I recently spent two days digging through junk and sweeping spider remains into a dustpan—finally purging my basement. As I sifted through outdated clothing, old files, and an assortment of phone chargers, I stumbled upon the box.
I pulled at the interlocking cardboard flaps. Worn and soft with age, they slipped open easily. Inside, brightly colored ribbons shone under the lights. I smiled, reaching inside and pulling out a fistful of memories. Turning the ribbons over in my hands and without looking at dates, I could almost guess the year of each one just by the skill of the penmanship.
There were ribbons for Jessie, an unregistered Quarter-type pony, who for 25 years now has rested peacefully on my parents’ farm in Charlestown, Indiana. There were ribbons for Snake, a palomino Quarter Horse mare and my 4-H project, whom we lost to a stroke on Thanksgiving in 2000. And ribbons that Roanie, a red roan Quarter Horse gelding, had won when he was just 4. Now 27, he’s been part of the family for more than half my life.
Under the ribbons was a single piece of yellowed paper bearing the number 92. On the back of the number card, printed in an 11-year-old’s hand, was “First Show, June 26, 1982.”
‘Just for Fun’
Ah, yes. The day came flooding back.
Though I’d spent my childhood weekends on a pony—following my horse-crazy mother down roads, creek beds, and wooded trails—this day was different. On this overcast summer morning, my mom and I accompanied friends to a local horse show at the Georgetown (Indiana) Optimist Club. “Just for fun,” my mother told me.
Ginger, my 13-hand unregistered Appaloosa pony, was a packer. A solid 12-year-old, she could navigate any stream, hill, or obstacle. Nothing fazed her—not traffic, dogs, or trash cans. Still, a show pony she was not. Undaunted, my mother paid $2 to enter me in a pleasure class, telling me simply to do what the announcer instructed.
You know how there’s always one kid who stands out for all the wrong reasons? I was that kid. The one whose pony laps everyone else—on the wrong lead. The one who can’t get her pony to back up. The one wearing the carnival cowboy hat.
All the same, I won a ribbon that day. It was a white one, and I’m pretty sure it was for last place, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked. More than 30 years later, I gazed at the back of that exhibitor number, recalling how my mother had pinned it to a borrowed plaid shirt that was several sizes too large for me.
I also remembered what the concept of “first show” had meant to me. Even at 11, I knew the implications and was bold enough to declare “first” proudly in writing. This was my debut competition, but I dreamed of another, and another. In my little-girl heart, I knew that show was only the beginning.
Good Rides, Good Times
Those days, like that pony, are long gone. My mother has passed on. That arena is now a parking lot. But my love for horses is the same. And now, just like then, I’m always eagerly awaiting the next show.
These days I ride my reining horse, Blackie, in preparation for show seasons that have given us good rides and good times across five states. After a recent ride, I brought him a carrot and knelt to rub down his legs. He lowered his head and nuzzled me, searching for another treat, his gentle eye meeting mine in a moment of kindness.
That bond between horse and human is ineffable. Friends as well as partners, we trust one another. We communicate through body language and sometimes almost a sixth sense. We work, learn, and grow together.
As riders, we hope our performances will be rewarded with applause and blue ribbons. Deep down, though, we know the best reward is simply a good ride.
I placed the box back on the shelf. Some other day, when I’m again feeling nostalgic, I’ll return and open it and take in the colors once more. I’ll hear the announcer call our names, and then my mother’s praise in my ear. I’ll smell that sweet equine scent, and smile as I recite the name of every horse I’ve ever loved, remembering a little girl who dared to dream of another show.
Diane Staton is a freelance writer in Harned, Kentucky. Her current gelding, Banjos Black Cat (“Blackie”), has been her reining partner for four years. Staton lives with her significant other, Barry Haynes, on his family farm, where they enjoy riding and showing reiners. “We also love country living and our friends,” she says.