When You Owe The Judge a Bottle of Wine

by Michelle Drum July 20, 2020 6 min read

Big grey hunter going over an oxer

The following took place at the 2015 SCHJA annual finals horse show in Camden, S.C... I originally wrote this for Horse Junkies United, but I'm going to share this with everyone because I feel like we have ALL been there.

It was a fun weekend but not a very successful ending to my 2015 show year. Between Saturday's surprising “no add policy” leaving me in the lurch with only a flat class and an o/f class in the division... I really wasn’t “feeling it” today anyway.

After the flat, it was evident that Oliver was feeling silly in the cool air on a fresh clip. He wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t his normal toe flicking, low head, super quiet, on the buckle boy. Meh, no big deal I’m not really “feeling it” today anyway. I debate scratching but decide to warm up and see how it goes. In the warm-up ring, we nail it. I mean we are ON IT. So let’s go put in the trip and call it a day.

Enter stage right, avoid my usual dyslexic mania of what lead to hit up down to the first jump?? (Small win!)

We lope around the ring and come back down toward the gate to the first single. I see nothing (except that I have that lovely ammy weak canter that we expect them to jump the gap on) and promptly do nothing. (Because that always turns out well, right?)

We arrive and show off a chip the Keebler elves would have been proud to own. I laugh. What else can you do?

Okay… get organized, girl. Lead change. Check. Okay, stay patient, don’t rush.. long approach to the diagonal oxer.. stayed patient, saw it, nailed it! Yeah, that was great! Lope around to the 2 stride on the outside line. I was still patting myself on the back for that oxer. Yeah, girl.. oh crap.. leg on.. look up..

6 strides out... don’t see it...

5 strides, come on show me something, my eyes are up, sitting tall not.getting.sucked.into.the.chip!

4 strides .. Dear Distance Fairy... COME ON! Anything… show me SOMETHING...

3 strides- I should whoa, yes definitely, pulling is the answer. (Pulling always makes the perfect spot show right up? Doesn’t it?)

So here I am whoa-ing to nothing, at which point Oliver has decided he really is a seeing-eye dog. He looks back at me with this side-eye that says “You, my friend are crazy. This is a 2 stride in and out. I am NOT letting you bury my butt under it, and then I have to claw my way out from underneath of the verticle and launch across two strides to get out over the oxer.”

Oliver grabs his mullen mouth happy mouth and says, "hang on you blind jockey and let me show you... It’s.Right.Here!"

Now that’s taking a jump in style! (aka gets left in tack creating a classic hunt scene print George Stubbs would be proud of.)

Good boy, you are the best horse ever! I don’t want to punish him in the mouth, so I chuck the reins at him and stay out of his way & catch up with him at the oxer.

We somehow exit the 2 stride unscathed (have I mentioned how much I love my little homebred TB? Scopey, athletic, with mad self-preservation skills for both of us?) and I reorganize for the diagonal 5. One cut corner later and we jump in a little deep (I’m sure at this point the judge is praying for brain bleach so she can un-see this entire trip).

Oliver’s got plenty of step so we easily lope up the 5 strides and jump out no problem (Wahoo! 2 jumps are between us and bolting out the in-gate).

Okay, here we go the final line... a bending 8. From outside the ring, it seems to ride a bending 9 or a straight 8. It looks pretty straight forward at the in-gate and on the course sheet. My plan is to look, and once I see the straight approach come into view, then make my turn.

My best-made plans are foiled by the spare jump over on the rail that the medal kids did this morning and the extra jump on the quarter line. Uhmmm. Shoot. Where am I? Which one?? ... oh no... Which is it? I don’t see a straight line anywhere from the quarter line...

All I see is a freaking trapezoid of jumps coming at me. Crap... idk… The one on the quarter line or the one on the rail? Drifting right to buy me a split second for some kind of an epiphany and praying for the distance fairy to show me the way. Crap on toast! I am about 2 strides from a ‘drive-by’ for the quarter line jump and 3 strides from making a go at the jump on the rail. WhatdoIdo????

At the last second, the epiphany hits. I KNOW it’s the quarter line, but it’s really too late. In the words of my friend Karyn- I hear a gong in my head, Confucius appears, and says... you have chosen poorly.

I quickly realize I’m going to have to get all Beezie Madden to try and recover to make that line happen. When all of a sudden I’m just like… You know what? Who cares?

Sue Ashe – the poor judge has most certainly written “SMNR” (scared me, no ribbon) on the judge’s card already - has probably been too scared to watch the rest of this trip of unrelenting travesty unravel anyway. (I know if I was judging, I’d probably be hiding under the clipboard hoping to keep the splinters out of my head when the crazy honest horse toting this rider around just gives up and chucks her into the rails).

Recovery at this point is futile, and it’s certainly not going to help me win the class, let alone a ribbon. So let’s just take the one on the outside.

I ride off my eye for the last jump and have a nice final line and take the zero score for going off course instead of the 40 or whatever for a refusal resulting from a drive-by.

So with a lovely 9 strides, we finished the course “à la carte”, and I walk out the gate giggling. My trainer knows I’ve had an off weekend and can see I know I’m off course, we laugh about what a nice line the last one was and what was I thinking, at the in and out? (THINKING! Oh Yeah, none of that going on approaching the 2 stride that’s for sure! )

I hop off, give Oliver a hug and a big pat & we head off for the barn. I’m grinning like the Cheshire cat in a peculiar state of mind, still giggling and shoveling ‘treats of thanks’ into Oliver. I mean, let’s face it, that horse deserves a major award, but Stud Muffins will have to do for now.

Then, all of a sudden it just sort of washes over me. Seriously? Who cares? It’s not the Olympics, it’s not big eq finals. There will be 52 weekends over the next 12 months to come back and nail it. I’m pretty sure no one wanted that trip to be over more than me, except maybe the judge.

Should I have made a circle and finished the course as it was written? Yeah probably. Would it have made a difference between a ribbon and no ribbon? Probably not in a class of 15 with a Cali split.

Being an older adult ammy isn’t all wine glasses and shiny boots. It’s full of weird surprises, like nailing all the jumps in the warm-up ring and 5 minutes later not being able to ride your way out of a paper bag.

I’m pretty sure in 2016 I will find myself asking Oliver to take another major joke, at another show, on another day, because I’m an amateur and on occasion, that’s what I do.

I’m just pretty happy that in the 8 years he’s been on this earth, he’s just as happy to be my seeing-eye dog when the distance fairy fails me, as he is to be a giant dapple grey Labrador retriever. Sticking his head out the trailer window to ever so gently take a treat from the tiny fingers of Dr. Magda’s 3-year-old daughter whom I am holding up to reach him or performing a treat check, snuffling hair or through my pockets at night check.

In the end, it’s about the partnership, knowing he takes care of me just like I take care of him. And I guess not scaring the poop out of the judge is a plus too.

I originally wrote this post for Horse Junkies United in 2016, but feel it is worth re-sharing here because every once in a while we all need to remember why we do this.



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