dressage, dressage competition, show bridle

Much More Than Bits of Leather

Last month, my friend Patty asked for my address, saying she was going to send me something. Perhaps a birthday card, I thought.

We hadn’t seen each other in years, but used to ride with the same instructor in Ridgefield, WA. She’d since moved to Hawaii and I’d moved to Bend, OR. I was surprised to hear from her.

Days later, a box arrived on the front porch.  My husband, Al, put it in the kitchen without saying anything. He didn’t realize it was important. I found the box before bed and opened it.

Inside were the pieces of a bridle: headstall, brow band, crown piece, and reins, all carefully wrapped. Patty had included a note. It was her show bridle and she wanted me to have it.

My husband, Al, saw bits of leather with buckles and a bit. I saw so much more.

Trying on Micah's new bridle for size. (I haven't attached the matching reins yet.)

Trying on Micah’s new bridle for size. I haven’t attached the matching reins yet but doesn’t he look handsome? !

Patty had purchased Zarewitsch (Zar) as a Second Level schoolmaster. At the time, most of my friends and I were riding what you might (generously) call Training Level horses: green and naughty, with little appreciation for the principles of dressage.

Zar’s arrival in the barn was a big deal: a handsome chestnut with manners and training. I was envious.

Patty had been riding at Training Level, so Zar was a big step up. “I was taking flying lessons at the same time I started with Zar,” Patty said. “I was studying with Janet Harvey, who told me I’d be flying solo long before I’d be showing Zar at Third Level. She was so right!”

Patty worked hard, starting Zar at First Level shows and bringing him up through Fourth Level. The pair earned a USDF Bronze Medal along the way with polished, harmonious rides. I can hear her affection for Zar through the phone line, as she shares memories. We share a mutual admiration for honest, sensible horses, willing to teach their riders. I wish we could discuss it over a glass of wine, but there’s an ocean between us.

To use Patty’s show bridle is to feel her love for Zar, who passed away several years ago. The energy she put into learning who he was and how to ride him radiates through the reins. Much of their relationship is contained in those bits of leather.

I sat and cried, when I received Zar’s bridle. Like the collar of a beloved dog, a bridle contains the memory of the horse who wore it. To be entrusted with that is an honor.

This weekend, Micah will wear this elegant bridle into the show ring, bringing a bit of Patty and Zar with us. Besides being a lovely sentiment, the understated gold of the buckles and brow band suit Micah perfectly. Not too much bling, but handsome.

I now face many of the same obstacles Patty faced, trying to bring out the best in a horse who knows more than I do, with a body that just won’t cooperate. Which is why this ride’s for you, Patty! Wish us luck and thank you, again, for sharing the spirit of your horse.