I’d been looking forward to this show for weeks. I don’t compete very often, so I wanted to make it count. I had been working with Sally, my half-Arabian mare, for months, and I had spent the better part of a week making final preparations.
We drove out to the fairgrounds the evening before and settled in for the night. The next morning, Sally seemed comfortable and relaxed. I had high hopes that we would have a good day.
My mare is not the flashiest mover or the most talented jumper, but she is safe and reliable. After a decade together, we understand each other, and she is always the model of good behavior. “Always,” I should say, until this day.
Before our first event, I decided to introduce Sally to the main arena. As I led her near the ring she remained calm, paying little attention to the spectators or the crackling of the public address system. Back at the barn, I slipped into my show clothes then tacked up. Our first class would be over fences, so I wanted to pop over a few practice jumps first.
The first hint of trouble was Sally’s insecure whinny as I prepared to mount. Still, she stood while I got on, and we walked off quietly to the arena. Then, suddenly, she bucked—jumping into the air and spinning a full circle on landing. I was startled but kept my seat. I wasn’t overly concerned just yet.
I went through a series of exercises to regain Sally’s focus. But it didn’t work. She continued to buck, jump and spin her way around the arena. It wasn’t safe to continue, and she was becoming a distraction to everyone. I dismounted and led her from the ring.
When I got back to the barn I gave Sally a once over, looking for a physical cause for her behavior. But her tack fit well, and I found no evidence of soreness or lameness. That left me with a quandary. I didn’t want to reward bad behavior by letting her rest. But riding her just now didn’t seem wise. That left longeing.
Our test of wills continued, with Sally jerking the line, bucking, kicking out and rushing this way and that. Her coat grew dark with sweat, and we both became covered with a layer of arena dust. Finally, I unclipped the line and got back on. Sally was once again the calm, unflappable mare I knew so well. Sometimes, I guess, you just have to work these things out of your system.
We both looked a mess, but we still had time to make our next class and Sally was behaving well, so I decided to show. I would regret that decision. We had both lost energy, and I’d had nothing to eat or drink since breakfast. And, I soon discovered, I hadn’t fully memorized the course. She rubbed a rail or two, and I went off course.
We returned to the barn and I hosed Sally off and gave her hay and water. Then I had some lunch and took a nap in the canvas chair outside her stall. We both rallied in time for our flat classes. Neither of us was in top form, but we did well enough to earn a few ribbons.
Was the day a success? Not in the traditional sense. But I learned a great deal: that even the best-behaved horses can sometimes have a meltdown, and sometimes you just have to take the time to deal with it. I’ll never again take my mare’s “unflappable” nature for granted. I was also reminded that, no matter what’s going on, your first priority is to look after your horse’s, and your own, well-being.
I’m already looking forward to trying again next year.