WIth Blinders On

Written By: joan rory  Vecsey

There are always tears at horse shows. Usually this occurs as the riders exit the Short Stirrup or Children’s Hunter Rings.

But most of the time, the girls and most of the time they are girls, even in the 9 (year old) & under class are feisty, serious, athletic, hard working and in love with the ponies who are also feisty, serious, athletic and hard working.

When I would arrive on the show grounds with my daughter, I stayed. The day started the night before with a bath for the pony and a tack cleaning extravaganza. Every summer, she did the Salt River Shows in Center Moriches, the Byway Shows, also “up island”, and the much heralded  local Sag Shows. There were and still are two, in mid July and mid August. The competition is always a step above the other shows and made for a nice prep for the potential glory of winning a ribbon at the Hampton Classic.

Loving horses, but never having the opportunity to ride as a child, I was more groom than Mommy. I watched, worried, brushed, ran between rings and provided cheers and consolation, discussing jump courses on the ferry rides to and from Shelter Island.

I was barely a rider,  having the fearlessness of my youth stomped out of me. Taking just one lesson a week, I was watching 8 year olds ride tougher courses while they encouraged me. “You looked really good, Mrs. Vecsey, except for that turn but he (the horse) was being a brat, “little Margo would imitate her trainer.

My daughter, Taylor  and I began riding at a one woman barn on Shelter Island and soon followed Leslie Neumann when she took the trainer’s position at Stonyhill Stables in Amagansett. Leslie exuded confidence and toughness and understanding of all horses, the good and not so good.

My daughter did pony camp 5 days a week, later lessons 3x a week. It was a juggling act with her younger brother playing basketball at the great program run by William Hartwell at the Youth Park, in Amagansett. But that was at night.

During the school year, the only lesson  time slot available for us was Saturday and Sunday at 9am. Every weekend we made the trip from the city. Every weekend it was worth it.

In those days, all the children tacked up their ponies, cleaned their tack and would be honored if Elizabeth, aka Wickety, Hotchkiss, who owned and ran the stable,  would ask them to help with any chore.

I watched a whole group of girls grow taller, and jump higher, work harder and learn more. They all came back year after year.

My daughter needed something, I can not remember what, but needed it enough that I left the show grounds. The Sag Shows are at the production of the Toppings Riding Club founded well over 40 years ago. “Calling it a day, Joan?” Scott Rogers who trailered the horses and kept their feet in shape called out. “No just a run to the General Store.”

The weather made me feel good. Not too hot. Not too many flies and Taylor already had a few good trips.

On my return from the Sagaponack General store I made the sweeping turn on Gibson Lane, giving way to full view of the grounds. I found myself braking slowly as I witnessed, as if for the first time, the pageantry spread out before me. The car was moving in slow motion. As were my eyes. The paddocks and rings dotted with horses and ponies, some being walked in summer sheets, others being lunged, many being held or ridden by little girls in pigtails, braids, colorful ribbons in their hair, prize ribbons of blue, red and green in their hands. Mothers clapping. Trainers shouting.

I gasped and tears tolled down my cheeks. It dawned on me what never did. I summered in Shelter Island since I was 6 months old. This was here when I was 9 and under. This all was here! Right here in Sagaponack. Right here for the taking. For the willingness to work and earn rides. Twenty minutes away at most.

All the excuses I had allowed my mother fell off and out of my mind. I was not crying for the opportunity missed. I was crying for the child who was kept on the lunge line by a narcissistic parent. One ear and one eye on Mommies Dearest and her life, her routine. I cried for the child who was beaten at her own dining room table for poor penmanship, for a missed spelling word. Cried for the child forced to excel in academia,  for the girl who was feisty, serious, athletic and hard working who had a lead rope on her bike that was named “Sugarfoot.” I cried for the kid who wanted to dance and sing in a school program and just watched as my mother looked at the school flyer, tossed in in the basket and said, “This isn’t for you.” I was puzzled for the child I was who swam faster, mountain biked with her Schwinn, beat her cousins in most games, put on variety shows in her garage and yet would not rebel. I was the horse that would never buck or bolt.

I suppose my rebellion was raising my son and daughter differently. Maybe it is also in my animal rescue work. Making it about them. Opening every door they may want to see beyond and telling them they have a right to stand there.

The children cry because they didn’t ride well enough or the pony didn’t have a good enough go of it. Every day horses, dogs and cats are deemed not good enough and discarded. As are children. But not being good enough is not the issue. It is not being  enough to be given a chance to be good.