Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Quilts: Why They're Awesome

Last summer I got off my duff and sent the ribbons I amassed over my 10-year adult amateur eventing career to a very talented "ribbon quilter" for a creative display alternative.

Most of my good ribbons I received with my mare Willow Bay are included in a shadow box I had created after she died suddenly in 2002. The bulk in this quilt, however, are the result of my partnership with Rhodes Point, a Thoroughbred gelding I purchased off the racetrack in Pennsylvania in 2002.

In the world of competitive equestrian sport, the adult amateur almost always competes for ribbons only. Seldom do you earn more, and when you do, you feel as if you've hit a lottery jackpot. Case in point: I won a competition with my horse Rhodes Point and received not only a blue ribbon for winning the dressage phase, but also a big blue ribbon for winning the overall division. But the crown jewel was this gorgeous blue tartan waffle-weave Irish knit sheet with the competition name embroidered on the side. All total we might be talking $100 worth of materials and products - and that's not even equivalent to the stabling fee one normally pays for 2 nights of accommodation at an event.

Still, my Irish knit has never been on a horse and is prominently folded and displayed on the wall of my horse trailer dressing room. Why? Because it's symbolic. It represents a weekend in my life when everything came together the way I had dreamed and planned, and reminds me that plotting a course is only part of the process: my grandmother always said, "Pray for the harvest but keep on hoeing," and I think that's maybe appropriate here.

I look at my resulting ribbon quilt wall hanging as I might a mosaic. When they were individual ribbons hanging in the back of the closet, I would occasionally regard them and think specifically about the competition and circumstances that surrounded it. But when I see this display I see a more comprehensive snapshot, and it's not so much about the competition or the horses as it is the process of getting there - the human side of it.

I see my friends in my quilt. Horse people are cut from a different fabric and we're tightly bonded over a passion that consumes us. We stay in roach motels and buy a lot of our apparel at the feed store. I might gag changing a baby's diaper, but I'm rock solid when a horse comes in from the turnout with a ripped off eyelid or I drive up to meet the farrier and a 7-month pregnant mare has aborted in the pasture. (OK, I lie a little ... that one did get to me just from the emotional side of lost opportunity, but I had no problem hefting it all into a trash bag so it could be sent to the state lab for analysis.)

There's a green ribbon included in the quilt which I won at Las Colinas Horse Trials in Dallas just 2 weeks after I found myself single, very suddenly, in 2005. I'd already entered the competition of course 4 weeks prior and found refuge from that trauma in my horse. In fact, I was sitting on his back less than an hour after things came to an end and I had never felt such an overwhelming sense of relief and promise-of-the-future as I did then. I see my friend Shannon in that ribbon, who went with me to hold my hand and help me out. It was hot that early June weekend, and we never left Las Colinas - choosing to eat at Olive Garden and other chain restaurants near the show grounds, and drank Corona Lights as we sat in the barn aisle soaking it all up. The horse show experience is pretty decadent, if you're a horse person.

I remember that being the first cross-country trip I'd had on Rhodey where he grabbed the bit a little and took me on a magic carpet ride. I think he sensed that I needed him to be there for me and the way he stepped up was truly amazing. Shannon was there when I finished, grabbed the reins, and we laughed the entire way back to the barn as she said, "God, you've got the biggest shit-eating grin on your face!" Shared elation is a good thing.

The big blue rosette in the center came off the neck sash we won in Kentucky a few months later. I spent the summer focused like a laser on the team competition I'd entered with some wonderful friends from all over the country - one from Missouri and two from Virginia. That meant saying "no" on more than a few occassions when it would've been great fun to stay out late drinking with my friends. Instead, I had to moderate because I knew it was so hot and my horse had to be ridden early the next morning so as to remain on schedule. Moderation and selflessness are not always my thing, so I take great pride when I see that lesson in my quilt.

My wonderful friend Sue and I made the long journey from Arkansas to Kentucky - she on a new horse - and had our 2nd flat tire in her rig just "this side" of Nashville. We laughed as she timed me changing the tire - 8 minutes - as years earlier when it happened the first time, I surprised both her and Christie when I emerged from my anxiety-ridden shell to model a skill many wouldn't immediately associate with me. It helps when you have a Trailer-Aid.

Sadly Sue's horse was dying to eat when we got to Kentucky and had a bout with "choke," so in addition to the beaucoup she'd laid out to enter and travel to the competition, Sue had to step up to an emergency vet bill within, no lie, 20 minutes of arrival. Again, that's part of the game, and it's what makes the ribbons mean so much.

That weekend could not have turned out more perfect. I took second place in my division (that's the red ribbon!) on my dressage score, and have never been more proud or filled with a sense of "I could die happy today" as I was when my team took our victory gallop around the ring. Even though Rhodey was a little racetrack high, I will never forget looking over at my friend Lisa - shortly after she'd lost her father very quickly to cancer - and hearing her say, "This is the best victory gallop ever." I see that in my quilt so I know that Lisa and her daddy live inside it. And that makes me happy at a time in life when everyone is scared and prone to missing some of the big picture things that matter.

If you're interested, visit and speak directly with Sarah Boudreau. She did an amazing job of giving "life" to a pile of nylon and I will be eternally grateful to her for sharing this light with me.

1 comment:

jane said...

Best piece of writing, yet, my friend.