A couple Sundays ago, I was the judge for a small horse show in Clinton Corners, NY. I awoke early that morning so I could adequately provide myself with a bucket of coffee before I had to set sail for the show. I wanted to be super sharp and on my game and since I'm not a natural morning person I needed mucho caffeine. I've been judging a bit more over the last few years. It's not a job for everyone, but if you like watching endless rounds of horses and ponies jumping courses and can sit on your ass for several hours at a time then it's be right up your alley. I've always been able to watch endless rounds at horse shows and sitting still for hours comes very naturally to me. Long story short, I enjoy judging.
The morning air smelled clean and fresh, with a subtle hint of warmth that promised a bright summer day was coming up. Perfect weather for a June horse show. I smoothed my skirt and checked my make up in the mirror before I fired up the Audi. The drive was about thirty minutes through shady country roads that wound up and down hills through the Hudson Valley. While driving, I found myself reflecting on June horse show mornings of my youth. Before I got my own horse, one of my summer highlights was the Hampton Falls Volunteer Fire Department Horse Show. When I was really young it was held in a large flat field just down the road from my house. The night before the show the volunteer firemen would configure long sections of snow fencing to provide a ring. There were more rows of snow fence to mark off the parking areas. A small wooden booth was towed in on a flatbed to serve as the judge's stand. I would spend the day of the show walking around the show grounds in a glorious daze as I watched horses and riders being put through their paces. It was thrilling to be around so many horses and riders at once. Something about it just felt "right" to me. If I was lucky I was allowed to pat a horse, or hold my friend Kim's pony for a few minutes. The night of the show I'd come home dusty and exhausted, but full of excited stories to tell my parent's about what a grand day I'd had. Poor things, they had no idea what I was setting them up for a year, or two later.
Still lost in my reverie of those charming local shows of my youth, I came upon the farm where I was judging. When I got to the end of the long bumpy driveway I stopped a woman walking by and asked where I should park my car. She pointed to where the trailers were all going, but I smiled and said to her, "Well, (I could've inserted "you insipid peasant" here, but I chose not to) I'm the judge." It's a heady feeling to say those words. Suddenly, I was the most important person on the show grounds. The earth nearly buckled under my power. Well, not really, but I did get a totally V.I.P. parking spot right next to the barn. Hoisting my bag, which was loaded with seltzer water and snacks, I went in search of the ring to get my instructions and a prize list. The staff for the show were exceedingly organized and had put me in a comfy chair by the side of the ring in the shade of a large tree, complete with a folder of judges cards. I settled in and prepared myself for the first task of the day, which was judging lead line. Lead line is always a cute class. Little tots dressed as miniature equestrians in tiny jodphurs and hard hats that are bigger than their actual heads are ridiculously adorable. I was treated to two little cuties being marched around the ring by smiling handlers. Both received blue ribbons, despite the fact that my husband texted me during the class and told me it was never too early for a child to learn the agony of defeat. He grew up under the rule of a very tough trainer a.k.a. his mother. She instilled a killer competitive instinct in her kids that drove them to run other children over in flat classes and ride like they owned the course. Jonathan still goes into a scary "win or go home" mode when he's showing. I usually don't make direct eye contact with him right before a class. It can be deadly.
The next division was a group of very intense Walk-Trot riders. One little girl was as white as a sheet, frozen in place on her chestnut pony.
"It's her first show," said the woman who was in the ring with me to do the announcing. I nodded, sagely and gave the little girl a big smile when she walked by me. Again, I reflected on my early childhood and though I don't really remember my first show I'm sure I was as spooked as the little girl in my ring.
"Relax and have fun while you ride!" I said in a cheerful voice. Okay, maybe I'd had a little too much coffee, but I didn't want to have zombie children riding around the ring, too scared to steer, or stop. No one fell off, or died of fright during the class and I pinned it as I saw it. The scared little girl actually smiled when she got her yellow third placed ribbon. I even choked up a little. I'm sappy that way. Hey, being a judge doesn't make you inhuman! Then we moved on to the jumping divisions. I spent the next few hours watching kid's jumping courses, some smooth rounds, some more bumpy, but all were well turned out and doing their very best. The last classes were composed of a group of good riders and nice horses, which made my judging job earn the money. All were good, some missed some distances and lead changes, but it was a delight to watch these young girls learn how to navigate a course of 3 foot jumps with as much precision and accuracy as they could muster. And I learned a few judging tips from the owner of the farm, who is a rated judge. It was a lovely day in June. A beautiful day to judge a horse show, and I felt privileged to be chosen for the job. If I'd had an inkling 30+ years ago that I'd be asked to be the JUDGE of a horse show I probably wouldn't have slept for a week. Being involved with horses for as many years as I have is a total thrill. Sometimes I can't believe that I make my living as a professional rider. It's a weird job to explain at cocktail parties of non horse folks, but totally fulfilling to a diehard horse lover. I'm hoping to judge more shows as I get older. I may even strive to get my judges card from our head organization, the United States Equestrian Federation.
As I drove back to our farm when the show was over, good sized check in my pocket, I couldn't wait to get there, tack up my horse and go for a ride. I don't know why horses are in my blood, since I come from a very non-horsey family, but they are and I wouldn't change a thing. At the end of the day, I'm still that excited kid who loves everything about horses, the smell, the tack, the discipline, the thrill of a good course and the bond that we have with these beautiful four legged creatures who allow us to ride them. Okay, sap fest is over. Next blog will be full of crazy cat stories and four letter words.