy opening for the course, but NO: apparently it measured out as a looooooooong five strides. If you did not smoothly pick up the pace a couple strides before Fence 1 and jump in big, you were not going to make that distance (I think one rider on a smaller horse successfully stuffed in six strides). And then they had to immediately take back to make the tight turn to Fence 3! The kids that did this well made it look easy and graceful; those that didn't, well, it really separated the wheat from the chaff right away.

Every single element of this cleverly-built course tested these riders. 9A and B? Saw problems, including a refusal (rider's fault, lousy distance and horse said unh-uh). 6 to 7? More funny striding, I believe, plus the worry of the turn to 8, caused trouble. I think this course truly was an excellent test of these riders, and I remain impressed.

I think three out of the 35 made a tight inside turn from 4B to 5, without going around 2. I wish I could remember if the winner did - I believe so - but that was definitely an opportunity to show off if you were so inclined. This wasn't supposed to be a jumper round, of course, so making all the turns without your horse looking like a motorcycle on its side took skills I certainly don't possess.

Next up: Notes about riders, tack/apparel and horses

Friday, September 23, 2011

Grand Prix Notes, or Why I'm Furious With Myself Right Now

Boy, did I ever have a fun time last weekend. I got to see a whole lot of really fantastic horse showing. The only thing better, of course, would have been showing myself, but in the meantime I had a blast just watching!

First up was the $25,000 Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon. I missed the start as I had to work, but still got to see plenty of horses go. It had been raining, so the footing was a little puddle-y; I didn't see that affect any of the horses, but a nearby spectator said one had slipped earlier. I thought it was a tough but fair course. I forget what percentage course designers shoot for, for riders to go clear and make it to the jumpoff, but at this Prix we had five out of 20 make it. Maybe that's a little low? At any rate, in my humble opinion the horse that won was easily the best. He was a gorgeous jumper and went around so smoothly, you would have thought he was negotiating a Short Stirrup Adult Hunter course and not fences nearly as tall as I am. No fighting the bit, or the aids, just glide, jump, glide. VERY impressive! His rider, a young lady, was grinning from ear-to-ear during the victory gallop, which pleased me no end. I get pretty disgusted with equestrians who can't be bothered to show any emotion when they win. Would it kill you to smile, already?

HOLY CR*P! I am sitting here with my mouth on my keyboard. I was just about to write that I had not recognized any of the riders in this GP, and decided to double-check my list. There was one name that suddenly rang a bell so I Googled it... are you ready for this? It was HIM! Michael Morrissey, who whipped the hell out of a horse and made himself famous overnight on the Internet and was sanctioned by the FEI and USEF! I saw him and I didn't even realize it! *FAIL* Well, all I can say is I didn't see any rider beating on his horses - he rode two, one of which was the whipped horse, Crelido - so he must not have, but believe me, if I'd known who I was dealing with I would have had my eagle eyes on and also paid a visit back stage to his barn area. OOH, I am so mad at myself!!! I simply can't stand it!

Seriously, I am so disenheartened and angry I don't even want to finish this post now, but I will. I guess I can't fault myself too badly over not immediately recognizing his name, but I pride myself on things like that so grrr, just grrrrrrr... :-( I'm not surprised Michael was in this GP since it was a smaller one, and I would assume his career has not exactly been stellar since the whipping incident. I think it's safe to say he's definitely in the lower ranks now.

Anyway, I did take photos during the Grand Prix and I have a few to share. All I had was my cell phone camera, so I'm afraid these (and all the rest that I took at the show) are not going to be top-quality. The only decent "horses in mid-air" photos I got are from the GP, I assume because the light is a lot better outdoors. And guess what I just found? Some of Mr. Morrissey riding his second horse of the day, which is not owned by him (Crelido is):


Hmm, what's that I spy in his right hand.... Yes, I know the jumper riders usually do carry a bat, but if I were him I'd be mighty cautious about that! I wish I could recall how this pair finished but I don't know. I tried to Google the results and zilch is coming up (can you tell this has been a frustrating day). All I can say is I know he didn't win with either horse! Here's a few others from the GP:

And finally, one last one from the professionals who were on hand (yay, finally a decent photo! :-) ):

I noticed something interesting when I scanned the list of riders after the class: three of them were young ladies who I also saw competing in the Big Eq classes. I knew this was a trend, Jr. riders running around in Grand Prixes, but hadn't actually seen this before myself. These girls did a good job and one even made it to the jump-off. Unfortunately, her horse decided to throw in a dirty, dirty stop at the liverpool jump, promptly flinging her into one of the jump standards. She didn't hop up immediately which scared us all, but she finally did rise and was able to ride the horse in the victory gallop, so I imagine she was just well-bruised. If I were her I'd be pretty mad at the horse since the fool thing had already jumped the water just fine in the first round, but that's horses for ya!

Next up will be a discussion of the Maclay Region 5 Finals.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Holy Horsehead, Batman...

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this momentous event in RiderWriter's life.

It's official: I have just watched the very best commercial I have EVER seen. And that's saying a lot, since as a communications professional/child of an advertising man I tend to scrutinize every form of advertisement that comes my way. This one truly leaves me a bit breathless (apologies to my dear husband, should he read this).

I now present, for your enjoyment, "George Clooney Ties The Knot:"

OH. MY. GOD. George? In pajamas? Married? Gave her World's Biggest Diamond Ring? That's good enough right there. But he wore a HORSE HEAD mask at the reception?


Will someone please catch me as I faint...

*Picks self up off the floor, as no one is about and frankly, fainting over a commercial is probably bad behavior in middle-aged ladies*

Okay, I'll calm down now. Whew. You didn't know I could get this excited, did you? Just wait until I tell you about watching the Hunter Derby - talk about exciting! ;-)

P.S. Two questions: how much do you think that bank forked out for George to appear in this? (I don't care what the amount, it was worth it - that video is going to get an astronomical number of hits) And, how did the actress ever keep a straight face? I nominate her for an award. Personally, even if I had the acting chops of Meryl Streep I still would have had a hard time...

Friday, September 16, 2011

The BIG SHOW is here!

First of all, a housekeeping note: I am pretty aggravated with myself for not blogging more often, and I need to change that. I started this blog with plans to cover a lot of anecdotal ground and wheel out all my best horse-related stories and memories from the past. And I still have plenty of those, never fear! :-) Then I decided to cover more current events as well. But I'm still feeling frustrated with that approach, and want to write more often, so I think I'll be throwing in some more horse-related "train of thought" type posts, just whatever crosses my mind or intrigues me or interests me (and hopefully you) in the horse world. If this isn't making any sense I apologize... I just really want to write more and keeping finding myself thinking, "No, wait, that doesn't really go with what I said the blog was going to be about," and feeling discouraged. I want to knock that off and get some more stuff up here! So look out for more frequent posts (hopefully) on a variety of topics.

Having said that, stay tuned for reports on current events in my horsey life. Namely, I'll be watching and blogging about the following awesome events this weekend at the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show:

- A $25,000 Grand Prix
- The ASPCA Maclay Zone 7 Regional Finals
- A $15,000 USHJA Hunter Derby!

I am just soooo darn excited about the Derby! We always have the Maclay Regionals and a Grand Prix, but now they've added that and I absolutely can't wait to see it. I think it's wonderful that these competitions were started (not too long ago) in response to a growing segment of horse people who said, "You know, how about if we return to the roots of what hunters are supposed to do, and have classes with fences like you might actually find in a hunt field?" A pretty front end and great way of going are still required, but in Derbies the horses are asked to jump natural fences such as post and rail, hedges, coops, and water, along with some tight turns, roll backs and optional fences. It's like an amped-up Handy Hunter class (which are also becoming more popular, I've noted), kind of Hunters Plus Jumpers. Way cool! If you'd like to see some truly excellent hunter showing, the final rounds of last month's International Hunter Derby Finals are available for free here. I spent a very happy hour or so watching that yesterday. If you have not seen/heard about this, you will be simply astounded at the age of the winning rider... *

Back in my 4-H days we competed on outdoor hunter courses. These were in a huge grass field containing jumps like post and rail, coops and brush boxes. These classes scared me pretty badly because the mare and gelding I rode would get excited, I would be nervous and accordingly, we did not have the best brakes (alas, steering also barely functioned). We would rip around at Mach 3, slamming to almost a halt in time to jump. Not the prettiest rounds, obviously, but we'd place because others were even worse. Oh, well! (My most favorite story ever though is the time I was showing over this course and managed a blue ribbon, purely because I was the only one who had remembered to put the chin strap down on her hard hat. According to 4-H rules, that made me the winner - LOL!)

I saw another Big Eq class last week, a Zone Final for the USHJA competition. That was fun to see as well. I felt pretty sorry for the kids, because one of the fences was this:
Hoo, boy, did that sucker cause a lot of trouble! I saw one horse spook halfway across the ring just passing it on his opening circle. Not only did they have to get over this, it was located on a bending line from a prior fence, and to get to that fence required a nasty tight turn. The smart kids jumped the prior fence at a major angle, to give themselves a bit more room to the wave jump. Even then, at least one third of the horses slammed on the brakes and wanted nothing to do with it. Most took it the second time but one poor girl had three refusals and was excused. Incidentally, the spooking-on-the-circle horse did jump it. They got well-deserved applause! Also, the horses that jumped the fence the first time often took off the top rail. I felt badly for the jump crew because they were running out there after practically every round.

Another problem area (and I apologize, if I had better computer drawing skills I'd try to recreate the course here for you) was an in-and-out set across the middle of the ring, instead of lengthwise. These jumps were built out of single rails with a small wooden cutout underneath; so airy, and apparently, rather spooky as well. A lot of horses gave these fences a good hard look and I saw several refusals. One girl (they were all girls this time) swam through and absolutely demolished both jumps. I know that horse had some majorly stinging shins.

The top two in this Eq class had to swap horses. The first to ride the test again on a borrowed horse did a lousy, lousy job. I bet the judges wound up being a bit sorry they had to place her second. She barely could get the horse to canter, much less counter-canter to a jump, as they were required to do. The girl who rode her horse, on the other hand, absolutely nailed the test. Very clearly the winner! I was glad to even see a test run because in the last two Maclay Regionals, they didn't even do one, much less make them swap. I thought that was not doing the kids any favors because they certainly will be asked to test and probably swap at the Finals. We shall see what happens this year. (I promise to take more photos and also will get some of the course diagrams - duh)

* If you don't have time to watch I'll go ahead and tell you: she is FOURTEEN. Egads. And, this is the part that really blows my mind - she beat her own trainer, not to mention a ton of top pros. That is some performance! She is a very, very gifted rider with beautiful form and quiet hands. And talk about poise! Now, call me catty, but I also do not think it hurts that the critter she was riding probably cost more than my house, and is just one of a string of spectacular show horses that "she" (actually her dad's company) owns. I read an interview with the young lady and she mentioned that he was originally purchased as an Eq horse but "we decided to make him a hunter." I found this quite interesting because as they were jumping I immediately noticed the horse was far more of a splinter-belly, flat, Eq-style jumper than most of the other competitors who demonstrated lovely hunter bascules. So why exactly he was placed so high I don't quite get... aside from the facts that he looked like an absolutely saint, had a metronomic canter and did the entire course including hairpin turns with his ears pricked and an air of enjoyment. THAT I heartily approve of! :-)

Friday, September 2, 2011

What Makes a Horse Person?

A blog post over at Equestrian Ink has inspired me to explore this question. What makes a "horse person" a Horse Person? Here's what I think...

First of all, it is emphatically NOT owning your own horse. I could not feel more strongly about this. There are an awful lot of people, myself included, who have dreamed of and would like nothing more than to own a horse, but are not able to for a variety of reasons. I'm sure lack of money is probably the biggest, but lack of time, physical problems or no suitable facility in the area would be other common factors. My own reason is definitely a lack of money, with a side of a dearth of time (two jobs and two kids in high school, with a myriad of activities going on in which I'm heavily involved). Not having my own horse is rough, but it's never stopped me from finding a way to be around them and if I'm lucky, to actually ride. It's never changed how I feel about them.

Being a Horse Person means there isn't a day that goes by where you don't want to see, touch, read about or just think about horses.

~ It means you would rather do something, anything, horsey than about 90% of other activities (sorry, Honey!).

~ It means you try to incorporate horses into your life whenever possible: the house you buy (!), decorating said house, the clothing you wear, jewelry, vacations, you name it.

~ It means if there's a horse within a mile of you, you will probably hear or smell it and instantly wonder what it's doing, how it's feeling and if the owner is taking care of it properly.

~ It means that if anything else even remotely horsey catches your eye, you will look for them. "A white fence and a pasture? Where's the horse(s)? What, it's a trash-processing plant?... Oh, well."

~ It means you don't care what discipline, what breed, what kind of horse might be available for viewing, you will watch it and absorb every detail of its appearance.

~ It means that even if you're not riding, every single page of the new Dover catalog or Practical Horseman must be perused at leisure, and surveyed for a possible iota of new or fascinating information.

~ It means that people must be carefully exposed to your horse obsession lest they think you're a weirdo, or if they haven't seen you in a long time, aren't too shocked that you still have it at the advanced age of 40-something. (The latter happened to me last year. I got comments like, "Gosh, I'm surprised you still have horse models in your bedroom. I know you did when you were 10, but, uh...")

~ It means that when word gets around, other people will actually respect you for your horse knowledge and seek you out for answers to burning questions such as, "Who do you like for the Derby?"

~ It means that you will give up many, many things that other people consider essential to existence in order to pay for riding or even just seeing a horse. "Let's see: one copy of People magazine, or one gallon of gas to run to the horse show and back. Duh."

~ It means that you have at least two categories of friends, "horsey friends" and "non-horsey friends." They view each other with suspicion if intermingled, and the latter group tends to recoil in disgust when the former try to impress them with sheath-cleaning stories and insider lingo. "So then he let out a double-barrel just as we were swapping to make the rollback since he landed wrong. I nearly went off onto my GPA, but the Sadl-Tite held out, the Pelham I was trying got his head back up and we made the next oxer although he left from Timbuktu!" (I dare you to try that sentence out on your non-horsey friends next time you see them!)

~ It means that even though you don't have your own, there have been/are horses in your life who have meant the world to you. Doesn't matter if they're famous (Secretariat, Zenyatta) or not (Grey-Baby, Mare, Marbles, LiRoi); the mere fact of their existence brings joy to your heart and a light to your soul. You will love them forever and ever.

I spent about 10 years almost completely away from horses, busy raising human children and living life as a stay-at-home mom. I would not trade those years for a million bucks and I know how I lucky I was to be able to do that. However, the trade-off was putting aside a vital part of my being. In case I ever wondered if this was true, during those years I occasionally experienced torturous dreams that caused me to wake up crying. They all followed the same theme: I was with a horse, I was grooming it, I was tacking it up, I would be at the point of putting my foot in the stirrup and then... it would be gone. Someone else would ride off on it or it would just vanish. I never stopped thinking about horses, but the part of me that longed to be back in the saddle never went away. I don't think I've ever smiled harder in my life than the day (okay, maybe at my wedding :-) that I came home having found a great barn with an adult lesson program, picked up my saddle, and announced to the family, "I'll be needing this soon."

Did I remember how to ride? Hell, yeah. Was I sorer than you-know-what for a week afterwards? OH, yes. But did my heart feel like it was finally back in the right place? Yup, it sure did.

I, for one, have never, ever doubted that I will go to my grave a HORSE PERSON (and hopefully with a photo of my very own tucked to my chest along with one of my family).

“Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of Solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and, once it has done so, he will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson