SAUGERTIES, NEW YORK—Claire Fisher did not have the round she was hoping for in her Pony Medal class on Saturday during the HITS Saugerties Horse Show.
After circling once, pulling a rail, and going off-course before accidentally cantering out the in-gate, Claire’s trainer, Jane Heughan, could barely contain her frustration.
“I could tell she was mad at me from the color of her face,” said Claire, age 7. “When her eyebrows arch all funny, and the top of her cheeks turn splotchy and purple like that, I know she’s not happy.
“Jane says all the time that she’s working on her anger issues in therapy. I think it’s working, because she took a lot of deep breaths, but she didn’t scream. She just told me to get off my pony, and go over to the rail ‘and watch a few’ while she and my mom took [my pony] Dale back to the barn.”
Claire found a shady spot in the exhibitor’s pavilion and watched the rest of her class go.
Then, she watched all of the Green Pony hunter divisions, the Novice Child/Adult Hunters, and a few dozen exhibitors in the Low Adult Hunter Over Fences. Of the hundreds of trips she saw, Claire says she counted four refusals, one unplanned dismount, and many, many water and drag breaks.
By the time the last horse was on course for the final class of the day—the Bit of Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby—it was nearly 5 p.m., and the majority of exhibitors had already cleared out. Finally, as the sun dipped low on the horizon, it was just Claire, a few Spring Peepers croaking, and the jump crew, setting the course for the next day’s classes.
“I really wasn’t worried,” said Claire, adding that she knew her mother had gone home to relieve her father at her brother’s baseball game. “I figured Jane would come get me, eventually, and if not, we had some ponies going again on Sunday, so I knew someone would definitely be back by then.”
The mixup was a script straight out of Home Alone. Claire’s mother assumed she went to dinner and a sleepover with her barnmates, while Coach Jane assumed the seven-year-old had watched a few more ponies, as instructed, and then went to see her brother’s baseball game with the family.
“I started getting a little cold and hungry when the moon came up, but then I remembered had a fleece in my backpack and some some stale pretzels and car snacks, and a handful of mints for the ponies,” said Claire, adding that at some point in the early evening, she narrowly avoided a confrontation with a passing raccoon, eyeing up her empty can of Pringles.
“I fended him off though!” she added, excitedly. “I found a cooler someone had left behind one ring over, and I fell asleep right there.”
When a groom showed up the next morning with his first horse of the day, he offered Claire half of his breakfast sandwich and a bottle of Coke, which she eagerly accepted. “I know my mom was really mad at Jane when she found out she’d abandoned me at Hunter 2. But, it wasn’t all that bad.
“Plus, by the time Jane showed up at the ring the next morning, I’d already learned all my courses for the day. I knew how the lines rode, and where my approaches and turns would be.”
Asked whether Jane apologized for the mix up, Claire replied: “I think so? She asked me how many strides the outside line rode in and I was ready for her.
“I said, ‘Jane, the diagonal line with the red flowers rides in a six. Weren’t you watching?!’”