As the first rays of the sun peak over the horizon, penetrating the dark, soft light illuminates the mist rising up from the ground, forming an eerie, almost surreal landscape. The ground sparkles, wet with dew, and while walking from the truck to the barn, my riding boots soak it in. The crickets still chirp, only slower now. They know that daytime fast approaches. Sounds, the soft rustling of hooves, a snort, and from far down the aisle a sharp whinny that begs for breakfast, inform me that the crickets are not the only ones preparing for the day.
Sliding the barn doors open, I step into a warm, comforting environment. Musty straw mingles with the sharp aroma of pine shavings, complementing each other. A warm glow from sporadically placed incandescent lightbulbs richens the leather tack, all cleaned and hanging ready for the day's use. From it wafts the smell of a new pair of shoes. The fruity essence of "Show Sheen", applied after yesterday's baths, still lingers in the air. Even the harsh stinging scent of urine and manure is welcome at this early morning hour. Breaking open a bale of hay, I sense the sweetness of the dried timothy as it engulfs my olfactory system, making me wish my queasy stomach had not made me skip breakfast. I am nervous, as are many others. I know that the day ahead will bring excitement, dread, triumph, and defeat. The unpredictable nature of horse shows causes frenzied questions, like salmon spawning, to run constantly though my mind. Will the judge like my own particular style? What if the red flowers bordering the first jump spook my horse? What if a piece of paper on the ground blows into the ring? Will this horse show be a success? The outcome depends not just on me; but also on my partner, my friend, my horse.
Her name is Scarlett, and she is as willful and spoiled as the literary character of the same name. She's a red-head, a rich glowing chestnut, behaving like a perfect lady one second, then erupting, fiery and mean the next. I recall numerous occasions where she chased me from her stall, tired of my attention. Her petulance caused me much grief and physical pain. Many times I became airborne, landing in a twisted heap, bruised and battered, after Scarlett, objecting to some trivial annoyance, bucked me off. Her rebellious, unpredictable behavior factored into my nervousness. Often, I was excused from the show ring due to Scarlett's misbehaving. Blaming her for this would do no good. She is only five years old, young and inexperienced. This, added to the fact that she is a Thoroughbred, a breed notorious for unpredictability and flightiness, explains her behavior. But she loves her job, loves to jump, and rarely does she refuse a fence. With time, training, and many horse shows, Scarlett has the potential to shine.
The Hartwood Show Jumping Festival, held near Hartwood Acres, which lies twenty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh, is, without...