My first horse show I ever attended was when I was nine years old in July of 1993. I was gap-toothed and still so horse crazy that I woke up at 3:00 AM the day of the show and bugged my mom to braid my hair. The night before, I had been out grooming Opus, the pony that I was taking to the show the next day, to a shine. He looked like a pair of patent-leather saddle shoes. His black body was slick and his white socks were crisp without the slightest hint of dirt on them.
It was an overwhelming experience that day. I didn't quite grasp how horse shows worked, and neither of my parents knew anything. Most of what I accomplished was due in part to the trainers screaming at me and telling me what to do and when to do it. I learned that Saturday that horse shows were not something to be taken lightly and they were a lot of work, physically and mentally. I was such a perfectionist even at the age of nine and took myself so seriously. Rather than being thrilled about my two pink 5th place ribbons, I was a bit disappointed that I didn't win every class. Knowing what I now know, I probably was riding against quite a few other kids, and to have gotten a ribbon at all was quite a feat to be proud of.
Nevertheless, there is one picture from that day that still sits on my bathroom countertop, to remind me every morning of my youthful passion and of the late Opus, one of the most amazing creatures I have ever and will ever encounter. I am grinning from ear to ear and I cannot remember now whether the picture was taken before or after I competed. I am wearing my hunt-coat that I talked my dad into spending $100 on, the coat that my mom could not understand why on earth I would want to wear in the middle of July. Even back then for some reason I understood the importance of respect for my sport. I wasn't required to wear the coat, and I know that my trainer at the time didn't even tell me I had to wear one, but I went out and bought one anyway and refused to take it off in the 90-degree summer heat. Now I listen to 16 year old customers of mine who complain and gripe about wearing their coats even when it's not that hot and I wonder how they can't just realize that it is part of the tradition and beauty that is a horse show.
The facility in the picture is of Kings Bridge Farm, a beautiful and sprawling piece of land in Leander, Texas, which is just northwest of Austin. The land has been owned by the Hummel family for 23 years, and over time, turned into a great labor of love on the part of the people who work there. They have been holding horse shows there for years, and I went from a child to a teen to an adult at Kings Bridge horse shows.
Which brings me to today, Saturday, September 10th. I now go to the horse shows as an employee of Madrone Ranch Stables, where I work, and take a string of new little girls to show their horses. It was a beautiful time of morning, when the sun has just come up and the fields still have a dewy mist and there are still more horses roaming around than spectators. I had just walked over to one of the outside arenas to help my coworker when Steve Hummel, the second-generation Hummel who owns and operates Kings Bridge, came up to us. He told us that he had sold the property for a large sum of money and this would be the final show at the facility, before it was divided and cut up into lots for houses.
The news came as quite a shock, since the rumor mill hadn't made it's way around to us ahead of time. I had felt like shows would continue on at Kings Bridge for years. Suddenly, I turned towards Kings Bridge with new eyes, like when you've gotten used to seeing a familiar object and then one day you see it for the first time ever. I know I had done my fair share of complaining about the facility. There isn't enough shade for the horses tied to the trailers at shows, the footing can go from slick and muddy to hard as a rock in a matter of hours, and usually the shows ran behind schedule. But these were all complaints made under an assumption that Kings Bridge would be around forever. I started to see the history and beauty behind a barn that has seen so much and been such a part of so many people's lives.
It's bittersweet. Steve said he had bought a new piece of property just down the road that he intends to turn into a new barn, perhaps with better planning this time. I could be glad not to have to fight for a parking spot under the one and only tree in the parking lot anymore. And yet...
There is this grove of live oaks that are planted around the main barn that, in the picture of Opus and myself, we are standing in. The trees are still there, and probably most of them will still be there in the coming years. They are a beautiful canopy of leaves and branches that make up a deep shade and a cool reprive during the summer months. There is something about those trees that always will remind me of my first show, my excitement and love of my sport, my infatuation with my pony, and my eventual fate in life.
Me on Audrey Hepburn, showing 9 years later
Kings Bridge Farm, 2002