7 – The Fairfield Horse Show

Harry and Dave Kelly had met at many horse shows. The two men liked and respected each other. The stars of the horse show circuit were the rich amateurs who could compete in the Olympics. They often paid professionals to ride their horses in horse shows, but only amateurs could enter the Olympics. A horse is an expensive pet. To compete in the top shows, a rider needed more than one horse. To be an Olympic competitor, a rider had to be very rich, very wealthy, and an amateur.

Professional riders were not often wealthy. Harry and Dave Kelly were excellent riders, but the prizes were not big and their sport was expensive.  Unable to ride in the Olympics because they were not amateurs, they had few chances of becoming famous. They did become good friends, sharing their problems, their difficulties and their love of horses.

Harry decided to take Dave’s advice to take Snowman to the show in Fairfield, Connecticut. He could take three horses to the Fairfield show, Snowman, Wayward Wind and a horse that belonged to one of his students, horse, Night Arrest. Riding three horses, Harry would need help with the others while he was in the ring. He asked two friends, Joe “the Pollack” Keswyzk and Jim Troutwell, to help him. Jim and Joe would be his grooms.

On June 18th, Joe, Jim and Harry put the horses in the van and drove to Westport, Connecticut. Johanna and the children followed in the station wagon. It was a cool day and it looked like it was going to rain. When they arrived at the beautiful Fairfield County Hunt Club, they saw handsome horses, expensive cars and well-dressed people. Many of the competitors often had their names in the society columns of the newspapers. Snowman was not a handsome horse with an expensive pedigree. He had no papers. Harry didn’t have a Rolls-Royce. He drove an old station wagon and he didn’t have a tailor. But Harry believed in his horse. He believed in his chances. Harry believed Snowman was as good as the best. Harry believed Snowman could win.

On June 19th, Joe, Jim and Harry cared for the horses. They brushed and cleaned them. They fed them, they gave them fresh hay and grain, they watered them. Harry exercised them. They cleaned the saddles and bridles. Harry hung Wayward Wind’s blue ribbon from the Sands Point Horse show beside her box. Then beside Snowman’s box he hung all the blue and red ribbons and the tricolor ribbon that he had won as show champion. Many people came to look at the “Cinderella” horse, but they did not think he would win at Fairfield. They thought he had been lucky at Sands Point. He was a calm horse, too calm to be a great champion. He liked visits and one of the de Leyer children was often in the box with him. Chief and Harriet and Marty liked to brush Snowman and pet his shoulder and give him apples and carrots. Snowman liked the children and enjoyed being petted. He was always calm in his box and the other horses were calmer when he was near them.

The next day, June 20th, was the first day of the competition. In the first class, Snowman and Harry were competing against Andante and Dave Kelly. First Chance, a young mare with a lot of potential and many fans, was also competing against them. The rain had started and didn’t stop. On the first round Andante made a bar fall. First Chance and Snowman had clean rounds. They both scored zero faults. To decide who was the winner, the workers put the bars higher. The team of workers prepared the obstacles for every class. When a horse made a pole fall, the workers, the jump crew, put it back. The jump crew at Fairfield wore white uniforms, but it was raining and the arena was muddy. There was a lot of mud. The jump crew worked in the mud and they had mud on their white uniforms.

Harry sat on Snowman in the rain and watched First Chance fly over the obstacles. She was a gallant competitor. Again, First Chance scored zero faults. Harry watched her leave the arena. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and his hair was wet. “You can win this,” he said to Snowman. “You must win this. You will win this. You shall win this.”

He touched Snowman’s sides lightly with his heels. Snowman cantered into the arena, into the ring. He jumped over the first obstacle, high and wide. Harry kept the reins loose, letting Snowman reach out with his neck. The mud didn’t bother Snowman; it wasn’t a problem for him. Like First Chance, he flew over every obstacle and scored zero faults. The two horses had the same score. Again, they were tied.

The jump crew ran into the arena, into the ring. They raised the bars. Now the bars were higher. Now they were five feet six inches high. (They were one meter sixty-five centimeters high.) First Chance went first. She touched a bar. The pole fell. First Chance scored one fault. Then it was Snowman’s turn.

If he scored zero faults, he would win the class. If he touched a pole, he would again be tied with First Chance, and the two horses would be obliged to jump another round. If Snowman knocked down two poles, First Chance would win.

Harry looked at the obstacles. “You can do this,” he told Snowman. “You must win this class. You will win it. You shall win it.”

Snowman moved his ears. He was listening to Harry. Harry touched his sides and the big grey gelding cantered into the ring. Harry looked at the first obstacle and let the reins go. Snowman jumped high. Horse and rider flew over the obstacle. As they landed, Harry was already looking at the next jump. He guided Snowman around the course and Snowman flew over every obstacle. Snowman liked to jump. He enjoyed jumping. Jumping was fun. The big grey horse scored zero faults. He won the blue ribbon.

“You won!” cried Harry. The children were clapping their hands. “You won again, Snowman!” they shouted.

He wasn’t the only horse from Hollandia to win a ribbon that day. Harry rode Night Arrest and Wayward Wind in the next class. He rode both horses in the same competition. It was still raining. It was raining more and more. It was raining harder and harder. Harry was wet. His hair was wet, but he didn’t care. He concentrated on his horses and on the obstacles. Night Arrest won first place, the blue ribbon. Wayward Wind won second place, the red ribbon. Horses from Hollandia won first and second place. The farm was gaining a reputation.

The next day was Saturday. It was still raining. There were not many spectators. People who wanted to see the horses compete carried umbrellas. They wore boots for walking in the mud. Many of the horses and their riders were nervous. They were worried about the mud. There was a lot of mud. A horse could slip and fall in the mud. If the horse fell, the rider and the horse could be hurt. They could both be hurt.

Harry was not worried about the mud. He had ridden Snowman on many outdoor rides with his students. Snowman never fell. His feet were sure. He was sure-footed. Harry talked to the big grey. “Don’t worry about the mud,” he told Snowman. “You can do it. You must do it. You will do it. You shall do it,” he said.

And Snowman did it. He jumped every obstacle and each jump was clean. First Chance, the pretty young mare, also had a clean round. Once again the two horses were tied. The jump crew raised the bars. Now the obstacles were higher.

This time Snowman was a little too confident, a little careless. Or maybe it was Harry who was too confident. The big grey touched a pole.  The pole fell. Snowman had knocked down a pole. First Chance won the blue ribbon. Snowman won the red ribbon.

In the next class Andante, ridden by Dave Kelly, won the blue ribbon. Harry was happy for his friend. Snowman won the red ribbon. Harry had entered Snowman in seven classes. Snowman won seven ribbons. The de Leyer family was very happy. The children were proud of their champion and they were very proud of their father.

Sunday was the last day of the show. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining. Today there were a lot of people watching the show. There were families and children. They were talking and laughing together. Snowman’s ears moved and pointed and turned. He seemed happy. He seemed to like crowds. He looked at the children and winked at them.

Snowman and First Chance were both competing in the last class. The horse that won the last class would be the champion of the show. First Chance was younger than Snowman and she was prettier. She was also lighter than the big grey gelding. It was easier for her to jump. Her rider, Adolph Mogavero, was an experienced professional. It would not be easy to defeat First Chance. It would be difficult to beat her. She was tough competition. But Snowman was also competing against his pasture friends, his stablemates, Night Arrest and Wayward Wind. Harry de Leyer was riding all three Hollandia horses in the same contest. Joe and Jim prepared the horses and held them. Harry rode Wayward Wind first. She had a clean round. Then he rode Night Arrest, who also had a clean round.

Then he rode Snowman into the arena and his riding style changed. Night Arrest and Wayward Wind were nervous and difficult horses. He had to control them carefully and contain their energy. He rode Snowman with loose reins. Riding Snowman was all about communication. The horse had an enormous heart. He would do anything Harry asked him to do, as long as he understood. As the two of them cantered around the course, Harry spoke quietly to his big grey horse in Dutch and Snowman’s ears moved, listening to his rider.

Canter. Count. One. Two. Three. Jump. Lift your knees. Up, up, over. Land and look at the next jump. Around the course they went and Snowman flew over the obstacles, one after another. Then they were over the last obstacle and Snowman had scored a perfect round with zero faults. They had won the class. They had won the show championship. Snowman had another blue ribbon and another tricolor ribbon. They had also won $200. Not a lot of money if you are rich and wealthy, but to Harry and Joanna it was a lot. They felt rich.

But the show was not yet finished. There was one more class, a special class that was reserved to grooms and lads. Joe and Jim came to talk to Harry.

“Hey, Harry,” said Joe the Pollack. “I heard you say that Snowman is easy to ride.”

“Sure he is,” said Harry. “All year I use him at the school. He ‘s a lesson horse. I put beginners on him.”

“Well, Jim and I were thinking. There’s a good prize for the grooms’ class. We have a friend who’s a good rider. Do you think he could ride Snowman? If he wins, we could split the prize money three ways. One part for Jim, one part for me and one part for our friend. What do you think? Could we use Snowman?”

Harry laughed. “Of course you can. The two of you have been a big help to me. Tell your friend to give Snowman his head when he jumps. The horse knows his job.”

So Snowman’s big day was not finished. Joe and Jim took off Harry’s saddle and brushed the big grey until he shone. Their friend, Sam, came and introduced himself to his four-legged partner. Sam was small and dark and very young. He gave Snowman a carrot and Joe helped him climb up on the big gelding’s back.

Most of the crowd had stayed for the “grooms’ bonus thriller”. It was an exciting competition because the grooms rode without saddles, so there were a lot of falls. The families in the stands had just seen Snowman collect a silver plate and a tricolor ribbon as Show Champion, so they were surprised to see him return with a little groom riding him bareback. Most of the other stars, like Andante and First Class, were already in their trailers on their way home. The crowd cheered and applauded the champion who had stayed for the grooms’ competition. Snowman seemed to enjoy their approval as his little ears moved from side to side.

There were always falls and laughter in the “grooms’ bonus thriller” but Snowman carried his little groom around the course without touching a bar and won the blue ribbon, the first prize. Sam, Joe and Jim shared the prize money and gave Snowman a big bag of carrots.

Back home, Harry thought about how much Snowman seemed to enjoy jumping. He decided to put an obstacle up in the middle of Snowman’s pasture. And later he saw the big grey jump over the obstacle for fun, just for fun. After that, there was always an obstacle in Snowman’s pasture.

Wealthy – rich

Groom – a person who takes care of a horse. Sometimes grooms can become jockeys. A horse can be very attached to its groom.

Station wagon – “un break”

To pet – caresser un animal

Both – tous les deux

Jump crew – team that is responsible for setting up the jumps and putting poles back in place when they fall.

Muddy – boueux

Mud – la boue

Ring – an enclosed space used for a jumping competition. It can also mean the space used for a boxing match.

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