I can remember it like it was yesterday. The age of five, wearing purple Wranglers at a dusty fairgrounds. I had gone to this Western Pennsylvania Quarter Horse Show with my Aunt Holly and Uncle Bob, most likely as an excuse to get me out of my mother’s hair. They were both ambitiously competing for another AQHA title, and like any young girl, I was quite easy to convince to travel to a show full of ponies. I was going to compete my own pony that I had been taking weekly lessons on, Chocolate, and struggling to memorize that damned barrel pattern.
Why did I have to turn left instead of right? What the hell was clockwise? Why did I have to trot instead of gallop? Who said I couldn’t whip my pony over and under like I see the adults do? This was a scam. I was ready for the pro’s.
So in a huff, my riding instructors daughter and I abandoned ship. We wandered off into the first mud puddle that we could find, and simply began to dig. As I tossed mud at her, and she smacked me with her stick, we realized something: this was love at first horse show.
Our relationship, one that started as “trainers daughter” and “client” soon morphed into something more along the lines of sisters. And like sisters, we loved each other deeply, but fought each other just as much. Both being good riders, we tended to be each other’s competition. And both on rather difficult horses, there was usually one of us heading home quite defeated instead of elated.
But it was in between the shows that the memories were made. While so many were aiming at qualifying for Penn National, we were building forts in the hay loft and being regailed by stories of how her mom once found a homeless person in her childhood hayloft, scaring the bejesus out of us. While some were desperate to make it to Maclay’s, we were finding frozen puddles in the driveway and perfecting our “Michelle Kwan” on paddock boots, sliding into the pavement more times that I can count. And while so many were sweating blood and tears towards Young Riders, we were trying to find ways to steal the tractor in order to get to the nearest gas station for Nutter Butter bars and a cherry coke.
Amy ran away (quite happily) from eventing and found her niche in the hunter world, while I ran away from all competing and found my niche in the delivery and raising of race horses, but we still stayed together at heart. I was there the day that her father passed, as she was for mine. I was the first person she called when her mother had a catastrophic riding accident, and her phone was the first to ring when my Uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And then she held my hand by phone when my Uncle Bob slipped from my life, the only person I knew that I could call who would not judge my grief, guilt, and anger at losing another man from my world. This same Uncle Bob that brought us together as toddler’s, somehow only made us closer as adults.
This past weekend Amy came to visit for Thanksgiving, as we try to see each other as much as possible, but that usually ends up once per year. As we drove to the barn to go check my horses, we began to discuss where everyone else from our riding childhood was. Some are still riding for pleasure, most have moved away and have no connection to horses, but there are only a handful who still compete. Who still devote their lives to this “hobby”. A hobby that becomes so much more. We giggled over memories of thrills and spills, most involving something her mother made us swear we wouldn’t do. But neither of us mentioned a ribbon or a trophy. We didn’t even really remember which show we were riding at that caused the endeavors of our lives. It was so obvious that the all-consuming competition records that had tried to tear us apart were insignificant only 10 years later…
And yet a month ago, I watched hours upon hours of live stream of Penn National just to catch a glimpse of her A/O round, and then two weeks later, she watched the entire live stream of the Retired Racehorse Project Makeover just to see my freestyle. She was the first person to call, to post, to message. She held my hand throughout the journey, from 500 miles away.
There are no stars next to our names, or large pewter trophies in our living rooms. The ribbons I hold most dear are a red one and a black one, both for random reasons. I never made it to Young Riders, just as she never made it to the Maclay’s. But what we lacked in fame, we have now made up for in dedication. In passion. In love for these animals and desire to simply be better. Neither of us are heading to the Olympics, but we are champions in our own right. We are two of the few who “made it through” the teenage years. An accomplishment we realized was quite large on its own.
Nearing 30, we now realize what was important in our teenage years. It wasn’t moving up a level, it sure as hell wasn’t making another rating in Pony Club. It doesn’t matter if we had made it to Young Riders, or the Maclay’s. Because what matters is that we came out the other side as riders who were skilled enough to journey off on our own. We are also two of the blessed who gained a friend for life. But lets be honest, we aren’t friends, we’re sisters. And we know, we are not be sisters by blood, because our bond is even stronger, we’re sisters by barn.