Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not Quite Life on the Farm

aka the Horse Show

There was a Pony Club Fun Show to be held at the barn. The owner of the barn offered my girls the use of a pony if they’d like, and the lady who ran the show this year heard this and offered her two minis for my girls’ use. The minis are too small for them to ride, but they had options to show them “in hand”.

The Pony Club is an organization to basically get kids “started right“ with horses -- you know, good, responsible, safe horsemanship -- and the fun show is an informal and fun and very inclusive fundraising sort of event. One of the classes is a costume class, and it being this close to Halloween, that class was an obvious place for the girls to start. They took their Halloween costumes and expanded them to have ponies as accessories: the witch sort of girl in a cloak brought her pet spider-pony with her, and the elfin huntress carried her bow and brought a pony with antlers who’d been shot through with a magical arrow.

The other class the girls entered was the in hand trail class. The lady who set up and judged trail loves trail and set up an obstacle coarse that was just beautiful. The local gun club donated their target animals and she used lots of brush and, well, let me just tell you about it. Trail is done one at a time. First you entered the arena, came to a halt, and checked your horse’s left front foot for a stone. Then you both walked up to an obstacle with an orange hunting vest and a foam target gun in holster hung on it. Lurking behind this in brush was a “fox”. You put the vest on and got the holster and attached it to your belt. Then you walked over a “bridge“ (raised wooden platform), then forded a “raging river” (a blue tarp with water on it). In the corner were two “turkeys” to investigate. Then you picked your way through a “downfall” (poles and brush set as low obstacles to walk through), then up to a water tub with “fish” in it. A “raccoon” was getting a drink of water from the “pond” but nonetheless, you had to fish until you caught a fish, then release it. The next obstacle was a lane to walk through that happened to have a herd of deer very near it. You walked your horse through the lane, then backed up the entire length of it (about ten feet), then continued through on the course. The next obstacle was tall brush that you had to walk through, and as you might imagine, a horse could feel trapped here, or squeezed. Especially since the first sight on the other side of the brush was two “bear”. The assignment here was to take out your foam target pistol and shoot the bear! Then trot back to the entrance in a controlled manner, halt, ground tie your horse (basically, drop the lead and have the horse stand as though you were holding him), and walk around your horse. After you were finished, you were to collect the “dart” from the bear and put it and the safety vest back in place for the next participant.

There were three divisions of trail; novice mounted, intermediate mounted, advanced mounted, and open in hand. This meant that my girls competed against everyone else who did in hand on a strictly equal basis, no matter age, experience, or anything. It is traditional that everyone in the costume class gets a ribbon, but the trail class is not so coddling.

Now, I’m not a big fan of competition, especially not for competition’s sake. I believe there are other far more useful ways to relate to the world. But many horse competitions started from things people did with horses because they were useful to do. This trail class really showed how “broke” a horse was, how trustful and responsive to his handler he was, how much he’d been exposed to before, how he had been handled and trained. My girls took ponies that they weren’t that familiar with (they worked with them on two different days before show day) into an event that they knew very little about and handled it all with aplomb. I couldn’t have been more proud of them.

And the rest of the family got as much a kick out of it. I wasn’t sure everyone would even want to go to the show. Shows drag on and on, the day was supposed to be cold and wet, and there were lots of things on our own farm to capture people. Yet elder child said when asked, “Of course I want to go! How often does a brother get a chance to watch his sisters compete in a horse show?” Younger was just as excited. Husband wisely took a book.

At the show, the girls and I were largely busy. The ponies were to be used by other children in a couple of classes so we wanted to make sure to get ours in, and have the ponies ready for the other classes on time too. And there was a silent auction to check out, and friends to talk to and cheer for, and noses to pet. The boys oriented quickly. We did the trail as soon as we could get ready for it and everyone watched. Then younger found another child with a Nintendo and watched over his shoulder. When he wasn’t doing that, he very uncharacteristically went around and talked to everyone. “Hi, what’s your name? My name is ____.” And when he’d see someone with a ribbon, he’d give them the thumbs up and say, “Good job!” with his infectious grin. Other child wandered amusing himself. Husband went back to the car to read.

Although they were entered as two separate entries, both the girls got a second in the costume class. No matter what the ribbons were, their costumes were the most creative and unusual there. I mean, a knight in shining armor and a princess on a unicorn are pretty common ideas, don’t you think? But a pony dressed as a spider or shot through with an arrow? How unusual! So it was a good opportunity to stress to all the kids that even when you compete, it is all about how YOU feel about it. Ah, but in the trail, one got a second and one got a fourth. In the OPEN class! It took me awhile to impress on them that they’d competed against every other horse they’d seen go in hand, and some they hadn’t seen, and they’d done that well! This wasn’t a costume, “let’s make sure everyone goes home with a ribbon” class. They’d really done well.

Now, some people have called me a hypocrite for participating in this, what with my ranting and railing against waste and falsity. Certainly, a horse show could be said to be a waste and a falsity but I do not determine that our participation in it was either. And I don’t allow other people’s judgments of my activities to be the measure that I use. I use my own measure. Which is the very thing I say other people should do when they accuse me of judging them.

And you should have seen the Divine Ms. D compete on her Adonis! And her husband with her ribbons across his chest hanging from the pockets of his shirt! Our barn’s own Mr. Ed won the beginner division championship. And there were so many more! Harley in dressage suitability, Gabby as a pumpkin with her scarecrow handler, Heather in the instructor’s class (“please reverse, drop your stirrups, then rising trot“), Zu getting thrown in warm up and coming back to place second in equitation, Charm showing her charming self.


laura said...

their costumes sound really wonderful. i hope you got some pictures to share.

it sounds like a wonderful time was had by all. i don't think this sort of thing is a waste or falsity. i think it's an experience that should be collected. i think that's a really wonderful thing.

J said...

Just think what your girls would have missed. This was great for them. How could something this good for them be a waste? They have their own sense of self and it's proven by their costumes.
You did good CG! Just look in those girls eyes when you ask about their adventure. There is your answer.

CG said...

and I don't think questions of hypocrisy are out of place.

In many ways I'm not a big believer in collecting experiences and this is perhaps a good insight here. It is like watching TV -- there is nothing wrong with it . . . unless it keeps one from living a real life (and watching TV is not a real life anymore than a horse show is). And to some extent, whenever one is watching tv (or participating in a horse show), one is not engaging in other activities that might be conducive to a real and productive and meaningful and mindful life. So I'm a much greater believer in the value of the mundane than the value of the "experience".

Nonetheless, I too enjoy the experiences, and experiences certainly can be valuable. They just aren't "it", as the protagonist in Thunderhead put it, they are the "kernal".

CG said...

ummm, that would be, they AREN'T the kernal.

Which, it was funny re-reading the Thundehead book, that I hadn't realized that's where I'd gotten that idea of kernal from so long ago. I remember when I was in the depths of the abyss, the idea of having a kernal was something I held on to. There is also a passage in there his mom talks about what an effort it is to be really really honest with yourself which fairly obviously is also something I've carried with me -- that making that effort is something that is well worth it (an unexamined life is not a life I'm interested in living).

Alecto said...

Yes, agreed, but I would still like a spider pony please!