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Stable Mom

I've become a Stable Mom. Like a Soccer Mom, only with horses.

The day-to-day fallout from this is not too bad: the stable is only a few miles from our house and there are worse things than having muck-boots littering the front hall. (Ice hockey equipment, for instance, as I know from our years in the dorms, generally takes up more space and smells much worse.)

When I was growing up my parents couldn't have afforded riding lessons and I'm not sure we can either. By having relatively little actual experience with horses, I was able to retain a romantic view of them. Now that I know them better, I realize I didn't really miss anything. I like animals and animals like me, but I'm not a horsewoman.

With Mare, it's different. In the year and a half my daughter's been riding, she's absorbed the ethos of the barn, which is to eschew nail polish and helplessness and instead cultivate a cool indifference to muck and pride in being able to toss a hay bale nearly as big as you are. In the barn, you earn respect by coming early and staying late, by doing the most work, by literally Windexing the floor of your favorite horse's stall.

In the barn, your glory is getting to braid manes and tails or paint horse hooves. You find an old horseshoe and paint it a pretty color and mount it over your favorite horse's stall. You take to wearing t-shirts with the barn's logo on them; you get to order one with your name embroidered on the front and the word "staff" on the back. And, finally, you get to show.

A horse show starts days before the actual event. Every bit of saddlery and tack gets oiled or washed. The lint trap of your mother's dryer fills up with hair. If it's warm enough, the horses get a bath under the hose. It's not unlike a car wash, except the horses can kick and or slap wet tails at you.

The day of the show, which begins before dawn, every inch of the horse gets curried and brushed. Crumbs of sleep are gently swabbed out of his eyes. His nostrils get cleaned with baby wipes; his anus gets wiped with baby oil. His nose gets powdered. His chestnuts, the hard horny knots on the insides of his legs, get anointed with Vaseline. When he's finally brushed and braided and tacked up, the rider can attend to her own toilette.

Jods. You gotta have jodhpurs. They must fit tightly, so the judges can see air between you and the saddle when you post. Boots, clean black ones. A white shirt, with a funny backwards collar like a cleric. You must wear a pin in the front of this, even if it's only a humble safety pin.

A smooth-fitting jacket and a black velvet helmet completes the ensemble but you're not done yet. If your hair is long, it gets bundled into a pony tail or a bun; if short it gets caught in a hairnet and tacked sternly behind your ears with bobby pins.

(No, you tell your mother, you can't possibly eat anything.)

Several hours after your arrival at the show grounds, the first event begins. Showmanship. You lead your horse in through the gate and watch the judge. When she nods you trot forward, taking care not to appear to be pulling your horse. You stop on your mark and smile. The judge walks all around the horse; you carefully shift from one side and then the other, never standing between her and the horse. She nods at you and makes notes on her clipboard.

After everyone in the class has gone there's a pause while the judges score the event. Chances are you'll get a ribbon, but what color?

Throughout the day, you'll walk or ride through the gate into the ring. Walk-Trot. Canter. Equitation. Pleasure. Each class has it's own name; sometimes the judges look more at you, the rider, sometimes more at the horse beneath you. It's always over too fast.

Lest you get too stuck on yourself, you'll be reminded it's not all about you. There are other girls from the barn to cheer for. The horses need water, flakes of hay; they must be unbridled and allowed to graze, they must be tacked up again. At the end of the day, the trailer rumbles home decorated with rosettes. It needs mucking out, the horses need food. Every saddle and bridle and pad gets hung on its own peg. The hundreds of tiny braids are picked out and the manes and tails brushed smooth.

You kiss your favorite's whiskery nose before you go, then go back once more and fling your arms around his neck. You leave him a rosette: he worked hard, he earned it.

The blue Danish, your very first one, you take with you, retaining your grip on it even as you fall asleep in the car. At home your mother straightens the boots you leave in the hall and refrains from asking you to walk the dogs. She looks sunburned, how did that happen? You fall asleep again at dinner, your head in your plate. You dream you are a horse and your hair is made of ribbons.

April 8, 2003 in dailiness, snippets | Permalink


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