Lady’s Day at the Show
By Betsy Kelleher
My first experience with horse shows many years ago made me think I’d never try again. Not at all what I enjoyed, partly because my horse ran away with me in a pleasure class! Fanny did better with competitive trail riding and I got hooked on that. Our horses, you see, often lead us in directions we wouldn’t choose otherwise.
Lady, my black Tennessee Walker, has led me back to the show ring. My husband and I have always enjoyed watching horse shows, and friends kept asking, “When are you going to bring a horse?” So in 2005, I took Lady to two shows just to expose her to traffic and new experiences. She had never been shown and I didn’t know what to expect. She surprised me. Last month I took her to a show again, this time to do our best in the ring.
Response from fellow boarders at the show was encouraging. Now, I find myself looking for sparkly show outfits and searching the internet and magazines for show tips. I’m not fooling myself that I can stand up to experienced competition (yet), but I do dream of someday accepting that winning blue ribbon from the helper at the gate!
Lady has behaved amazingly well in the show ring, and her smooth gait is fun to ride. In three shows, Lady has not placed last in any gaited class, which is very encouraging to me! I have a bunch of colorful ribbons (everything but blue) and a new appreciation for my mare. And another bonus of the last horse show: I lost three pounds!
Yes, the hope of winning a blue ribbon is enticing, but more important to me is a growing awareness of Lady’s increasing trust and loyal affection. When I ask for a slow gait or a fast gait during a class, I feel the difference. I see how she tries to do what I ask and I know she is working with me, for me. She stands quietly when lined up in the arena, she behaves when other horses get near, and she responds quickly to my cues. And even when being clipped, I can see her trust as she stands quietly while I do her bridle path, ears, nose and eyes. If we’re going to do this show thing, I owe it to Lady to help her be and do her best!
At her first show, I went early and rode the arena for an hour before it started. I thought she would be better if I could tire her out a little. My two goals were to get her used to the announcer’s stand, and to have her maintain her gait around the arena. I was very proud of my girl. She was good while tied to the trailer—and I had thought she would paw a hole to China! I also thought she would spook at all the trucks and trailers passing by her, but she only whinnied a few times in greeting. But she did get tired. As we reached the gate to enter our last class, Lady stopped abruptly. “Just one more, Girl,” I whispered to her, “Come on, let’s do it.” And she went in and did her best for me.
Before the last show, I planned ahead for extra loading time, since she hadn’t been trailered for a year and has always been a problem to load. I was shocked when she walked right in with no hesitation. I’m still wondering—did it really help that I explained I was taking her to a show so people could see how beautiful she was? I sometimes think her reluctance to load is based on a fear of being sold!
My heart still savors the joy of Lady’s day at the show. I am very aware that she has decided we belong together. But we didn’t get to this point without a lot of time and effort and some real struggle! Even though I now have three horses, Russ often remarks that there is no way I could sell her. I love her unusually affectionate personality, her calm energy and her loyalty. We are learning together to trust each other more. She is a very alpha mare, however, and she demands attention. She truly lives up to her registered name, Walker’s Velvet Queen.
Lady’s alpha ways have been a challenge. We’ve had several opportunities to decide which of us is in charge. I believe we are working out that situation very nicely. She has a soft mouth and I’ve worried about losing that softness when I’ve had to be firm. I’ve learned that it’s easier to keep a soft mouth when you don’t often get in a situation where you need to be harsh. As a result, I’ve concentrated on lots of arena work, where it’s safer! Since I’ve always wanted to ride “dressage,” I’ve tried to apply dressage techniques in Lady’s training. I doubt if she will ever give me a collected canter, but she can move wherever I ask, to side pass, do turns in place, shoulder in and back up. It’s a thrill to feel her immediate response at a slight cue!
We learn from our experiences. We learn even more by thinking back upon what happened and how it could be improved. There are several things Lady and I can work on before the next show; but thinking back, I feel mostly a growing appreciation for this mare. It’s good to have a horse you enjoy, a horse that listens and obeys willingly and eagerly, with energy that is under control and ready to move in any direction you point. I wish I could always give that kind of relationship to the One I call Master.
There’s a lesson here that may be too close to home. I see how a rider may prefer one horse over another because of how that horse responds. The stubborn horse is often set aside or sold if the rider doesn’t enjoy the horse’s attitude. Sometimes I wonder if my own stubborn nature might cause God to set me aside simply because another person is more willing. A rather disturbing thought.
Have you ever wondered how God feels toward you? Do you choose to please Him or to please yourself? God is willing and able to work with anyone. He has all the time in the world. His patience and understanding is endless. He loves each and every one of us and He knows how to work with our individual natures effectively. But He develops a special intimacy with those who are willing to serve Him with a total desire to please.
Jesus himself, in John 14:23 said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
A recent devotional reminds me that we can experience various levels of faith and practice. We hopefully move from a meager understanding toward a compelling desire to experience more of God in our lives. As we seek His ways, learn His Word, and experience His Presence daily in our lives, we learn to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us. We learn to wait for His direction, to not go ahead of Him but to follow. As we learn how much He is able and willing to guide us, we can reach a higher level of faith, where total trust and complete submission are displayed (as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son in response to God’s command).
Our horses don’t have the ability to reason and make decisions to change their circumstances. We do. And if we see that we have a character trait that isn’t what we like, we can work to change it and God will help. We can repent and go to God and ask for forgiveness. There are words we don’t like, like repent and submit and die to self and sacrifice. But the ability to make such decisions is our gift. It is a doorway to a new life, to eternal life in fact, and we have the freedom to open that door or not to open it.
A horse must be trained to realize its potential. A horse will not reach out on its own to find that higher level of existence. But mankind has the freedom and the gift to do so. We can choose to acknowledge the authority of God’s power and His Word or not. But in choosing to follow His ways, we accept His gift.
We train our horses with the goal of complete trust and obedience. We need to work on our own selves as well.
(Originally published in the July 2007 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)