For me, the writing’s on the wall.
I can’t actually remember when I first realized I was a highly superstitious person. It might have been in my teenage years, while slipping on a dirty pair of hole-ridden boot socks, which, in my estimation, had given me a solid round in my equitation class the Friday before.
Whether the miraculous power of unwashed socks worked again in my favor that weekend, I can’t say. I never did make it to Maclay Finals, so I know they can’t work miracles. Regardless, my ability to endow inanimate objects with preternatural powers has not, I’m ashamed to say, diminished much with age.
“Do I need to pack the coat? I can pack the coat,” my friend Melissa, a known superstition-enabler, told me recently as we planned our next trip to Florida to compete.
After forgetting to bring my own coat to the ring one day during our previous trip, I’d jumped a successful clear round in hers, a happy event that occurred after a series of messier classes earlier in the season. Just like that, Melissa’s navy Animo became my lucky jacket. We have yet to discuss whether she gets a share in any prize money I win while in it, but she supports my need to wear it. (After all, you can’t put a price on good luck, or peace of mind.)
But my pathology isn’t just show clothing-related.
I’m equally unhinged about tack (using the same proven show girth; tacking up the same way every time before a class); and my warm-up routine (patting my horse when I mount up before sitting down in the saddle; jumping my first fence off the left lead). I don’t eat, or at least eat anything substantial, until my ride is over, a strategy that may have more to do with nerves than superstition. Regardless, it has resulted in more than one bout of lightheadedness on hot days.
In my 20s, I began bunking with friends at horse shows, and was peer pressured into giving up the foul, unwashed sock routine. But I did take up wearing a pair of lucky earrings a few years ago and became a bit of a zealot about it, once returning to my hotel room to grab them even though I was already running late for the show. That lasted a couple of years, until I misplaced them. Nothing earth-shattering ensued, but I’ve prayed to Saint Anthony many times for their safe return.
I come by these idosyncracies honestly, courtesy of a long line of superstitious Irish stock on my mother’s side. Apparently, if my own family lore is any indication, the ‘luck of the Irish’ is something you can actually manufacture if you knock-wood enough times.
Growing up, my mom routinely warned me to cry out “Kinehora!“(KAY-nah HOR-a) any time I inadvertently spoke a jinx aloud. Sometimes, this expression was followed by three, “poo-poo-poos,” which initially struck me as funny. But it was no laughing matter for my mother, who said it each time sternly and with gusto, sometimes while knocking wood. It became a lesson I took to heart.
I’d always assumed that Kinehora was another bit of my Mom’s Celtic folklore-ary, the same as being the first one to spot a rainbow, or pluck a four-leaf clover. For decades, after inadvertently speaking aloud such taboo statements as, “I haven’t fallen off in years,” or, “he’s never been lame a day in his life!” I would immediately shout “Kinehora!” into the ether, willfully calling to mind the ghost of my Irish forefathers. The incantation spoken, I prayed that they might take pity on me, and lift the hex of my verbal folly.
I always assumed Kinehora must have been spelled something like ‘Conna-hurraugh,’ perhaps deriving from the same county in Ireland as those adorably athletic Connemara ponies. Alas, I only recently discovered that ‘Kinehora‘ is actually a contraction of three Yiddish words used to ward-off the evil eye, something my mom undoubtedly picked up from Jewish friends while living in Fort Lauderdale.
In other words, the meaning may have been the same, but the prayers to my forefathers must have gone astray. As, I expect, did the jinx anti-venom. Maybe the evil eye isn’t big on spelling.
Strange as it may seem to saner sorts, I know I’m not alone in my superstitious tendencies. Equestrian sport is rife with finger-crossing grooms and riders with rabbit feet tucked in their pockets ringside, and, I can only assume, shelves of crystals hidden away in the closet at home.
Once, while watching a trainer-friend jump the grand prix for the second week in a row at the World Equestrian Center in Ohio, our barn manager was practically apoplectic when she realized our group had forgotten to stand in the same places we’d been for his successful result a week earlier. (I should say, in that instance, he did win the class after we’d repositioned).
Top Danish dressage rider Cathrine Dufour’s lucky teddy bear makes an appearance on the kiss and cry at most championships, while British eventer Piggy French admits she feeds every four-leaf clover she can find to her horse before mounting up at competition.
According to Dr. Stuart Vyse, who’s authored numerous books on the topic, about 50 percent of people consider themselves to be superstitious. From a psychological perspective, Vyse adds, these beliefs—which have been with society for millennia—cut to the heart of our need for control, especially when it comes to important life events.
And when it comes to riding horses, who can blame us?
In a sport that can cost thousands of dollars to simply walk in the door, and a hair’s breadth of wind from a hind leg can send rails and dreams tumbling to the ground, it’s little wonder so many of us will take every bit of help we can get. I’m an amateur, after all. I may lose track of my horse’s shoulder or forget to ride the back rail of the oxer when it counts.
But neglect to intentionally skip the back loop on my pants while putting on my lucky show belt? Not on your life.