Every now and then, an event comes along to not only blow you away, but humble you a little as well. I am in that group of people who tend to frown on others who claim that God did this or that for them and the “this or that” seemed totally frivolous to my way of thinking, completely unnecessary to the daily survival of the Christian, and generally not geared toward the furtherance of the Gospel. I have been known to scoff at people in my own mind (not publicly as a general rule) at big name evangelists, preachers, etc, who have made such claims, even going so far as to get brassy with God and demanding that God come through for them regarding some frivolous request. I generally don’t point fingers, so these thought patterns may come as a surprise to some people.
Sometimes, what seems frivolous to one person actually has a very deep and meaningful purpose to it in the heart and mind of the person receiving it. In that vein of thinking, I have an amazingly tasty bit of crow to eat, and I’m wearing it’s feathers on my skin for days to come too!
For many, going to a horse show fits into that frivolous category. Most people who go to shows can not only afford to attend, they can also afford to buy all the gear needed for the best presentation possible. Everything about their attendance screams of too much time and money on their hands and they tend to look down on those who would like to go, but can’t for many financially-related reasons. Equestrian horse shows have costs that add up. First off, you need a horse. Secondly, you and the horse must be trained up well enough to be entered in the show. Third, you and your horse have gear that must be available. Fourth, transportation there and back is necessary as well. Not to mention hidden costs such as food and sunscreen.
Some of my readers may be aware that my daughter began her riding career at the age of 10 and I’ve written about it a couple of times as stories she shared of life with horses impacted lessons God was teaching me at the time. Fast forward just a few months after the 8yr anniversary of her stable hand career and almost 6 months after the 8th anniversary of her riding career, and she was given a beautiful black-bay thoroughbred a full month before her 19th birthday! Her 9 yr work anniversary in the horse world has just come upon us as I write this, because it was mid-July when the barn manager 9 years ago, took a chance on a short, petite 10yr old who wanted to work to earn her riding lessons. I’m not even sure my daughter realizes she just passed her 9th year anniversary working as a stable hand. But I CAN say this milestone was reached IN STYLE!
As some of you will know, the horse Ashley was given in October 2014, is a former racehorse who had been surrendered due to back problems. Experienced horse people in the area waffled back and forth between concern for her health over the course of 2014, and extreme negativity regarding her sketchy history that we were having to pull together from disparate sources including the American Jockey Club’s registry in Kentucky. The negativity was so bad, and affected the horse in such a way that she wouldn’t accept hay from blond-haired people for the first couple months Ashley owned her.
Due to Ashley’s work schedule, she wasn’t able to begin regular training until March of 2015, and then we discovered the visual physical extent of Bella’s back problems. Training had to pause for 6 weeks until a former Dressage Champion showed her how to do “long and low” to help Bella’s back heal while developing her back muscles properly. As of the time I write this, she’s had two sessions with this lady, both times working on the needed signals required for Bella to willingly go into the long and low posture in walk and trot. This exercise has greatly assisted with the back issues and the lump that some say could be a slipped disk, rarely pokes its head up anymore and goes down quickly when it does.
Unable to afford her own lessons, Ashley’s been working on her skills while training Bella in the basics of English Pleasure and finally introducing her to regular work over ground rails in the month of June. It would be the week before Canada Day, when we would be in Diamond H Tack in Kelowna and discover a lady filling the front counter, apparently purchasing the prizes for an upcoming schooling show in Merritt BC. The owners of Diamond H Tack are always inquiring as to how Bella is progressing every time we are in there, so their usual inquiry and Ashley’s responses caused this customer to pipe up inviting Ashley and her horse to this schooling show. Two younger girls were with her, the youngest one taking off across the store to return with the application in hand, and quickly placing it in mine! They felt that Bella’s progress as they overheard it that day, was enough to show her stuff at this event.
Ashley has only been to one other schooling show in her career, and that was because of affordability. As mentioned earlier, English equestrian shows are not cheap after all the costs are added up, and Ashley has never had the funds to attend another one since. Because of Bella’s background, Ashley had intended already, to get the mare into a local schooling show in the Fall, and was already starting to save up funds for that purpose. So when this Merritt show suddenly landed in our laps, she wondered if she should go. The second time with the former Dressage Champion was arranged for the following week so that Ashley could get a feel from the lady how Bella’s performance fared. That would be our first partial negative response as the lady would not have recommended a show at this time. Having said that, she’d have loved to be there to see how Bella did, but was away for the weekend of the show. Ashley gleaned encouragement from that conversation. A motel room was booked online, and she sent in her show registration July 4th.
The challenge now became how to get there. Remember that we are a low-income family and while Ashley has a decent job as a stable hand, she isn’t living close to middle-class either. So we began to face a growing combination of unaffordable rates versus hesitation from everyone we reached out to as we tried to obtain a truck and trailer for this trip. If those responses didn’t come in, no response came in! This entire time, Ashley felt that the combination of healthier pay cheques , this show landing in our laps, and other details meant that God wanted her to take Bella to this particular show!
Finally the week of the show came, with no sign of how we were going to get Bella out there! Thursday was the last day of the online motel booking before we’d have to pay if it wasn’t cancelled. I told God this in prayer, and Ashley in the van on her way to work. A rentable horse trailer we learned about, turned out to be parked in a mover’s lot along the highway that day at noon. As soon as Ashley told me about it, I had her research the company to find the phone number, and we had the trailer claimed by the time we were in Superstore. Now we had to secure a truck. . . Options ranged from borrowing to renting, and the only rental place that allowed for towing was UHaul. UHaul was starting to look like the only option as the day wore on, only to end up being offered a truck by 10pm that night! This took place on the 9th. We’d need to travel on the 11th, so this was really cutting it close in my personal way of doing things! I was darn near gasping for breath at how close the combination of truck and trailer came together before this show!
The owner of the truck gave me tips and tricks, as was Ashley from the back seat, and then we were hooked up, loaded and heading up the highway by 9:30am Saturday morning. This was hard enough for us to believe, so we were driving along the connector telling ourselves, “We’re doing this! We’re actually doing this!” The drive was uneventful and we arrived at the Nicola Valley Riding Club almost 2hrs later, the first people to show up for the show! We even beat out the coordinator as she didn’t show up till almost 1pm. Settling in was largely uneventful, we unhooked the trailer with assistance from the coordinator’s husband and went to secure our room.
The owners of the motel appeared to treat the online booking like it didn’t exist, and offered us a similar room for a similar rate once all fees and such were added in. The outlet for the microwave didn’t work, resulting in Ashley learning how to make campfire toast on the stove, setting off the room’s alarm for a brief moment the next morning. That’s a side note, as Saturday’s story wasn’t over yet! We found A&W for lunch after unloading at the motel, and were wondering how to get to Walmart, as I had received a gift card for that store and Ashley needed a few things. Turns out that the street A&W was on,also happened to be the road to follow to get to Walmart! Little did we know! We were so thankfully surprised and took off to get what was needed for breakfast and the day of the show.
Exercising Bella that night went well and it was time to crash. Sunday dawned earlier than usual, Ashley set off the fire alarm, and we sat down to campfire toast and applesauce before heading out to feed Bella her morning hay. The schooling show was divided in half, with western classes in the morning, and English classes in the afternoon. Some riders did both sets while others arriving for the western classes, left after they were done. Bella’s first experience in a group situation since her training began, would take place in the warm up ring that morning. That would also be when we discovered just how welcoming, understanding and supportive the volunteers and other riders were toward Ashley and Bella.
At this point I should interject to say that we both felt that God was chaperoning our travel to and attendance at this event! The trailer and truck were just the tip of the iceberg. Dinner Saturday evening ended up buying enough in a single pizza, to handle not just dinner, but Sunday’s lunch as well. When we were full, we realized there was still food left over at lunch too! This totally felt like a two-person version of Jesus’ multiplying the loaves and fishes, and to be fair, there was shrimp on the pizza!
Lunch was eaten (at 10:30am!) and it was time for Bella’s first appearance in the ring with well over 10 other horses. The arena was laid out to accommodate gymcanna’s more than English events, so there were covered grand stands, an announcer’s booth set over top of entrance chutes leading out onto the arena floor. The arena was like a large rounded ovalish rectangle with large entrance/exit gates at either end. These observations must be noted early in order to appreciate what would transpire throughout the day for Ashley and Bella.
Bella’s memories of her time on the race track came back to haunt the poor mare in a big way in the first two classes! In the first class, horses coming up on her flank meant “go faster, don’t let them pass” and it was initially traumatizing that Ashley kept slowing her down. Eventually Ashley had to leave the ring without completing the class. In the second class, Bella was less likely to bolt ahead, but had gotten a good view of the chutes in the first class and would now actively shy away from them. Ashley did her best to have Bella complete that second class, but it was rough. The third class came, and Bella was starting to realize that this was different, no one was racing around the ring and it was ok if she didn’t race either. No one was bursting out of the chutes and she could go past them safely and without incident. By this time, rumour was filtering over to me that people in the stands were starting to root for Bella! No ribbons again, and the only issue was having Bella stand still facing the announcer (remember he is positioned over the chutes).
The fourth class came, a fun class known as English Command – Senior, in which the riders are to do exactly as the announcer says and no more, no less. Failure to comply would disqualify a person on the spot. The challenge was to get through all the commands and be the last one standing, so to speak. Ashley accidentally eliminated herself and took Bella to the middle of the ring to wait till the class was done. Bella was standing with her haunches to the chutes, and standing perfectly quiet! When it came time to face the announcer, Ashley was able to get Bella to sort of stand still on an angle 45 degrees to the chutes. Progress had been made. With only 6 riders in this class, Bella won 6th place by default, with a pretty pink ribbon to show for it. We had to take a picture!
The fifth class, and the final one Ashley had registered for, was Baby Hunter Ground Rails -open, meaning riders could go over the ground rails at whatever speed their horse had been trained with to that point. This class only had one rider at a time in the ring and when it came time for Ashley and Bella, Bella only hopped once, and that over the first rail. Ashley trotted her confidently through the course and came back to wait for the results. We cheered when Ashley and Bella won the 2nd place ribbon! Of course we had to take a picture of THAT too! After years of hardly winning anything on the race track, Bella finally had TWO ribbons under her belt, and at her very first schooling show to boot!
The transformation she underwent that day was remarkable! We now know why God wanted Bella’s schooling show to be held there and not in Kelowna! The arena had all the markings of Bella’s past life, minus the size and minus an actual track marked out on the ground. That arena was sufficient to bring back all of Bella’s memories of life at the track. These memories would need to be confronted and overcome, and as the classes progressed, watching her overcome those memories and realize that show life was different now, was both heartwarming and amazing all at the same time. If there had been an award for most improved equine contestant, Bella would have won it!
Sunday was a gruelling day for the mare in more ways than one. A) Being allowed to graze and watch as horses came and went from the waiting ring was important before classes actually began B) Experiencing and learning how to move around in a ring with up to 4 other horses during warm up was a lesson all by itself. C) Overcoming memories and realizing that life is decidedly different now, and D) Winning not just a default ribbon, but an actually earned placing in a class was huge for the mare! She began to get all bashful as we praised her and kept pointing out that she had legitimately won this 2nd place ribbon!
We put her away in her temporary stall and went for dinner. That was when human negative number one would be painfully felt! My afternoon spent holding water and electrolytes for Ashley had resulted in me getting a very bad sunburn on my legs and arms. The legs were so bad that it was hard to walk and my homeostasis was thrown out of whack so bad that my body didn’t know how to adjust to warmth or cold. We returned to the club and began preparing to pull out. Just as we had arrived first, we pulled out last and I had to figure out how to back up to the trailer to get the hitch in just the right spot to get it all together properly. Had to take a picture of that when it was successfully completed!
The final surprise of the day would be when it came time to load Bella back onto the trailer to come home. For a mare that could take up to half an hour to get loaded, complete with a broom to boot in months past, Bella surprised Ashley and I all to pieces when she loaded easily under the 2 minute mark! We thought we were dreaming all over again and couldn’t help gushing all over Bella for loading so quickly! We pulled out of the club and began our drive home, this time saying to each other, “We did it!, We actually did it!”
By the time we had Bella unloaded, the trailer swept, everything either returned or en route to being returned (truck owner offered to return trailer on way to work), we were picking up last-minute items for Monday and walking in the door at 10:38pm Sunday night!
The second human negative event would then become apparent Monday morning. There is a dent on the borrowed truck where there wasn’t one before, and it somehow occurred between delivery of the truck to us, and arrival at the club in Merritt. We are dumbfounded how it got there and only have one theory as to how it might have occurred. So as we’d asked people to pray over Bella and Ashley prior to the trip, we are now asking for prayer that this situation with the truck would be worked out for the best between us, the owner and ICBC.
The owner of the truck had taken a chance on me personally, as I was new to the concept of hauling live cargo. I’d never done that before. So I am not feeling very good that this dent happened nor that I am unaware as to how it happened. So this has put a damper on things a little from my end, not to mention having to move around rather painfully with my sunburns.
But as for Ashley and Bella, God knew what would be needed for Bella to make strides in leaving her racing past behind even more than we did, and our obedience in following God’s leading led to an intense day for Bella that culminated in a bit of fancy cloth to boost her confidence levels.
As I said at the beginning, I am eating some rather tasty crow right now and wearing the feathers on my skin for a few days to come, because what could be considered a frivolous attendance at an equine schooling show actually had some very deep impact on one of God’s creation, that God knew the mare would need if Ashley’s dreams for her would be realized in the future! She was able to receive this much-needed experience away from the nay-sayers in Kelowna as well, granting Ashley and Bella more confidence as future shows are considered.