“Hey, Pangare! It’s so good to see you back after the event! How did you do? How was Helen? Did you have a good weekend? Tell me all about it!”
Priscilla, the five-year-old Thoroughbred mare, trotted up to Pangare on his return to the pasture after his weekend out of town with Helen and her little dog, Briar. She couldn’t wait to hear all about it. She thought it was pretty unfair that she wasn’t allowed to go to recognized events just yet, but she supposed that Pangare had earned the privilege—he was 14, after all.
“Hi, Priscilla,” said Pangare.
“Wow, looks like you had fun in the mud puddle in the far pasture! Anyway, yes, I’ll tell you all about it. You just have to promise not to interrupt. And not to be distracted by things like you often are!” Pangare chuckled. “We Thoroughbreds have a bad enough reputation as it is.”
“What, I’m never distracted!” Priscilla looked over at a woodpecker in a nearby tree.
“Ooh, he’s a pretty shade of green. I like green. It reminds me of alfalfa. Did you still get alfalfa while you were at the show? Alfalfa is yummy. It’s the same color as grass. There’s some nice grass coming up by the oak tree in the second pasture. I can show you if you want. Do you want me to show you now?”
“See, Priscilla? This is what I’m talking about. Focus, or I won’t tell you the story,” said Pangare.
“Oh, sorry,” said Priscilla. “I’ll pay attention. I promise!”
She stood square and looked at Pangare and Briar, who had wandered up to listen to Pangare’s telling of the tale.
Pangare sighed. “Okay, story time. So there we were, me and Helen, trotting around in the warm-up ring, having some actually quite decent moments in which Helen rode quite like a human being who’d previously sat on a horse, and not like a tree frog, as is her custom.
My ride time was approaching and so I kept glancing up the hill to my dressage arena, which was set inside a large arena that held two dressage arenas. The fancy imported dapple grey before me was doing her final canter circle, so I started circling at the exit to my warm up ring. The second she halted, I trotted out of the warm up and into the big arena.
As I trotted up, the grey before me was perhaps two steps outside the entrance to our dressage arena, walking on a long rein. I ignored her, as I’m not really a fan of poncy Warmbloods, but Helen told her rider that she’d had a good test. The girl said ‘They already rang your bell!’
I was flummoxed, but thought that she must have heard a bell for another arena or something, because the idea of our judge having rung the bell before our arrival seemed like an impossibility. Helen started to ask her questions, but I realized that was only going to waste time, so I just kept trotting around the edge of the dressage ring to C, where Helen said to the judge: ‘Good morning, I’m 633.’
The judge replied, ‘We already rang the bell. You don’t have time to make it all the way around the arena.’
Obviously, at this point, Helen had no other choices, so she just said ‘What? Well… I’ll try!’ and I took matters into my own hooves and trotted down the long side as quickly as possible. I sliced my way into centerline, throwing away the entrance to try to make up time.
The good news is that I still remembered my test, even with Helen’s brain all scrambled. The bad news is that the test was crap, because with all the sudden time-stress, Helen knew even fewer of the basic rules of riding than usual and so she completely unsettled me. I had maybe five decent moments in the whole test, but it was bad.
It’s so embarrassing when your rider is all over the place. I halted at X, saluted, and Helen said to the judge ‘Did I make it in on time?’
‘No,’ she said.
I sighed and walked up to G. ‘Wait, what, so then what happens?’ said Helen.
‘I’ll talk to the TD and we’ll see.’
‘So I could be eliminated?’
‘Yes, but I’ll need to talk to the TD.’
‘Oh wow, ok. I was here right at my ride time. I’m so sorry. I trotted up just as the last girl halted.’
‘People are just too casual about their ride times. I had to wait two minutes for someone earlier—at 9:12.’
‘I’m sorry. I really thought I was here on time.’
‘Well, I’ll talk to the TD.’
‘Thank you. I’m so sorry,’ she said, and we walked out, absolutely shattered.
Helen had driven six and a half hours (and I had endured her driving) and scraped and scrounged to afford the entry fee, and if she rang the bell just as I trotted up, we could only be arguing over perhaps fifteen seconds. Grant, the friend who was videoing for Helen, said we should wait for scores to be posted to see if mine was, but Helen put me in the stall, threw me some hay, and called our trainer in Ocala, Lindsey.
I still feel bad because I heard Helen on the phone and she sounded quite frantic. I heard Lindsey on speaker, and she calmly recommended that Helen talk to the TD, so she and Briar went to the show office and waited for the TD to return from talking to our dressage judge!
I’ll let Briar take over this part of the story, since she was there for it. Briar? Can you take over? You’re not very useful in general, but at least you could contribute something to this story, rather than just eating Priscilla’s poop or whatever disgusting dog activity you’re doing right now.”
“Pangare, I’ll have you know that horse poop is full of nutrients that Helen doesn’t understand that dogs need. She insists on feeding us this fancy buffalo grain free food, so this is what I have to stoop to in order to counteract her ignorance. Anyway, yes, Pangare, I’ll fill in the gaps in your story. The TD arrived in the office at last, and smiled and said ‘Step into my office,’ indicating the front porch of Texas Rose’s show office.
Helen laughed and followed her. Helen told her the story you’ve just told, except that she pretended that she could ride a horse and that she had been the one who remembered the test. The TD raised her eyebrows.
‘Well, the judge wants to eliminate you, but I think you should continue.’
‘What, really? So I’m not eliminated?’
‘Correct,’ she said, smiling. ‘Have good rides!’
Helen restrained herself from hugging and kissing this lovely woman, kissed and hugged me instead, and I wagged my tail and we bounced away on air. Helen went back to the stall, hugged Pangare, hand grazed him, cleaned his stall, and cleaned her tack and switched the bit in preparation for showjumping at 1:53.
I went and watched the showjumping with her for perhaps an hour, and Helen noticed that people were having no trouble with 1 and 3, which were my major concerns, too. Horses were forced to be careful, as I’d predicted on the turn from 7 to the 8a/8b line, and then they were turning and often their stupid riders were really gunning to the triple bar at 9, and yet somehow often leaving up the last jump on the course, 10, an upright vertical seven strides away from 9. Hmm, I thought, chewing on my paw. I guess the triple bar is more imposing than I thought.
Helen went and tacked up and tied me to the stall, so I’ll hand the story back over to Pangare, since I wasn’t there for this part.”
“Thanks, Briar. And I’m sorry about your insufficient feed. I’ll throw some alfalfa over the stall door this evening so you can get some greens in a more palatable form. Anyway, Helen and I did a pretty mild warm-up for showjumping, jumping only four or five times—twice over the crossbar. I wanted to try to keep her settled, so we mostly walked the warm-up.
Standing in line to go in the ring, I looked over and saw Ellen Doughty-Hume next to me, and she said ‘Hey, Helen. I was wondering if you’d let me go ahead of you?”‘ I felt ignored, as she didn’t know my name, but that’s the problem with being tall and bay in the eventing world.
Helen hesitated, probably thinking to herself who would ever say no to a Rolex rider? Does she actually think I could say no to her?
She took Helen’s hesitation for unwillingness and went on ‘I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m coaching five.’
‘No, no,’ Helen said. ‘Go ahead, please!’
And I felt Helen sit up and feel cool when Ellen trotted into the ring ahead of us on her Training horse and Helen said, ‘Good luck, Ellen!’ and she said ‘Thanks,’ and went off to complete a perfect clear round. The horse was nice, too. Looked like a Thoroughbred. Sensible woman, getting the right breed for the job.
It was my turn! The only obvious way to the first jump was off the right lead, but that seemed like a bad idea for Helen, as she’s weird about that lead, so I needed to take a long and circuitous route around 6 to get straight-ish to 1, so feeling like a weirdo, I trotted off and once we were lined up, I stepped up into a canter.
After all that, I took the right lead anyway, and lowered a little on takeoff to bounce over it in my typical gazelle fashion. I tried to run at the second fence, but listened when Helen steadied me a little, as I was pretty sure she’d let me leave long to 3. She did.
We went around to the line on the fence at 4ab, 5, and she took me for granted, as she always does on combinations on a fenceline. I tested her, though, by looking at 4, and she remembered that she was riding a horse in an event, and not spacing out on a fun trail ride, and closed her leg, and having established that she was serious, I said fine, okay, I’m jumping. The combination went smoothly, thanks to my fancy footwork rather than Helen’s riding.
On the approach to the liverpool, I felt like she needed a little ego-boost, so I actually softened on our canter over there, and I remember being impressed and thinking that she was riding almost decently for once. The liverpool was lovely and the turn to 7 went well, and she told me to leave a little long on 8b, but that was fine, because this jumps are silly little things and as you both know, I’m ready for Rolex-sized jumps.
Then we came around to the triple bar, and I could hear Helen’s brain as it jumped up and down saying, ‘Don’t fly it, bring him back so he can be steady and quiet to the last vertical.’ And then the other small piece of Helen’s remaining brain said, ‘but everyone else surged at it and got away with it, and what if it’s big?’ So she told me to fly it and she tried to bring me back afterwards, but she needed to learn her lesson on this issue, so I purposely ran out of strides and got deep to the final vertical, knocking down our only rail and ending on an I-told-you-so note for Helen’s little brain.
Helen patted my neck, shook her head at her poor choice, and we trotted out.
We stayed to watch Helen’s friends ride and to video her friend J. She loosened my girth and undid my flash and was happy to chill with me. She was sitting on a bench on the hill, watching and eavesdropping on Danny Warrington coaching a kid who was watching. We both noticed when he pointed out Rebecca Brown as an example of how to ride, and I thought to myself that he’d probably used Helen’s ride for the opposite purpose.
A man who Helen clearly thought was handsome walked over wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses and Kelly Warrington asked him if he was almost done for the day. He replied in an Australian accent that he wasn’t. I assumed that he was a jump crew guy or something, and looked back to the horse on course. The handsome jump crew guy was heading our way, and he passed up the empty bleachers to the side and sat down on the little log bench beside Helen, rudely ignoring me as I stood waiting.
Helen introduced herself and he said ‘Hi, I’m Dom,’ and shook her hand. She stared at him, apparently in a state of shock.
‘Wait, Dom Schramm?’ she said.
‘Don’t I know you?’ he said.
‘Yes,’ Helen said, astounded. ‘Helen. I took a clinic with you a couple of years back!’
‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘I remember.’
‘On my buckskin.’
I rolled my eyes. Oh, Sebastian. Of course. She’d only taken me to clinics with Mark Todd and Leslie Law.
‘Yes, yes, I remember him,’ said Dom. ‘How’s he doing?’
‘He’s great! I can’t believe you remember. And I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you.’
‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘I probably look like a Mexican with the hat and sunglasses.’
Helen laughed and turned her attention to the horse on course, and the next horse was his—well, it was one he’d campaigned for a student and had won 6 out of 7 events on, and now she was competing it for the first time. It was a lovely horse but it looked a little sticky. The horse was clearly hindered by the rider, as we so often were. Humans.
‘Is he nice if you put your leg on?’ Helen asked.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘She’s just not used to him yet.’
The woman finished her round and Helen bid farewell to her hero and sat in amazement. I stood resting a leg behind her, not remotely starstruck, having carted around Buck Davidson, Doug Payne, Valerie Vizcarrondo, Lellie Ward, Laura Vandervliet, and Nilson Moreira da Silva. I sighed at Helen’s naiveté and hoped I’d be untacked soon.
My dreams came true and I was groomed and given fresh hay and water while Helen walked the XC course with J and Briar. To hear Briar’s version of it, everything looked easy except for 10a, which was simple, but it was a house with a stride of dry ground before the water, but the horse couldn’t tell if he was landing in water or on dry land, and Briar knew that I was never happy with this uncertainty and that Helen would need to ride that with confidence. Otherwise, though, Briar saw no trouble on course. But she’s a dog, so sometimes she’s not an entirely reliable source. No offense, Briar.”
“Hey Pangare, I get to take over for this part of the story, too, since you weren’t there. Priscilla wants the truth, after all. So anyway, Helen showered and went to bed in the trailer early, waking me up at 3:30 to hug me while she stared at the trailer ceiling until 4:30, going over and over the simple course. At 6.30, Helen and I got up and drove down to the barns, and Helen tied me to the stall to be walked after she’d cared for Pangare. It’s so rude the way Helen constantly prioritizes the horses. Who slept in bed and kept her company all night? Not Pangare. But whatever.
Anyway, Helen gave Pangare his scoop of soaked alfalfa, his scoop of soaked beet pulp, and his two and a half scoops of Strategy Healthy Edge, transformed into soup with the hose.”
“Alfalfa?” interrupted Priscilla. “There was alfalfa at the show, too? Alfalfa is delicious.”
Briar growled a little.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Priscilla. “I’m focused. I swear.”
“She picked his stall around him and deposited two flakes of Timothy hay at his feet. I bounced up and down, ready to go for a walk. I’d had to hold my pee all night and hadn’t been given a chance to go on the grass yet, and it was 7 o’clock. Helen and I went for a walk by the showjumping and I was finally allowed to tend to my needs. Ten minutes later, we returned to the stall, where I would be tied and ignored until after Helen’s cross-country round.
As Helen tied my leash around the bars to Pangare’s stall, Pangare looked up from his bucket of feed, his muzzle covered in green and brown slime from the beet pulp and alfalfa, and he nickered at Helen.
Pangare returned to his breakfast, having acknowledged his person. Or manipulated her, or whatever you were trying to achieve.
Helen just stared at Pangare. I couldn’t see that high, but I wondered if something was wrong with the horse. It wasn’t like Pangare to manipulate Helen by pretending to care about her, but maybe he was trying to lull her into happiness before he took off with her cross country, so she’d be more likely to forgive him afterwards. I jumped up and rested my paws against Helen’s leg. Helen just stared at the horse and reached down to pet my head.
‘Briar! He whickered at me. He had everything he could have needed and he whickered at me! He had food, and hay, and water, and everything, and he knows me! He might even love me!’
I had seen Helen excited before, but never this excited. She was practically crying with joy. I wondered if this would be a good time to try to persuade her to part with a treat. I bounced on my hind legs, and Helen obliged, giving me a piece of beef jerky she found in her jeans.
It was cross country time. Helen was ready to go, the boots taped on Pangare, the pinney on over her body protector and air vest, and her whip in hand. She took Pangare by the reins and led him to the end of the barn, getting on from someone’s tack trunk. And now I’ll hand the story back over to Pangare.”
“Thanks, Briar. And you’re more perceptive than I’d given you credit for. That was exactly my plan with the whickering. It’s pretty foolproof when your owner is besotted with you. Helen and I headed out to XC warm up, and I was pretty jubilant because this was Texas Rose, a place with particularly inviting fields and no woods to slow me down. I pranced a little in excitement, but I didn’t want to worry Helen too much. Better to take her by surprise.
We dinked over a couple of jumps in the warmup, and I noodled my neck up a little, but I stayed in a walk when asked, and pretended to listen when Helen told me the course as we walked around. Finally it was time for the countdown, and, excited though I was, I managed to control myself, only bouncing in the walk and holding my head in a llama pose for the last 10 seconds.
Then we arrived at the front of the box, the starter said, ‘Have a good ride,’ and Helen let me go.
I transformed utterly into a wild and hollow-backed giraffe, flying across the field at Secretariat-speed to the first fence. I continued to fly over the stairs, the rolltop, the oxer, and was flying up the hill to 5, a table with a lot of air underneath it, when Helen remembered that riding was an option, and she closed her leg, bringing me back to Earth for a moment as I goggled at the space beneath the jump, pretending to be alarmed by it.
I flew the table and surged up the hill to a new and inviting rolltop, and then Helen started to fight. We were galloping down a hill and she pulled very hard, bringing me back and telling me that we had to turn for a bank and a house one stride, through some insignificant water, and then slicing a dinky little house.
Then a longish stretch across the field to 9, and here, Helen really tried. She stopped riding as Lindsey had taught her, and rode like a 10-year-old Pony Clubber on a runaway bolter. I wanted to keep some of my teeth, so I slowed a little, but then I saw the red table at 9, and it was so inviting that I couldn’t help myself, so I surged at it, my Thoroughbred blood taking over. Helen clung to the saddle like a tree frog, as usual, and then fought me down to a canter, approaching 10a and suddenly very serious about going slowly.
I rolled my eyes in disgust at her wimpiness, but slowed, and it was lucky that I did, because the house we were approaching seemed like it might or might not be into deep water, and I wanted to know what I was landing in; Briar hadn’t been clear on the depth of the water.
At the last minute, Helen closed her leg, but it was too late, and I ran out left, making Helen lose her left stirrup just to show her who was boss, and once I saw that we weren’t landing in the water, and that the water wasn’t infested with sharks, I trotted back around and dinked over the house with no hesitation.
Helen really fought me in the water to 10b, growling ‘Now that we have 20 penalties, time doesn’t matter, so slow the fuck down, crazy.’ I decided I’d teach her a lesson, so I listened, cantering slowly and doing the next jump, one that she clearly regarded as a substantial Trakhener, from a pathetic walk-speed canter, hopping over the wider part of the corner at 12, jumping the next oxer nicely, and feeling relieved when she actually allowed me to move up to the ditch and wall.
15abc, a house ditch house combo, was uneventful, but 16 was a highly buffed and shiny log that must have had a former life as the trunk of a thousand year old tree, and it was engraved with a Texas Rose emblem. I was suspicious. There could be thousand-year-old ghosts contained in this log, and so perhaps it was better to go around it, but Helen insisted, closing her leg and kissing to me.
I thought that since she’d told me to go, I might do just that, and I flew the last two towards home and sped through the finish flags, deciding to wipe out some of the too-slow time faults that Helen had needlessly incurred with her silly fixation on safety.
Safely through the finish flags, Helen unclipped her air vest and patted my neck furiously. I snorted and shook my head. It was insulting to be ridden at such a low level as Training, but I understood that Helen needed to return slowly to eventing, after I had slipped on bad footing six months before, accidentally incurring a brain injury to her fragile skull.
Still, it was annoying to be held back. It was lucky, though, that Helen thought she could hold me in just a slow twist. She didn’t have the upper body strength she did before she took eight weeks off riding and hung out being a vegetable. She thought she was back, but luckily for my mouth, she wasn’t.
Perhaps I’d take it a bit easier on her next time, just ’till she got back to full fitness. It had just been too exciting, and I hadn’t been able to control myself and not gallop wildly across the open fields. Next time, perhaps I’d listen to her for more than half the course, as long as she behaved herself and kept taking me on fun, hand-grazing walks four or five times a day at the next show.
And that, Priscilla, is the story of my recent event with Helen. You’re allowed to talk now. You’ve been very good not to interrupt this whole time.”
“Thanks,” said Priscilla. “It sounds like it was a great weekend! I can’t wait to make her next show even more exciting! I saw on event entries that she has me signed up for a Novice HT in December. I’ll remember all the details and tell you all about it—every buck and rear!”
Pangare smiled and snorted. Priscilla could never be as amazing as he was, but he was sure it would be fun to hear about her efforts. He looked around to ask Briar to be sure to pay attention at the next show, because Priscilla was a very unreliable source, but Briar appeared to have been distracted by some other horse poop.
He turned away and nuzzled Priscilla’s withers briefly and walked beside her to the far pasture, where she couldn’t wait to show him the new green grass, and share it with him, just as he had shared his story with her.
About the Author
Helen Brew has just turned in the first draft of her dissertation, and hopes to complete her PhD in Creative Writing in the spring of 2017. She teaches English at the University of Louisiana, is tolerated by the eight horses on her little farm in Louisiana, and imparts nonsense to those unfortunate enough to be her riding lesson students. Pangare and the rest of the herd put up with her because she is often a source of funny stories that they can tell to their stablemates at shows.