By lex, on July 13th, 2008
Saturday morning dawns cool and clear with the Kat tapping at your correspondent’s shoulder whispering, “I’m late.”
It’s not quite six AM. On a Saturday morning.
The only plausible explanation for anyone being late at 5:45 AM in Southern California on a Saturday morning in July is that this is horse show season. Plagues of locusts would not have otherwise sufficed.
It’s a quiet drive to the Del Mar Show Park on Saturday morning at 0600. You’ve got the roads pretty much to yourself and your daughter. Who – bless her soul – has her thoughts elsewhere entirely, at least until we get to the stables. Already seeing it. In the moment.
We arrive on scene and she asks if I would like to come in and see Harold. Harold being the new horse. Recently owned by famous regional jumper, but now relegated to school work and jumping at three feet or less. Because of his superannuation, at age 18, the poor beast.
I know the feeling.
Of course I’d like to meet Harold, I replied. The question being, in all honesty, almost entirely rhetorical. She’ll spend the day aboard or around this brute in one way or another and entrust her precious life to him. A “getting to know you” session between the two of us is entirely appropriate, never mind the importance of showing interest. I have things I want to say. Things he needs to hear. The nature and origin of canned dog food might be a worthy topic of discourse. Such a fate being a not unlikely end for elderly horses who are not attentive to the needs of their riders. Such as their continuing need to remain properly saddled, unhurled and untrampled.
The Kat joins her cohort, the rest of them – like her – tousle haired, pink cheeked and puffy eyed. It’s mid summer, and it’s not like they’ve been greeting the dawn with song since school let out. Mariachi music plays in the background as caballerangos walk around trying (and failing) to look busy. The girls wear flannel pj’s atop their best riding breeches, and club jackets atop t-shirts. The jackets will have the name of their barn on the back, and their own names on the front, and the having of one is an ineffable symbol of belonging. A fighter pilot might look in his closet and see a jacket of his own, with a name tag on the front, and various patches of experience and excellence everywhere else and gain a glimmering insight into all of this. But these are young women, and their magic is deeper, it thrums at a pitch below male hearing. It always has.
In an hour’s time or so they will spend a moment in mentor-assisted chrysalis – hair nets, rat catchers, jackets and helmets – to emerge as fully mature Ice Princesses (First Rank) of the Equitation Imperium. In the meantime, these girls (most of whom would not lift a finger to pick linen off the deck at home) cheerfully muck out stables like any set of stable hands.
You’d think that seeing your youngest child vaulting through the incorporeal air over fences atop a twelve hundred pound animal with small – and, it must be pointed out, unnecessarily sharp feet – might be bad enough. But first you have to earn the right to get there. First you must watch her warm up amongst thronging legions of variously grouped, differently abled competitors, each of them fully focused on their own lines in blissful ignorance, and all of them seeming to run at cross purposes.
Bedlam ain’t in it.
Eventually they head to the competition ring, where – at this age – each of them enter the arena alone to face the stern judgment of equestrian officialdom and fate. They will do their best, and at the end of the day some of them will walk away at the end of the day with yet another gaily colored strip of ribbon to hang against the wall. While others will walk away with little more than their pride, and the experience of having once again been “the woman in the arena.”
Oh, and the jacket with their name in front, and their barn on back. They’ll have that too.
You ask, isn’t it pricey, all of this anachronistic tomfoolery?
No, I reply.