Friday, March 30, 2012

The Yellow Ribbon

The trouble with cleaning anything up, any room, house, closet, whatever, is that by beginning to clean something up, it just makes everything else look terrible and also in need of such treatment. Cleaning only begets more cleaning, which is why I usually never start unless absolutely provoked into it.
Cleaning the house exterior was first on the bill last week. With washing it, repairs done as needed to keep it dry and protected, fresh paint, and a healthy dose of vegetation removal, it was looking fairly pristine, sort of, again. It was in admiring the sparkling house in something of it restored glory and then looking around and seeing the barn lurking down at the end of the fence line, that the monster raised its ugly head. I knew what disorder and chaos lay in wait down there. It was time, past time, for a freshening up. A call was made for a dumpster to be brought in.
I  began with the tack room, a place long over due for an over haul. Everything that wasn’t tied down in there came out into the barn aisle way for assessment as to whether the item was needed or not. This assessment process does tend to slow one down. My first stumbling block was my finding the very first ribbon I had ever won. It was won at the very first show that I ever rode in, now many, many moons ago, but in finding this faded ribbon, it connected me to a place and time I had not remembered nor thought about, in a long time.
The place was my dream world as a kid, my Avalon. The place was Spring Valley Stables, the stable where my parents allowed me to take my glorious, once a week lesson. I lived each week for the chance to go ride, smell the horses, touch these amazing animals, groom them, get dirty, and feel the freedom from walls, stale air and parental authority. Spring Valley was the place I wanted to be at, all of the time. 
Once a year the owners, my teachers, Marvin and Pat Hoyle, would host a schooling show. These shows were for the students only of the stable, allowing parents to watch their kids ride and see their progress, and for them to get a grasp of just where they had spent their money over the course of the year. 
I so well remember my deep excitement of being driven out to the stable for my very first competition at one of these little shows, a bit nervous,  and very hopeful about a great outcome. I really had no idea what to expect or what I was supposed to do, but figured they would let me know, and they did. My first ribbon was yellow, a bit of a disappointing third, but that first ribbon and that ride taught me a lot about competing and sportsmanship, and it really stuck with me through the many years ahead that I competed in horse related activities.
The Hoyles had a son, Kenny, who also rode in my weekly class, and who, of course, always got to ride the best horses available there. He also got to ride as much as he wanted to by living there on the farm with his parents. As a result of his time spent on a saddle under his parents’ watchful eyes, he was good and beautiful rider. I envied this and wished I lived in a similar situation.
When we arrived at the grounds that day for my first show and class, I noticed first that my attire was a bit casual compared to some, like Kenny and my friend Weety. They were in serious correct coats with stock ties, formal breeches and boots, and were topped off with black velvet covered hunt caps. I on the other hand wore blue jeans, a red short sleeved shirt, and my rubber boots. I remember my mother fussing at me for not having dressed up, but I had no prior experience and no one had told me to do so, plus I did not have a riding outfit as they did.
Our mounts had been chosen for us, Kenny got to ride the gorgeous Silver Lark, a shiny dark dapple grey with a flax mane and tail. Kenny was dressed to the nines in a color coordinated garb and together, they were lovely picture and certain to win. Weety, who also dressed to the nines by her more knowledgeable in this area mother, was on Topper, a flea bitten grey, and I rode Queenie. My friends Lyn and May, and other fellow students in the class rode horses with names like Ivan, Copper, a buckskin called Hi Hat, and various other placid equine troopers trained to carry the uneducated around the arena in relative safety. Finally it was time for our class and into the ring we proceeded in a line.
We walked first and then were told to trot. Together as a unit we moved around the ring hugging the railing, up down, up down, up down, heels down, heads up we went under the scrutiny of the appraising judge. Then singularly, we were told to canter, the one in front cantering the circumference of the ring to join back with the group at the end of the line. Kenny and Silver Lark went first and were perfect. Then it was my turn to go. 
Queenie was a hot bay boss mare with a star and an attitude, but I loved her fire and enthusiasm. She was fun to ride. On this moment on her canter depart, in her eager anticipation and possibly sharing some of mine, she took off on the wrong leading leg. I brought her back quickly and tried again this time with success on the correct lead and around the ring we cantered until joining the ranks of the back of the line. A mistake made, minor, but a mistake non the less. I had to hope for other areas of my riding prowess to impress the judge for a win, but somehow I had my doubts.
All the others cantered likewise in turn and finally we were told to line up. We stood facing the judge, our parents, and other ringside observers, and waited for our verdicts.
Kenny took the blue, Weety took the red, and I humbly took the yellow. 
The yellow ribbon that still graces my tack room says it was 1966. I was nine. The next year, a little bit better dressed, I rode the wonderful, snow white, Miss A, and this time I happily took a red, second to Kenny, again, of course. These were the beginning of many ribbons and shows to come over the next decades, and what I learned about the attention to detail and grooming for both horse and rider, brought me points in situations that tipped me into the win positions over and over, that and I finally got a horse of my own to ride more that once a week. This faded ribbon I held, was the beginning of the memories of my dream; to be an equestrian, to compete and to win, to learn to overcome a failure and try again until I won. 
As I mulled these memories and their life lessons seen retrospectively, I continued to sort through and throw out the stuff that would serve me no more, like old magazines, and cracked leather of ancient tack.  Then I came across a few dressage test result sheets from what were, ironically, from the very last time I went to ride in a show. Fast forward from the memories of 1966 to 2006. 
I read the judge’s comments on the sheets about my nice prospect who was a bit tense and over eager. De ja vu all over again. I had been aboard Sunset then, at a schooling show in the memory of Col. Morris, another of my former teachers. Despite the schooling definition of being a bit more casual, I did wear my formal coat and white gloves, and my horse and tack were clean as a whistle. We did our best, but lacked the relaxation the judge was seeking that day, but I was okay with taking home a red.
My tack room walls are lined with the decades of ribbons won since that early show at Spring Valley, the majority of which are blues, some reds, an occasional yellow. I look at them and reflect on the time and effort I have spent earning them all and the memories they represent, and ponder their worth. I have to say, they, and specially beginning with that old yellow ribbon, are all, priceless. There is a whole dumpster full of stuff now from the tack room, and the room is cleaner again, but the ribbons and their memories will remain.    

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