There are only two things in this world that will get my tween daughter up at 5:00 a.m. One is an early flight to somewhere wonderful — a family vacation or a visit to our dear long-distance friends. The other? A horse show.
So yesterday, like the devoted, selfless mother that you all know me to be, I roused my young equestrienne at that godawful hour. The only resistance was a weak "Please mom, just five more minutes." Soon enough, she was up, getting dressed and packing her last minute gear. I went down to brew some coffee and make her breakfast.
As planned, we were on the road by 5:45. It was still dark, which (given that I had had zero time to put on any makeup or even comb my hair) was probably a good thing. We arrived at the stables just as dawn was breaking. There were already girls there and I settled in for a short wait while they loaded the horses and their tack trunks into trailers. Most of the event team were teens and tweens. They looked smart in their riding clothes and neat hair buns. Kind of like a Ralph Lauren ad. One of the benefits of being a stable mom is that you get these moments when you can picture yourself "to the manor born." Of course, for every instance that the girls are elegantly pressed and dressed, there are a hundred when the same girls are unkempt and quite literally covered in horse manure.
In addition to the show regulars, there were two nine-year olds. They were also decked out in their jodhpurs and velvet helmets. But, while the older girls were chatting and joking, the younger were unsmiling and mute. It was their first show and it might as well have been the Olympics. They were very, very, very nervous.
Wow, what a flashback! My own daughter's first show was about seven years ago. She competed in a class called "Lead Line Walk Trot." This means that the trainers had the horses on ropes as the young riders went through their paces for the judges. We had explained, "This is your first show, so you probably won't get a ribbon." But, it was all for nothing. Not only did she win a ribbon, it was a first place blue one. And, thus began a collection of awards that has since taken over her bedroom.
Back to the present. We drove in a convoy of trucks and trailers to the show grounds, a stable about an hour away. The older girls were utterly excited. The younger girls were utterly silent. The moms and trainers were somewhere in between.
Once all the horses were tacked up, the girls headed toward the warm-up ring. My daughter easily moved from jump to jump, her new pony happy to be outside and working for her. He's what one of her trainers calls, "Honest." He wants to please her and they are already a solid team after just a few months together. Soon, the call came for the first class, and the younger girls headed to the show ring.
The course comprised a series of nine low jumps in a zig-zagging pattern. Our junior riders were both disqualified when their horses, no doubt sensing the girls' tentativeness, refused multiple times. One poor girl was so flustered, she went over jump three the wrong direction instead of jump four. "Good try!" we encouraged them, but I'm not sure they heard us. (They looked a little shell-shocked.) They went back in for a couple more events, performing in much the same way each time. Finally, one of the girls made it through an entire course and earned a fifth place (OMG, pink!) ribbon. I don't think a ten-foot trophy would have meant as much to a more experienced rider.
The day continued, jumps were set higher, and the older girls started their classes. Between the four of them, they racked up several ribbons: a blue, a red, a yellow, a white, another pink and two browns. There were as many as twenty-five girls in each class, so these places were great. It was a long day; the grownups were hot and tired. The girls were hot and tired and grubby. (Suffice it to say, they no longer looked like Ralph Lauren ads. But, maybe they could have posed for the "before" portion of a "before and after" Tide spot.) We headed back to our own barn so the girls could put away their tack and groom their ponies. I looked at my watch. I had originally thought I'd be home by five o'clock. Eight looked more likely.
About 90 minutes later, we were finally ready to leave. But, another mother wanted to speak to me, a woman I've known for years and a good friend. She said that the mom of one of the younger girls had asked her to make sure I got a message. It seems that my daughter sought out the little rider after one of the latter's "epic fail" rounds. My daughter then regaled her with stories of refusals, mistakes, head-over-ears falls, and the most colorful of tales about the time that her horse threw her in the woods during a cross-country event and then galloped back to the trailer, nearly a mile away. I guess these reminiscences made the younger girl feel much better. And, I was transported back to the days when my daughter was one of the "little ones." How inconsolable she was after her own lousy days in the ring. And, how much she looked up to the older girls, all of whom are now in college or teaching riding themselves.
As we drove off to Dairy Queen (the consolation prize whenever anyone is "DQ'd" from an event), I smiled. My daughter won two ribbons. I won something much more valuable: the knowledge that no matter how peckish she may sometimes be with me, my daughter has the heart of a champion.