Wednesday, January 13, 2010

glory days

If I were to tell a tale, well, there were lots of glory days. Lots and lots of glory days, some a moment long, some a bit longer, all glowing glowing, all still with some warmth.

We’d been at MM for nine months and it was the day of the Showmaster Championships, a horse show for the equivalent of “seniors”, those of us who’d be graduating with the Horsemaster diploma. The last four weeks or so the constant weekly changing of horses had stopped and everyone had chosen their “graduation horse” that they would ride for the Showmaster and for graduation which was a riding ceremony. We’d picked an underclassman to be our “groom” for the day. We’d picked our classes, I think we got our choice of any six.

Of all the English majors, Holly, Benson and I were the best. I was the third best, no doubt about that. Which of them was first would have been a toss up: Holly was an effective rider who always, always looked beautiful on a horse; Benson was the strongest damn rider I’ve ever seen still to this day. Me, I had a certain feel, I could sink down into a horse and ask them to do something and not get in their way and they usually would but I rarely looked that good doing it. I’d gotten a few blues through the year of weekly shows but not that many. I don’t know that anyone ever beat the three of us out for a blue ever -- it was always one of us.

So there we were on Showmaster day. We’d picked our classes, not all the same ones. Benson, I remember, picked a dressage class not because he particularly wanted to but because neither Holly nor I was entering it and it was an almost sure blue for him in that case. I don’t really have any idea what I picked except for that last class of the day: Choose Your Line.

Choose Your Line is jumping so prettiness doesn’t count, only cleanness. And fastness. I was on a cute little grade paint hunter type who would, it turned out, do anything at all I asked of him. Holly was on a bigger, rangier, more correct and astoundingly beautiful warmblood type. Benson had picked a little Quarter Horse that could. At this point in the day I had no blues but hadn’t finished out of the ribbons either. Holly had probably racked up a whole passel of blues, and Benson was second in point standings.

The course was posted and set. There were three obstacles arranged like \__/ except with a little less acute angulations, there was a combination down the fence line, and I think only one other obstacle. The combination could only be jumped in one direction, away from the in-gate. I don’t really remember about the others. I remember that I took that \__/ thing first, and went over first the left side of it, two bending strides to the right side of it, then a tight turn around to go over the middle, then the other obstacle, then the combination line, then tight turn back to the start/finish line. The line I picked was obviously the shortest. Holly’s horse was too big to have done it. Not a single person in the class picked the same line as any other person. When I watched the first two go, I knew if I could get around, I’d have it.

And we got around. I remember warming up, getting Lucky a little excited so he’d be wondering what was going on, moving faster than usual, away from my leg and forward. I remember going over that first jump, right over the start line, and holding my breath to see if I could make that second one. We did. If we can just do the rest clean I thought and then I don’t remember any more until after the final jump when I suddenly wondered where the finish line had gone and only then remember to turn. I still had the best time, by far. And we were clean.

I was hardly out of the arena when Benson shouted at me, “CG, that means you are Reserve Champion!” It hadn’t even occurred to me to calculate that. I wasn’t used to being in the running. But sure enough, I was Reserve Showmaster Champion.

So far this year (exactly 30 years since then!) has been exceedingly cold, too cold to ride, the arena frozen. But I have thought some about what glory I want from riding this year. And it is more a picture than I can put into words. There have been times when I wondered if perhaps I’d fooled myself, if I really never had been all that good to begin with. But then I remember the day with Noad, and the day of the Showmasters, and a few others; and then Holly wrote me not too long ago and said she’d found this horse that, when she rode him, she felt like she used to feel on a horse; like she was really good. She added that we really had been good back in the day, she and I.

What I want is not glory. It is not even anybody else noticing necessarily. What I want to do this year riding is to sink back into horses again, to that quietness. The riders I most admire, you never see them do anything. They’ll have perfect position, their horses will dance, but you won’t see much of anything. I want to achieve that stillness, that quietness. I want to sit inside the horse and for the horse to want to do what I want her to do, for nothing to exist for the horse or for me except for each the other and the dance.

I don't ask for much . . .

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