My Favorite Mug
Today, because it's currently -2 outside, I'm clearly not riding, and because sitting in front of a toasty wood stove and drinking coffee is the best activity ever, I'm going to tell you the story of my favorite mug. It's horse-related, I promise.
Our story begins during the winter of my senior year in college the day before an early spring season IHSA show. The entire team was down at the equestrian center for one last lesson, barn cleaning, and course set-up before our home show the next day, and having had a very successful season so far, I was looking forward to the show. (Fun fact! Before I started riding jumpers, focusing on dressage, and eventing, I was a Hunter/Eq princess!)
That is, until my lesson. I was assigned to ride a Welsh Cob pony named Patriot, and we did NOT get along. At all. This pony took every pony stereotype to the max, and while I was physically able to get him to walk, trot, and canter around, it was not pretty, it was not fun, and it was not a winning equitation performance.
I felt frustrated, not well-prepared for my class the next day, and a little downtrodden that as a self-proclaimed Expert Pony Rider, I had met a pony that I just didn't mesh with. But, I told myself, as long as I didn't draw Patriot for my class the next day, everything would be fine. I knew I could ride any other horse in the barn that would be put in my division.
Show day dawned early and cold, and in addition to helping run our home show, competing, and carrying the weight of knowing I was point rider for my division, Michael - who at that point in time I had just started casually dating - AND my parents would be there. This was not a high-stress situation or anything. Nope.
As another aside, the way our IHSA team worked was that no rider was explicitly told that they were point rider for their division - in other words, their points contributed towards the overall team score. It was the general consensus that never knowing if your ride "counted" or not would help every rider on the team step up their game in the ring. However, when your coach throws you up on your horse, adjusts your stirrups, and tells you, "You need to win this class. We need those points." and sends you into the ring, it's 100% likely that you are the point rider. And after riding on the team for several years, you start to figure out when the "You need to win" talk is coming before it happens.
You've probably already deduced that when the horse draw was completed for my class, next to my name was that of Patriot, demon-spawn pony from Hell.
At this point I almost cried.
My team was counting on me and I had to ride the one horse in the entire barn that I just could. not. ride. Not to mention that I really wanted to impress the cute new guy in my life, and my parents didn't drive an hour to stand around in the cold at a horse show to see me lose. But, sometimes you just have to cowgirl up.
So my coach gave me a leg-up, adjusted my stirrups, gave me the "You Must Win" motivational speech, and sent me in the ring for my flat class.
And I rode my butt off.
The walk and trot were going surprisingly well - I was able to keep Patriot moving along at a nice little clip, and I knew I looked good. I've always enjoyed the strategy of a well-ridden flat class: floating down the quarterline in front of the judge, positioning my horse in just the right place in the pack, and showing off my flatwork skills.
Then came the canter, and little Patriot Hellspawn Pony decided that this would be the absolute best time in the world to go BUCKING ACROSS THE ARENA LIKE A RODEO BRONC. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the canter - in both directions - had more 'strides' of buck than of canter. But when you're in the middle of an equitation class at an IHSA show and your coach is staring lasers into the back of your helmet, you just keep riding. There is no giving up. So I kept riding.
Feeling defeated, I walked the pony to the center of the ring for the line-up. I had done my best, but Patriot's display of athleticism would probably keep me out of the ribbons, and keep my team from perpetuating our undefeated title. I sat ramrod-straight on that pony waiting for the judge's decision. Because in IHSA you don't slouch even when you think you've just let your entire team, your parents, and your very cute new love interest down. Coach gets upset if you slouch.
The PA system crackled to life and I listened with bated breath. Maybe I looked ok enough to snag a 6th place even though the canter had been a total hot mess.
"In first place, number 507..."
SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.
507. That was ME!
I nudged Patriot forward to collect my prize - a shiny blue ribbon and a hand-painted mug stuffed full of horse treats and peppermints. I don't think I'd ever felt so relieved in my life! Despite the pony's bad behavior, the judge had seen fit to reward my composure and ability to ride through it, and the day was saved. That is, after all, the true spirit of equitation: rewarding beautiful, effective riding.
For the rest of the day I wore a grin a mile wide - I had done right by my coach, my team, my parents, and Michael. Nothing could bring me down!
And that, friends, is the story of my favorite mug, and why I treasure it so.