Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Memory Lane

I heard a door bell ringing next to my bed. It was pitch black and an unnatural hour to hear anything, let alone a door chiming in the wrong place. Then I remembered that was the ring tone for my alarm meant to wake me, gently, but get me up. I am not an early morning riser but we were heading to Georgia to see my mare, Cistine, being ridden in the Dutch Warmblood Keuring, or inspection, a graduation of sorts. I had higher motivation than usual for this and so the door bell did its job and set me in motion.

Coffee brewed, dogs fed then let out to hang on the front porch ‘til we returned, off we drove into the stillness and dark of the dawn. Slowly we made it out of the tricky turns in our driveway, down the bumpy thing they call our county road, and finally found the interstate heading towards Atlanta and pressed on.

As we drove along I realized that in nearly every inch along that road there is a memory of my having passed there before, and usually it was having gone to a horse show at this exit or that. How many times have I loaded up a horse and gone to shows, driving eastward on this road, like today, in the wee hours of the morning to make an early entry for the day’s show? There is no telling or counting.

My poor kids would get dragged out of their beds at ungodly hours and be put in my truck to finish their slumber while I drove across the time zone to our destination show grounds. They soon learned to be good troopers about the sleep disruption and learned to navigate their way around a horse show. At one show my youngest found that she could make a good day’s profit by selling my carrots to the other riders, and one time actually sold some rocks she had found to some bemused folks. My eldest daughter had her first show aboard Pollyanna the pony, at some small farm along the route. Of all the shows I think I was most stressed about hers, but it was good in the end.

There were shows held along the route at places like Big Bear Farm, Flat Creek, the Gosch’s place, Midland, Chateau Elan, and farms with no officially remembered name but at these places, one show at a time, is where I learned to compete with my horses, and made so many fond memories. 

At the very bottom of the learning curve to my show career was on this road just across the Georgia state line. My friend Cissy and I wanted to do combined training so badly and we both had horses that were not especially well suited for the job, but that was tough and their karma to have come along to us when they did. Chief, her horse was a big burly bay that would not stay in the dressage arena if asked to canter. Wisely we strategized to simply take the zero for not doing the movement instead of instant elimination if he left the scene.

I was on a midget named Nairn, (Scottish for “nothing”), a Quarter Horse crossed with a grade Walking Horse that my grandfather had given me. Less than 14.2hh, I was a bit under mounted but totally undaunted by such details. We were terrible, but we somehow managed to get us some ribbons, and had a blast doing it. I think Cissy broke her arm there too, but that may have been later at the Gosch’s place.  Memories are so much like water colors, constantly all running together. The thing was that we had a great time and we were now really on the circuit. We were true equestrian competitors for real, or so we thought.

Years of weekend journeys on this road continued the learning curve. Cissy eventually gave Chief needed time off, since cantering in the arena was never his thing, and so I went alone or with the kids and Mark.  I think finally at some point, Mark must have gotten embarrassed at my comical horse paring and managed to figure a way for us to afford a little bit nicer, and larger, horse for me. With the purchase of Jason, a former QH racer who was too slow on the sprint but who could fly once he figured out where his legs were, we started going to bigger shows at fancier farms and jumping bigger and better fences. Jason had many things for him, while jumping into water wasn’t one of them, he could make the speeds on cross country and jump the moon and we finally started winning, a lot. 

Jason later gave way to Limerick, my first warmblood. Back in the day, the dark ages, hardly anyone had one and they stood out so blatantly better in quality of the general Thoroughbred mixes that competed then, that winning became a pretty usual thing for whoever rode in on one. They were better suited for an all round sport like combined training with strong dressage scores pushing them to the front. Limerick either won her day, or, bucked my butt into the stratosphere. It was first or last, a blue or nothing.  

 Yes, the memories hang thickly up and down this road. There is the spot near Hogansville where as I was driving alone to a show, in the rain, my left trailer tire comes loose at nearly seventy miles per hour, passes me, and takes a horrifying, huge bounce across the median towards on coming cars. Fortunately no cars were hit and I limped into Newnan where my horse, Kowaliga, and I spent the day waiting on new lug nuts to be shipped in. There was no getting to the show early on that day, and the good thing was that of all the horses to have been hauling, Kowaliga was the best. The boy was totally nonplussed at having to shift over in the trailer out on the interstate to ride on the side that still had two tires, waited patiently for hours for the repair, and finally upon getting to the show grounds straight up went to work. He was a good boy.

There was the show at Midland, no, Flat Creek, where I had my first clean cross country round, still on my midget then, but was throwing up my toenails in the cross country start box having learned I was newly pregnant the day before and was feeling the news pretty heavily in many ways. There was the show that my youngest got herself stuck in a thick mud puddle and quite literally had to be plucked out of it by some nice fellow, while I was off riding a test and was oblivious to it all. Her boots, which had frog faces on the toes, came out separately and were rinsed off for her before she put them back on. Some one pointed out to her that she had them on the wrong foot since the faces were pointing the wrong way. She looked down and appraised the situation and simply crossed her feet. Problem solved. I am sure there were more such occasions that I didn’t learn about, but those are my kids’ stories to tell.

The day’s drive to and fro was spent in pleasant retroflection revisiting these places and times. The reason for the journey, Cistine, was presented well and won a large blue banner to wear around her neck. It was great to see a young horse that I had helped land in this life, grow up and become a lovely, well behaved, and very rideable mount. Gratification comes in many forms and this one is especially nice. She is Joline’s last filly and there will be no more.

Another memory and another ribbon to add to the string....  

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