Across America, “Regionals” are well underway as the competition heats up for this year’s Equitation Finals. Kim Ablon Whitney and Jennifer Stiller take a moment to reflect back on The Finals of yesteryear and how it compares to today…


After you drop off Jennifer at the barn for the entire day on the week before Regionals, go home and rummage through drawer filled with Guess jeans and leg warmers to find pair of four-way stretch Harry Hall’s and make sure they’re not stained on the butt from when Jennifer oiled her new Beval Devon saddle to break it in. Put Jennifer’s needlepoint belt and her nameplate plaque belt on her bed so she can choose which to wear.

Grab show shirt only to find collar is missing and spend next hour looking through old Care Bears, My Little Ponies, and Breyer models with Kleenex stuck on them as pretend blankets and leg wraps to find missing collar. Take Pytchley wool navy jacket to dry cleaners to have slobber stain removed from the time Jennifer lent it to Kimberly for the recent two-phase Pony Club Rally.

While you’re out, stop by mom and pop drugstore to pick up three-pack of Goodie hairnets for $1.95. Polish Jennifer’s Vogel boots and put them in boot bag with boot pulls. Call the 1-800-number for the Dover Saddlery Catalog and order a new stick since Jennifer lost hers on a recent trail ride, and a new pair of gloves that will stain her hands black.


Realize it’s 7:00pm and you’re an hour late to pick Jennifer up at the barn. Get there to find her covered in dirt and slobber, and hanging out with the seven other barn rats that are still there. Trainer is nowhere in sight. It looked like maybe they were sneaking a cigarette? God, you want a cigarette. Why did you give them up again? Total spent: $40.


Essex-ClassicWhile watching Lily’s third lesson from the air conditioned viewing room, go online on your iPhone and order two new pairs of Pikeur breeches. Also call to make sure Lily’s new Charles Ancona jacket will be delivered before Regionals. Look discerningly at Lily as she rides—are her new Parlanti boots you bought to replace the pair she rode through this summer breaking in sufficiently or will it hinder her performance at Regionals? Obsess mentally about whether the new boots will be a problem and then attempt to clear your mind the way your power yoga teacher instructs you to.

Put a reminder in your phone to send old Parlantis out to be patched so Lily can wear them for schooling. Wonder whether Taylor’s Hermes belt is real like Lily’s or a knock-off. Probably a knock-off. Feel smug about that.

Put another reminder in your phone to make sure all the snaps on all 10 of Lily’s Essex Talent Yarn shirts are working so they don’t fly open on course. Think about how awful it would be if she was beaten out by her supposed best friend Taylor just because her shirt flew open. Take a calming breath and rid yourself of that image. Your therapist has warned you about those negative thoughts of yours.

Make another reminder to check to see she has at least two sets of matching pizza cutter spurs. Make another reminder to get a massage and facial—you’re going to need it with all this stress. For that matter, book a week at Canyon Ranch for November after Finals are over. When lessons are done for the day and Lily has handed her last horse to her groom, blow kisses at trainer, assistant trainer, assistant-assistant trainer, thank barn manager and groom, and take Lily out for salads from Sweet Greens before heading home. Total spent: $3,420.


Double check that the brush box has a full container of hoof oil, a hoof pick, a stiff brush, and a rag. Stop at the local mom and pop tack store for a new bottle of show sheen and dippity-do for braids. Pray Jennifer will make it through to the Garden this year. Also pick up a six-pack of TAB, a bag of carrots, and a few candy bars for the trip.


Schedule one extra lesson where Jennifer will work in the ring without her stirrups instead of galloping through the woods with her friends after she ditched her helmet the moment she got out of sight of the trainer. Horse will be schooled over eq courses so he knows it’s the eq and not the junior hunters or jumpers. Think how fun it will be to watch Jennifer show!


Make sure ring bag has extra supplies of sticky spray, Shout-wipes, a boot-cleaning kit, BPA-free water bottle with infuser, extra battery for iPhone, iPad for videoing, chargers, mints, and Lara bars.


Brace yourself for mega-bill for three trainer pro-rides a week leading up to finals. Watch Lily school over last year’s course that trainer set up in indoor. Watch even more lessons as Lily practices on both her eq horse and her back-up eq horse and her USET horse.

Tell other mothers that you don’t actually care whether Lily places at the Finals, but that the most important thing is that she achieves her personal best and feels satisfied with her performance. Of course, you know all that matters is a goddamn ribbon after all the time you’ve sacrificed and money you’ve spent. Schedule extra session for Lily with her sports psychologist to visualize success (and an extra session with therapist for you).


Remind Jennifer to give horse a half-tab bute.


Approve barn manager ordering extra tubes of Gastroguard, and full sessions with chiropractor, masseuse, and acupuncturist. Agree that vet injecting every possible joint is a no-brainer. Warn husband of impending financial ruin from vet and medication bills.



Check tires and hitch of trailer, fill hay net and portable water jugs. Pack trunk and tack and metal stall door. Take out road maps to make sure you know the best way to go and put them in the front seat for Jennifer to help navigate. Tell husband you’ll call him from pay phone when you get to the show.

Arrive at show after long, tiring drive in your Chevy Suburban listening to Jennifer’s mix tapes and eating Lays chips. Set up stalls, including metal stall door, using endless eye-hooks. Help Jennifer get on. Drink your fourth TAB of the day as she rides around the show grounds.



Get text from assistant-assistant trainer saying horses are off to the show with shipper. Drive peacefully in your Range Rover while listening to Spotify, following your GPS, and drinking ice coffee from Starbucks (ice skim chai for Lily). Post on Facebook: “Headed to Regionals—Good luck, everyone!” while thinking to yourself, “I hope you all chip!” Lily takes a pic of a road sign and adds it to her SnapChat story.


©Ben Garcia/Flickr


The night before the class, hit Friendly’s or Wendy’s for burger and fries with barn-mate, her mom, and trainer. Treat the girls to sundaes. Get back to the hotel room and into bed early. Go to sleep wondering when Jennifer will go in the order.


©Christian Kadluba/Flickr


Find cool sushi place on TripAdvisor and eat delicious gourmet meal of Bigeye Tekka Donburi and Blue Fin Toro Scallion. Drink two big glasses of wine. Meet other moms at hotel bar after dinner for more wine and gossip. Find Lily texting with her boyfriend when you get back to the room. Tell her she has to go to sleep or she’ll ride like crap tomorrow and regret it for the rest of her life.


©Alan Bloom/Flickr

Stalk order-of-go online to see who goes when. Curse that rider favored to win is going right before Lily. End up taking an Ambien so you can stop thinking about the class and finally sleep.


Get up super early so Jennifer can braid her horse. Pick out the stall and refill the water buckets as she braids. Rush up to ring to see the posted order-of-go and course. Say a word of thanks that she goes smack in the middle of the class and not first or last.

Watch the first half of the class and then help Jennifer tack up and get to the ring. After her warm-up, wipe her boots and apply hoof oil. Call “good luck” as she heads into the ring.


Stand near trainer holding your breath. When Jennifer puts in a good trip, burst out in whoops. With that trip, you’re pretty sure you’re headed to The Garden!


Arrive at barn super early to find horse beautifully braided and gleaming, not to mention already schooled by trainer. Bring groom, trainer, assistant-trainer, and assistant-assistant trainer Starbucks so they will pay more attention to Lily but act like it’s just out of the goodness of your heart. Post to Facebook: “So nervous for Lily, but I know she’ll do her best!”


©Janice Byer/Flickr Creative Commons

Make emergency call to sports psychologist when you find Lily crying in the car. Get her centered again and ready to ride.

At the ring, watch from the stands because of the unwritten 50-foot rule. When Lily’s amazing ex-grand-prix-horse-turned-eq-horse manages to make three tight distances look downright acceptable, burst out in whoops. With that trip, you’re pretty sure you’re headed to Kentucky!

About the Author

Kim Ablon Whitney’s latest novel in the Show Circuit Series is Hunter Derby. Sign up for her mailing list to stay up to date on the series.