By Nancy Stone
With my daughter, I perused the first-place prize options. Did I want another wine glass with a horse doing extended trot on it or another little bag for grooming supplies? What about that neat shampoo dispenser with a scrub brush on the end? In the end, I chose the bag of horse cookies because I am always spoiling my horse, and I never have enough treats.
It was so much fun to be back at the showgrounds, agonizing over a prize to go with my blue ribbon versus debating with other parents on Facebook the pros and cons of keeping our college students on campus during the coronavirus pandemic. The scene at the horse show grounds looked different with everyone masked and maintaining a polite social distance from each other, yet it all felt wonderfully familiar. I laughed in fellow companionship with the other owners of grays at the wash rack early in the morning, held a horse for a fellow competitor to mount, and gave cheery good ride wishes to other competitors about to enter the show ring.
On Friday, March 13, my daughter and I left our evening Pilates class chatting about how much Pilates was helping our riding; we were aware of the coronavirus and were taking extra precautions sanitizing equipment at the studio, but the virus had not yet touched our lives. On Sunday, March 15, we found out that our school system was closing, and shortly after that our Pilates studio closed. By March 26, our barn owner sent a message that the barn would soon be closing to boarders in compliance with the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order. And just like that, the coronavirus began to impact our lives as we struggled to figure out work and school, realizing our plan for one last show season together before she went to college was not going to be possible. We both had been looking forward to a show season: my daughter at First Level, after getting her USDF Training Level Rider Recognition Award the previous year, and myself, ready to take the leap to I-1. Instead, we said our tearful goodbyes to our horse, knowing that he would be in excellent care while we sheltered at home, and watched the schooling and recognized shows get cancelled on the North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association calendar one after the other.
After several weeks of obsessively walking the dog, trying to do Pilates at home, writing in my journal, and watching instructional videos until my eyes crossed, we could sign up for 2-hour slots to visit our horses in the pasture and use the arenas for groundwork. I walked out to the buttercup-sprinkled pasture where my horse was happily grazing, and when he trotted to the gate to greet me, I exhaled all the fear, stress, and anger I had stored up. Eventually, in stages, our barn let boarders start riding and using the facilities, trusting us to maintain established safe protocols. In the meantime, US Equestrian and USDF were working to provide preventative measures and best practices to facilitate the opening of licensed competitions. Suddenly, it was June, we were in Phase 2 in North Carolina, and we got our first “entries are open” e-mails. Eager to return to our pre-Covid plans, my daughter and I started planning for our first horse show of the season.
In this atmosphere of uncertainty, while we strive to maintain control over home environments taken over by work and school, attending a horse show feels like a part of our lives are back to normal. We are lucky to participate in a sport in which our closest partners are horses, and we can easily limit our interactions with people. USEF-licensed/USDF-sanctioned competitions are run with management and competitor safety in mind. We sign up for shows online. On the show grounds, stabling is spaced out to maximize social distancing. Show packets, tests, and ribbons are left outside the show office for us to pick up. Announcers remind us to wear our masks and hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. Spectators are not allowed on the show grounds. Everywhere there is evidence of careful planning and management to limit contact between people; we even measured our own whips after riding a test, putting them alongside marks made on a picnic table or the fence.
Some of the fun show activities are non-existent or limited this year, like vendor shopping, hearing spectators clap after your ride, and the awards dinner and ceremony. But competitors are still having fun! We added some bling to our saddle, visited friends from other barns, and made new horse show friends. Whether you are like my daughter working on perfecting your leg yields at First Level or me trying to execute 7 flying changes every 2 strides at I-1, a show gives you the opportunity to have a judge evaluate your riding and your horse’s training. We are in community with others showing off our accomplishments and furthering our education. Ultimately, more rewarding than a crowd of applauding spectators or rows of ribbons hanging on your stall door, is the knowledge that you and your horse did your best.
My daughter is now a college freshman, living at home, enrolled in virtual classes, and I am working on turning my journaling into stories to share with an audience. With all the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we feel lucky and thankful that we are getting a show season after all. Join us, hook up the horse trailer and go to a USEF-licensed/USDF-sanctioned horse show. Your judge is sitting at “C” waiting for you to trot or canter down centerline. And if you get to pick out a prize – get the horse cookies!
Thank you to all the show managers, secretaries, technical delegates, and volunteers in NC!
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About the author
Nancy Stone is a writer, mother, and educator. She has earned several USDF Riding Achievement Awards at Training and First Level as well as her Silver Medal. She is the mother of two girls, both in college. Universo is a Lusitano imported from Brazil at age 10 and is now 19 years old.