I’m going to be spending the day getting ready for the first show of the year. I’m trying to get my brain in gear because last year I only went to this show so I’m sure I’m going to forget to bring things that I need.

I love these shows. They are put on a by Standardbred organization. Standardbreds are harness racing horses. This organization promotes using them for riding after their racing careers are over. They suckered me in by letting me have one good show and then the rest have been disasters but I keep going.

The first year I went Prize was three. The show was nearby and very small. I was one of only two non-Standardbred people there that day. I only entered in halter and showmanship because I wasn’t riding Prize yet. I won both. See how I got sucked in? While I was waiting to go in my class some riders were warming up for the ground poles class. This is unique to these shows. They set up a jump course but instead of having jumps they just lay the poles on the ground. Then you trot over them. Apparently this is a challenge for Standardbreds. That day in the practice ring the riders had raised the pole off the ground a few inches and were trying to get their horses over it. None would go. Now, Prize has been working over poles pretty much since birth. I waited until the people gave up and moved away from the pole. Then I led her over and stepped her over the pole in both directions. As I walked away I heard whispers of, “That horse is really good!” Believe me, whispers like that have been few and far between since. But since then I’ve been dying to be in the ground poles class.

The second year I went and entered halter and showmanship. The judge, to put it politely, was an idiot. In a halter class you lead the horse to the judge and they evalutate the way it moves and the way it is built. That is all that they are judged on. In showmanship you lead the horse and are judged on how you handle the horse. That class has complicated patterns that you have to do.

So I go into the halter class. The judge outlines a showmanship pattern for us to do. Go up and stand by her. Then walk straight away from her, turn 90 degrees to the left, pick up a trot until you get to a cone, stop, and turn 360 degrees. I knew we were in trouble then because there was no way that should be asked for in a halter class. We were last in line in a class of five. Some of the horses before us couldn’t trot on command. Instead of pivoting the 360 degree turn they just turned in a circle. While I am sure that there are well-built, beautiful Standardbreds in the world they were not represented in this class. Prize, on the other hand, had recently won halter classes in both A-rated Morgan shows and regional dressage breeding shows. I whispered to her that if she didn’t win this class I was just going to have to take her home and shoot her. When it was our turn she did well. She picked up the trot when I just leaned my body forward a bit, she stopped well, and did an ok pivot. I was pleased with it. So let’s say I was shocked when we placed dead last. The judge explained this by saying that Prize trotted without me asking her too and was resistant on the turn. Neither of which counts for anything in a halter class even if they were true.

So we go right back in for the showmanship class. We are using the same pattern. We are last in line again. In showmanship there are complex and detailed rules about where you stand as the judge moves around your horse. I was the only person to move at all. The judge recognized this and started to mess with me. She would jump back and forth across the lines where I had to move just to see if I would move every time. It was the kind of torturing you do to small children who are just learning the sport. This time I gave Prize a visible signal to trot. To a well trained horse this is sort of like saying, “Please run like a banshee down the arena,” but I kept her under control. Instead of the pivot I just turned her around.

This time the judge came down the line and talked to everyone individually. I heard her say to the guy ahead of me, “Keep working with her and she’ll learn to trot on command.” So I’m feeling pretty good. At least we beat him, right? No. She comes up to me and says, “You are by far the best one out here and if this was a regular show you’d win every class. But we are using 4-H rules and when she stood her one back leg was turned a little bit out so I can’t place her first.” Not only not first but dead last again.

Let examine the fallacies in her statements:

1. This is not a 4-H show so shouldn’t be governed by 4-H rules.
2. I know my 4-H rules inside and out. Many pages are devoted to how to stand when the judge is inspecting your horse. No pages are devoted to toe turned a bit out.

We went home. No ground poles for me that year.

Last year we went again even though it moved farther away. It was pouring. But there were lots of horses there. There were 20 in the halter and showmanship classes. Prize was just bad. A horse started kicking in a trailer near the arena. Nosy Prize wanted to turn around and watch that instead. Then the judge had a hot pink piece of paper in his back pocket. He had his back to us looking at another horse when Prize spotted the paper. I whispered, “Don’t you dare!” But I realized that if she really wanted that paper there was nothing I was going to be able to do about it. Unfortunately, she realized that at the exact same time and reached for it. Right then the judged turned around. This pissed off Prize so she refused to stand to be looked at because she wanted to get behind him and get that paper. So, we didn’t place but that was ok because we absolutely did not deserve to that time. I didn’t ride that day because I wasn’t trusting her. Turns out that was for good reason because a few weeks later was the temper tantrum that hurt me and got her sent to the trainer.

She did catch a loose horse that day. I was standing talking to a person I used to board her with when the horse got loose. It ran across the fairgrounds and curved straight towards us. My friend was muttering, “Oh, please, no. Run to another horse.” Prize is well known for not playing well with other horses. I tried to turn her so she coudln’t kick him but she was not moving. The horse ran right into her side. She just stood there. A bunch of people ran up to catch the loose horse. Then she got mad because none of them petted her. I petted her for not kicking him but it wasn’t enough.

Why do I keep going back? I know that this year’s judge is good and I’m dying to do the ground pole class. Here are my goals for tomorrow:

1. Stay on top of the horse
2. Stay on top of the horse in a visually appealing way

The other reason I go is because they have a full walk-trot division. Prize has never been in a riding class with other horses. She has a very large personal space that she doesn’t like other horses to invade. I’m afraid she might kick. I would rather learn this at a trot than at a canter.

Tomorrow I plan on entering:
1. English walk-trot equitation (judged on how well I ride)
2. English walk-trot pleasure (judged on how well she acts)
3. Walk-trot barrel race (she’s never done such a thing before)
4. Cone race (never done)
5. Carrot race (ride down, jump off and grab a carrot, get your horse to follow you back to the start line by following the carrot)
6. Ground Poles!!!!!!
7. Walk-trot trail (I bought Prize with the goal of teaching her to be a top trail horse. This will be her first trail class.)

We’ll see how well tomorrow actually lines up with the goals. I’ve told myself that I’m not going to get stressed about her being perfect or great. Survival is my main goal. Anything after that is a bonus.