I thought I was pre­pared for a smooth show day, but my mare, Sally, had other ideas.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Hope El­lis-Ash­burn

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.

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.

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