Here in horse country about some 45 years ago, my older sister Jessica Dowdy and I showed ponies on the A-Circuit. Actually, she rode her pony Dr. Grabow in the Large Pony Hunter Division at many A-shows and as long as there was no round-top on the course, they typically finished in the top three (round-tops = auto refusal). They won the Large Pony Division at Upperville and I, the little sister, acted as her groom and sometimes, I got to compete in Leadline or other pony divisions. In my very first horse show aboard her lovely pony (whom she schooled herself with the careful guidance of Marlene Allen), I finished second. I received a red ribbon which I treasured—so much so that my father gave me the nickname “Red-ribbon Lolly”. He was proud of me despite the fact it was not a blue ribbon.
Just a few weeks ago, I rode in the Philomont Horse Show–I live very close to the show grounds and went not seeking the coveted blue ribbon by as a member of the local community who is interested in supporting the Philomont Volunteer Fire Department–who would be coming to my rescue should the need arise. My hunt horse Lucy had never been to a show and was puzzled as to why so many people dressed to hunt were going around in circles and why the lady in the hat was taking notes. After about 15 minutes warming up, she got used to the idea. I was clearly the elder statesman in the hack class, my age more than doubled most of my fellow riders. I focused on keeping my plodding horse calm and quiet and out of the way of the seasoned show horses—and lo and behold—we pinned. Never had I been so happy to be sixth!
So much of sport today focuses on who finishes first—but the class and the show would not go without the rest of the entries. I remember being told as a kid that horse showing was something we did for fun—but I do remember striving so hard to be perfect–my appearance, my horse, their gaits, spots before each fence, etc… to live up to some subjective standard and receive a “good” ribbon. Red was a good ribbon, but green is too!
As a rider, I ventured from showing into eventing–I loved cross-country and dressage was a necessary evil to get to the fun jumping (I have matured on this point and now enjoy dressage.) I remember competing at local Horse Trial and checking the score board after dressage and was pleased to find that I was 10th—but there was this guy–David O’Connor who had two horses and was in 2nd and 4th. At the time I had braces and was wearing my helmet—and I remember standing there dumbfounded–thinking–how is this guy so good? How does he have more than one horse going Novice? Anyway–ribbons are not a big motivator for eventers–otherwise they would get one after each phase. David O’Connor went on to being an Olympian and accomplish many great things at the USEF and beyond. But what about the rest of us? We go to college…get jobs, married, families….maybe bring up another generation of riders? Professionals need students. Events, shows need entries to go. We need to cultivate more amateurs. At the heart of Horsing Around Virginia is a desire to make good horsepeople accessible to those who want to learn and pass it on. If the horse industry is to survive in this changing world where we are addicted to our devices—we need to prompt people to move from their devices to their local stable and saddle up.