Pursuit of the Worthless or Pursuit of a Dream?
I added up the expenses for the Morgan National Championship Horseshow in 1999 --- thousands of dollars in entry-fees, stall rental, motel accommodations for me and my children, Lyman, a college freshman, and Betsy, a vet student.
I signed the check for the show secretary and folded everything, the horses’ registration papers, our membership numbers, and the entry form into the manila envelope. I slapped three stamps on the outside and weighed the envelope on a food scale. I mailed the entry.
I smiled. Our chances were good. We’d come home with lots of ribbon. Some would mean more than others. Tenth place (brown ribbon) in a class of ten was last place, after all. But Betsy’s young horse Eclipse could easily beat any competition in First Level Dressage, and Lyman in his last year of showing as a junior rider was unbeatable on Victoria, the horse Betsy and I kept tip-top for him to ride. He had a real shot at a Gold Medal national championship after his win at the regional championship in Denver.
Betsy and I would share the driving. We’d see lots of friends, and many would remember my father and even individual horses, who, like him, were long dead.
I’d collected many horse show ribbons over the years. While Betsy and Lyman were well prepared, Daddy and I took very green colts to shows in Albuquerque and Estes Park. I rode them in horse show classes with the goal of getting them to walk, trot, and canter each direction of the show ring and then line up with the other eight of so entrants, stand quietly and then back up a few steps. If I had ridden the colt every weekend both days, for six weeks, that was twelve rides. The youngster still had never been away from home, never seen a trash barrel (easily confused with a horse-eating predator) or even a horse that wasn’t his half-sibling.
My goal in those classes was:
After a few years, I had tons of ribbons at home, but none were blue. When I sent my own babies into the 5 and under lead line class, I caught myself thinking, at least we’ll get a blue ribbon.
I had dressed up my kid, groomed the horse, lead the horse, and paid the photographer. I’d earned it.
So in 1999, the phone rang. My candidate for the youth medal explained that as a music major, he had to play in the marching band. He could not miss one weekend.
None of us could suddenly be under eighteen and qualify. Betsy and I had committed to the vacation and paid ahead. I called the show secretary and asked her to switch the entry to the amateur dressage class, training level. I myself would ride Victoria in a national championship.
Betsy groomed Vicky to perfection, and I put on lipstick. I had to ride four individual test rides, two the first day, two the second. Highest average score won. You could of course be eliminated. In the second class, I dropped my whip. The judge said I could retrieve it, so I dismounted, picked up the whip, and looked for Betsy.
“You have to remount without assistance.” said the judge, reading my mind. The high boots I wore were nicknamed stovepipes. I carefully tightened the girth. I knew physics. No need to turn the saddle during my struggle to get back on. I pushed off the best I could and managed an awkward but successful remount. I completed the last few seconds of the test smoothly. We left the dressage arena and put Vicky in her stall while we all had a well-earned lunch.
When we went back to the stable area, an hour later, there were two blue ribbons on Vicky’s stall. I stared at the long luxury ribbons the prestige show provided. It was hard to for me to figure this out. Had I won both classes? Well, yes.
All afternoon and evening, I worried I would fall and break my leg. I had Test 3 and Test 4 yet to ride. I earned first place in Test 3 and second in test 4. They were my best Dressage performances ever. I have Betsy to thank. She trained Victoria starting when the horse was two-years-old and my daughter herself was just fourteen.
I reveled in the ceremony held in the main show ring. Betsy was there to hold the swag, an embroidered cooling blanket, and receive my trophy and the tricolor ribbon, even better than blue. I never entered another large, distant horse show.
Horse show ribbons have become metaphor for me. They’re any symbol of accomplishment that one covets that lacks enough value to compensate for the effort invested. Ribbons and trophies used to have some intrinsic value. Ribbons were silk. Trophies were precious metal, gold or silver. In New Mexico, Nambeware was used to make trophies.
Now a reward for accomplishment may be little more a certificate printed on copy paper or a trophy akin to picnicware. Writing contests may not share the winner’s story even on-line. They’re all horseshow ribbons to me.