Chestnut mares have a reputation, often well earned, to uphold. Just like redheads, they’re presumed hot, with fiery tempers. So when I saw the chestnut mare jigging into the ring, the whites of her eyes showing, with a rookie child rider on her back, I saw disaster headed in my direction.
Judging is not an easy job. Not only does a judge have to sort out the different placings, but it has to be done quickly, while insuring the safety of those within your ring. This means that sometimes a canter must be ended abruptly before you’ve really had a chance to choose the ribbon winners, in order to prevent a horse from building up a head of steam. Safety is always the utmost priority, particularly with children’s classes.
The pair somehow survived the flat classes. The rider, although short on experience, had a measure of tact that helped keep the lid on the mare. And the mare, although she would quicken, never quite reached the boiling point, which allowed me to keep the class rolling and do my job.
Alas, despite my fervent pleas to the horse show gods to the contrary, the mare was entered in an over fences class. It was a simple, twice around the outside, course for maiden riders. Perfect for the mare to gather speed unfettered by a turn or change of direction.
Miraculously the pair proceeded down the first line with both horse and rider emerging intact. After turning and cantering across the short side at the bottom of the ring, they headed for the line up the other long side. As soon as they made the turn I sensed trouble. There was an unsettling look in the rider’s eye.
“Oh oh!” She was going to gun it. And she did. Kicking the mare and flinging her elbows wildly, the rider saw a distance a mile away and asked the horse to go for it. The mare, obligingly enough, took off from the faraway distance.
The rider did not.
Royally left behind, she was thrown out of the saddle and landed off to the right, still on the horse but only because her arms were tightly wrapped around the mare’s neck.
A gasp went up through the crowd, and, I have to admit, my voice was among them. I have a rule. No one gets hurt in my ring. I don’t like to see my rule broken, and it looked like such an occurrence was imminent.
The rider screamed in terror as the pair continued down the line. There was no way she would be able to hold on over the next fence.
Then a hush fell over the terrified crowd. To everyone’s amazement, the mare slowed her freakish pace. Veering gently off to the side of the jump, the horse slowed gradually to a halt. The mare then gently shoved her right shoulder back, boosting her young rider back into the saddle.
Rider and horse were safe. The audience resumed breathing.
“You better thank your horse,” a spectator told the rider as they exited the ring. “She saved you.”
The girl nodded and hugged the mare’s neck.
I should know better than to stereotype. We are all individuals, whether human or horse.