Last Show of the Season

by Marcia Springston Dillon
Reprinted from the fall 2016 edition of “The Rhododendron.” 

(Editor’s Note: “The Rhododendon” is Mountain State Council of the Blind’s quarterly newsletter.)
My last horse show of the season was a success, and exciting to say the least, due to the bad weather and orneriness of my horse.  I am totally blind, but for several years I have been competing in able-bodied competitions, because the Paralympics has become outrageously expensive.  In the able-bodied competitions I am allowed the accommodation of living letters, which are callers at the letters around the dressage arena. 
My horse’s name is Carousel’s Poco Soldero, but we just call him Sol.  The Spanish name comes from his breeding as an Andalusian.  He is a large fellow with a reddish brown coat, and a blonde mane and tail.  He is a very sweet animal, I love him dearly, but occasionally he shows his ornery streak.  His personality reminds me of Alvin in the old Chipmunks song from back in the ‘60s.  Like Alvin, Sol can perform beautifully if I really let him know who is boss.
Toward the end of summer, when I was trying to practice for the last dressage show of the year, Sol decided to start having horsey tantrums.  It was hot and buggy, and I was working Sol very hard on the circles and figures in our dressage tests.  Dressage is considered to be the high school of riding, where horse and rider perform specific figures with balance and harmony.  At a show each competitor rides a prescribed pattern, one at a time, in front of a judge, receiving scores for each of the moves in the test.  The arena for dressage is a rectangle 20 by 60 meters, and is marked off by a one-foot-high barrier.  Just outside the barrier are letters marking the points where the rider must perform a given move or change of gait.  I am riding at one of the lower levels, because the patterns and moves become much more difficult as you progress up the levels.  Anyway, dressage is definitely a challenge, but thrilling when you and the horse get it right!
The week leading up to our last show was stressful, with torrential rains, high winds, and Sol was still scaring me with his tantrums.  As most blind people have experienced, high wind is disorienting, and to a horse, dried leaves and stuff blowing around is terrifying.  Things were definitely not going my way!  With the encouragement of my husband and my horsey friends, I decided to put my “big girl boots on,” and go to that last show.
The day of the show was Oct. 22nd; the temperature was only 41 degrees, with the wind still blowing, and we were all shivering except for Sol.  I had braided his mane and tail the night before, and I must say, he was looking quite spiffy.  Our trip to the show grounds in Salem, Va. with the truck and trailer took about two hours.  When we arrived at the show we found that several people had not shown up because of the bad weather, but fortunately the 8 people who had volunteered to be my callers were all there!  During the warm-up session is when I teach the callers when to say their letters, because I depend on them for my orientation.  During this practice session Sol spooked at something blowing around, and I almost ran him over the barrier. A few minutes later, there was a big gust of wind, which put me in sort of a white out; I couldn’t hear anything, so I had to just trust my horse for a minute until the wind died down.  Well, when they rang the bell for me to begin my first test, it seemed to finally all come together for us.  The letters were excellent, Sol knew it was show time, and we were definitely in the zone. Sol and I had two nice tests, winning second place ribbons out of six competitors in each class.
Wow, what a show!  I am so fortunate to have a husband who encourages me, friends willing to stand out in the cold shouting a letter for me, and a sassy horse who continues to challenge my courage and riding skill.