Two years ago, I had just purchased my then-three-year-old Warmblood True.
He’d been with me for three months, and I took him to a small schooling show just to ride in the trailer for a few miles and see some unfamiliar horses. These local events usually draw only 12 or 15 mounts at the end of the summer season. My plan was to simply lead True around on a halter and let him soak up the milieu.
True trailered over like a champ, having practiced loading and unloading frequently. He backed out with interest, craning his head around to see what was in store.
Just then, a palomino dressed in a flowing sequined cape trotted past. The cape was fastened to the rider’s shoulder and draped to the ground where its final four to five feet of blinding silver sequins billowed along behind in the dirt. In other words, it was huge.
True and I both blinked, surprised at the scene. I often have work thoughts on my mind and don’t notice all the facts of everyday life. But now they began to soak through my thick skull and into my head: It was October … hmmm, the end of October. Had the show schedule used the word “Spooktacular?” Oh no. Surely it wasn’t Halloween already. But it was, and all the horses and riders were decked out in costumes.
I instantly regretted my decision to bring a baby horse to this exercise in shying, but we were already there. Might as well take a stroll around before heading home.
True’s eyes widened a little more with each costume we saw. The slender woman wearing the skeleton suit. The horse whose entire body was painted in zebra stripes and rainbow glitter. The pony in the metallic hat with white skulls bouncing up and down as he trotted along in full length tin foil boots, carrying little Dorothy to the Wizard of Oz with her six-foot “magic wand” whip waving in the breeze. The dun with a giant lion ruff velcroed around his throatlatch and neck.
This was all too much for True to take in at a walk. We stopped next to the arena rail and just stared for a while.
After 15 minutes or so, True began to dance and wiggle. He was starting to break a sweat, and his eyes filled most of his face. I walked him some, but it didn’t help. We were in Scary Land for a young prey animal, and with time in this environment, he was becoming more concerned—not less.
I couldn’t believe any self-respecting horse would allow himself to be decked out in these costumes, and from the look on True’s face, neither could he.
Nor could I believe that I—writer of equine prey brains—had delivered my baby to a horror show in a misguided effort to calm him! I regretted the decision to stay and hoped I hadn’t done too much damage. It’s hard to estimate just when a baby is ready for extra-curricular adventure, or how much adventure is likely to be offered at a given event.
We loaded up and drove home, as I envisioned both of us heaving long sighs of relief.
True hasn’t soaked up any more spooktaculars since then. We do our milieu hunting in other months now—with careful advance reading of schedules—and try our best to ignore Halloween. October’s too pretty a riding month to waste time on costumes!
Janet Jones will present “Brain to Brain: Cross-Species Communication between Horses and Riders” at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida, on March 14, 2024. Come to the talk and enjoy the international Winter Spectacular Hunter/Jumper Horse Show too. Learn more and reserve your tickets at https://janet-jones.com/product/janet-jones-ticket-sales.
A version of this story originally appeared on janet-jones.com. It is reprinted here with permission.