Thursday, June 2, 2011

Retiring Raffles

The story of Gretchen will continue at another time so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, I'm preoccupied thinking about some upcoming horse shows, the last horse shows I will have with Raffles. Raffles is 25 years old now and still lively, sound, and athletic but I decided to retire him from shows while he is still competitive. It's not an easy decision because I look forward to showing him every year. Once I finally found a competition atmosphere that suited him, showing was a lot of fun.

We don't always do well at the shows. There have been a lot of classes in which Raffles performed at his best but the judge preferred a different type of horse. It was frustrating and discouraging at times to not get recognition for my horse's performance but that's all a part of horse shows. The judge is going to have an opinion and his or her own predilections about horses. The horses I compete against are varied, everything from Saddlebreds to Friesians to Quarter Horses and many more breeds in between. A judge who enjoys watching a Saddlebred high-stepping around, barely contained, breathing fire and rolling its eyes, will place one of those over an earth-bound, shuffling, Quarter Horse. Both horse may put in an equally acceptable performance for its breed standard but in an Open class, the judge gets to make a decision.

Getting back on track now... the judging doesn't always go in my favor but when it does, it is a wonderful feeling. The horses at these shows are of very high quality and for my horse to fit in, is like being a member of a country club (only with less golf and more hair).

Honestly, the fun of camping out with my horse for the weekend is half of the reason I like to go. For a weekend, it's just me and Raffles. The situation is more of a rock-star and his personal assistant, however. Over the years, Raffles has become a bit of a celebrity and people will stop by his stall to say hello and tell me how much they enjoy watching him. Not all comments are given in admiration, occasionally, I catch a sour grapes comment that ruffles my feathers, but it's all part of horse shows. For the most part, people are very interested in him (he's usually the only Warmblood there) and complimentary about his performance.

Lately, my son has been joining me at the shows, now that he's old enough to not need constant supervision, and my Mom has come along to some shows as well making it a more of a family event. Sometimes my friends and students will come out to watch Raffles and cheer us on too. As meaningful as that is, I think the most touching moment I've ever had with Raffles was when we were on our own.

It was a crummy weekend anyway, with rain and cold, but then added to that was the addition of a break-up. Steering away from the melodrama, I'll just say that I was sad and lonely on top of cold, wet and not placing particularly well that day. I stood hunched up in my soggy raincoat in Raffles stall (out of the rain for a minute) watching the other classes going on in the ring and may have even been dealing with tears, but that could have just been the rain. I was aware of Raffles behind me and sometimes he will put his head over my shoulder and pull me in towards him to see if I have a cookie. This time was different. He stood very close to me, with his head down by my cheek. He inched closer until his eyelashes brushed the side of my face. Like the "butterfly kisses" I used to give my son when he was a baby, Raffles stayed there for several minutes and every time he blinked, his eyelashes tickled my cheek.

Raffles is a tall horse so he really had to keep his head low to do that. He has never been an affectionate horse so the act surprised me. Even when he was friendly, it was only an effort to mooch another treat. I didn't want that moment to end but eventually the spell was broken and he went back to eating hay and I moved off to try and restore the circulation to my numb with cold fingers and toes.

The small moment that we shared was more meaningful than any of the ribbons we won. It was a moment when Raffles connected to me because he wanted to, not because I asked him to. It was exactly what I needed at that time and for some reason, the big show-off cast off his tough guy persona and was cuddly. Just for a moment though. But that was enough.

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