Here I sit, 32,000 feet above sea level on a jumbo jet, on my way home from a really fantastic weekend. As I may have mentioned, I was in Springfield MA for Equine Affaire—one of the premier horse expos in the country. Although I did not know it until this weekend, this was the 19th Equine Affaire I have attended as a clinician. I am not sure what year was my first, probably 98-99, or somewhere in that vicinity, but I was surprised to find out that I had been a presenter at that many shows—spread out between their Massachusetts, Ohio and California events.
When I first started, I was thrilled to just have seminar time and be able to give a lecture of some sort to the humongous crowds that attended. I vowed to do the absolute best job that I could in the hopes that one day I’d actually get some arena time and be able to work with live horses. One thing led to another and eventually I was in the demo ring, then the smaller arenas with mounted riders and ultimately giving full 90 minute clinics in the big venues. You really have to be able to pull your weight at Equine Affaire—they set the standard for horse expos and that standard is VERY high. They rely heavily on the input from their attendees—which they go to great lengths to collect, and it shows in the quality of the shows they produce, year after year.
I have done the MA show for many years and it has become one of my favorites—which may explain why the Northeast is one of my strongest regions in the country. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to be there again because of the many people that I have come to know. I actually recognize many many people and remember them and their horse stories from year to year. And I have developed some meaningful and lasting friendships from some of the people that I have met there.
This year’s event started out in a predictable and familiar pattern—arrive early evening the day before the show, go to the hotel and pick up all the boxes, drive to the expo center and set up the booth, and after a late dinner, crawl in bed way too late. Then it’s up early to get to the expo before the crowds, make last minute adjustments to the booth and then buckle down for the first of four 12 hour days. It’s a long day but it goes fast because you hardly have time to pause for thought between presentations, meetings, talking with attendees and friends; then at the end of the day it’s time for dinner with friends and colleagues and you’re lucky to be in bed by 11:30.
Besides the excellent educational program and the fabulous trade show (with everything equine you could possibly want to buy), there is also an outstanding evening entertainment program called Pfizer Fantasia—made up of some of the best equine entertainment acts out there. Although I know the show is always good—hence the sold out crowd every night—rarely do I have enough energy at the end of the day to attend.
So I found it a little weird that Brenda and Heidi—my right and left hands, with whom I would not be able to carry on—were very insistent that we go to the show Friday night. Normally, they are very protective of me—making sure I am not overloaded, “rescuing” me from people that want too much from me, making sure I have some down time to get ready for my next presentation, picking up the load wherever they can—but this night they were all about themselves. Insisting that they really wanted to see the show and couldn’t I just put my agenda on hold long enough to sit for an hour and watch?
On top of that, one of my premier sponsors, Nutramax— had invited us out to dinner that night and Tara and Jeannie had tickets to the evening performance and insisted that we go to dinner AFTER the show. Clearly the deck was not staked in my favor and not being one to put up much of a fight, I decided the show might not be so bad after all. At least I would be able to sit down and chill a little before dinner. Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the best nights of my life.
The show opened with the expo producers standing in the spotlights in the middle of the arena around a beautiful sculpture. As the show began, the announcer talked about the Equine Affaire Exceptional Equestrian Educator Award and they were obviously going to present this award to some deserving soul. As he went on and on about the depth of meaning of this award, it never occurred to me that I would be the recipient until the spotlight suddenly hit my face—way up in the stands– and they called my name.
Clearly there had been a conspiracy here—to keep this secret—and I had very mixed emotions as I walked down the grandstands, trying to hide my tears in front of a crowd of thousands, not sure which emotion was dominant between pride, humility, embarrassment, excitement, honor and humor. But without question, a sense of pride and humility prevailed. It was such an honor to receive this award in front of my peers, colleagues and friends and the thousands of people who have been eager students that have helped shape my career.
The rest of the weekend was just a blur to me. I got to ride a really cool horse in my presentations, Reeboks Kid, and I had fun as emcee of the Versatile Horse & Rider competition (which Reeboks Kid ended up winning) and I talked and met with a lot of great people, but the award was surely the highlight of the weekend. Although they offered to ship the beautiful sculpture to me, I was reluctant to part with it so it is stuffed in my suitcase in the baggage hold below me, so that I can show it to Rich as soon as I get home. I am humbled and appreciative of this award and I will do my best to live up to it’s meaning. I have great pride but also great appreciation to Equine Affaire for giving me the platform to share what I know.
With all sincerity,