By Christina Keim
As I was getting ready to head up on a Saturday morning to volunteer at a Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA) spring horse trial as a show jumping judge, I debated my footwear. I mean, I wasn’t really going to be around the horses directly, or standing, so I could just wear something casual and comfortable, right?
Then, I remembered Chapter One from my someday to be published book, “Tales of a Horse Show Organizer,” and I threw my paddock boots in the car.
Chapter One: Consider Your Footwear
At a show one particularly notable year, we were positively stuffed to capacity with entries. Eighty stalls of temporary stabling were full, with overflow in the main barn and even a few stashed at neighboring facilities. To accommodate these riders, we set up a fourth dressage arena. The facility layout is a little bit sprawling, with most of the show (secretary’s tent, scoring, awards, three arenas, and one large warm up) clustered together; stabling is out of sight from this, around the corner and down the road. Ring four was set adjacent to stabling, so for the competitors down there, I would imagine it felt like they were at a completely different horse show. Though we had radio communication with the group up the road, for the most part we had little awareness of what, specifically, was going on down there.
I was scoring as per usual; my two pugs and I were stationed in the air conditioned trailer, surrounded by computers, calculators, printers, and white out. Historically, our dressage shows seem to be plagued by high temps, humidity, and sometimes disruptive thunderstorms. While I wore my traditional khaki shorts and polo, in deference to my scheduled role as scorer and the heat, I only had a pair of Crocs with me.
Sometime towards late morning on the first day of the show, we received a call that the EMT was urgently needed down at the warm up for Ring Four. A rider had been bucked off and landed quite badly, certainly concussed. The speaker reported that the horse had headed down the road at a pretty good gallop, towards the dairy facility…which borders a busy intrastate.
Everyone leapt into action; the EMT was mobilized, the TD notified, show staff buzzing here, there, and everywhere. I kept waiting to hear on the radio that the horse had been caught; the call never came. I picked up my own radio and asked if anyone had caught the horse, or knew where the horse was. No response.
The horse was loose. No one was looking for the horse. The horse was heading for a busy highway. I hopped into the car and sped off for the dairy facility. When I arrived, one of the dairymen, all casual like, said to me (in a true New Englander accent), “We were a-wondrin when ah you hoss ladies was gonna come looking”.
“So the horse came through here?”
“Ayuh.” I glanced around and saw neither tracks nor a horse.
“It upset the cows, ya know.”
“I am sorry about that. Which way, please?”
He vaguely gestured off towards the edge of the facility, towards the wooded tree line. I took off in that direction at a jog. Somewhere in this process, I had thought to call our barn manager and have her notify the local police. As I neared the trees, I caught sight of horse tracks—the horse was clearly still moving at speed, and headed straight into the woods.
So there I am—running after a loose horse (which I still have not seen), towards the highway, in my Crocs, in a swamp. And all of a sudden I just sort of sunk in—my foot slid into a print from the horse and the next thing I knew, I was stuck almost hip deep in the muck, with one leg. I managed to extricate both my leg and my trusty Croc, and I was totally covered in swamp mud. My colleague Sarah had now caught up to me; she was a distance runner and had jogged the entire way, catching up to the same farmer and then following me into the brush. Together, we made our way out through the rest of the swamp and broke out onto the shoulder of the highway. It wasn’t clear which way the horse had turned, so we each headed in a different direction and began running.
I kept waiting to hear squealing brakes, or galloping feet, but after a few minutes, I was instead approached by a cruiser with blue lights flashing. Sarah was sitting in the passenger seat, and the officer rolled down his window. “The horse has been caught, and I saw you two out here, so I figured I would give you a ride,” he said. “Hop in”. I slid into the back seat. Fun fact: The back seat of police cruisers is just a plastic shell, which worked out quite well for my “swamp creature” self.
As the officer drove us back, we came upon our naughty dressage horse—a beautiful, flashy chestnut with chrome, still in full tack, BEING RIDDEN by a gentleman in his tennis shoes and shorts. The man was clearly a horseman, and rode in the style of a saddleseat rider or similar. The horse’s head was up and he was smartly stepping along as the gentleman purposefully trotted him along the side of the road. We provided police escort to the pair all the way off the highway and back to the Ring 4 warm up, where the whole situation had begun. The rider did not let up on the horse until they had reached the arena, where he smartly dismounted and took the reins over the head.
The horse’s owner ended up receiving offsite medical treatment, but her barn mates assumed possession of her horse and we broke up to continue our respective duties of show management. The advantage of my Croc attire was that with a good hosing, I looked moderately presentable and was only modestly stinky for the rest of my day in scoring.
But I will say that, if I had to do the whole thing again, more sensible shoes would have been appropriate. It doesn’t really matter what job you are supposed to be doing at the horse show, I guess there is always a chance you will need to catch a loose horse.
And this is why at GMHA, I wore paddock boots for my nonhorse involved volunteer role. I still have the Crocs.