Rachel: Ode To a Horse-Show Dad

Father's Day tribute to a horse-show dad.

Last weekend I drove through Starbucks on the way to a horse show, ordered my typical drink and rattled off the list of drinks my boyfriend and his clients wanted. By the fourth complicated drink order I thought, “this was so much easier when it was just two.”

Rachel and her dad in 2010. | © Laura Dahl

I was instantly taken back to the nostalgia of my junior years and showing nearly every weekend, always with my dad in tow. Back then I only had to memorize my own coffee order and his—a grande Americano with no room. Early morning Starbucks trips before the show day began were essential. My dad would search online for the closest coffee shop before we even arrived. Once we made it to the area, we would locate Starbucks the night before the show started. The next morning we would leave the hotel early and stop by to get our fix. Having a routine that I could count on relaxed me.

Though my dad wasn’t a trainer, he watched my rounds meticulously, knowing where others had shaved off seconds in the jumpoff or where the spooky corners were catching horses. My dad scoped out the perfect location to videotape my rides, and reviewed them with me after the show each night at the hotel. He even set jumps for me when I was point chasing and had to sign him as my trainer. My irritation must have shown while I hastily explained the difference between a crossrail, a vertical and an oxer, but he never complained.

My dad was also not a groom—a job that I did myself. But still, he hung a golf towel from his belt loop, carried a bottle of liniment gel and carrots in his back pocket and the video camera around his neck. His classic show uniform—a pair of black Converse sneakers and a baseball cap—was a quick find amongst tall boots and helmets during a tack-malfunction or other “emergency”.

If I forgot my crop my dad was already running to my tack box. If I looked overheated he had an ice-cold water bottle already in my hand. He was my unpaid personal trainer, groom, assistant and father who I adored but have never thanked enough.

My fondest memory of going to horse shows with my dad is our ritual just before I entered the ring. No matter how my horses or I schooled, my dad was there at the in-gate to tell me that I would do fine. He then pulled off my horses’ boots and put liniment gel on the horses’ legs, front and back, and put the boots back on. I was convinced that they jumped better if this was done, and although many people argued the truth to my idea, my dad never did. He then put his arm around my pony’s neck and whispered into his ear for a few minutes. I still don’t know what he said, maybe it was nothing at all, but it gave me a sense of confidence that no trainer could give me. With a final secret hand sign, my dad and I saluted each other before I entered the ring. As I came out, particularly after a winning ride, my dad would give our secret salute again, just to assure me of my success.

Rachel and her dad in 2006. | © Laura Dahl

My dad is an extraordinary one. His love for my horses, especially my first pony, is evident to anyone who has seen him at the shows. He could always be found grazing my horse, dusting off my boots or writing down jumpoff times, sometimes trying to do them all simultaneously. He never pressured me or let competition get the better of me. He praised me when I did well, comforted me when I didn’t, and always taught me good sportsmanship.

Given the month of Father’s Day each year, I am certain that for the past almost decade, my dad has been hard at work at a horse show. This year however, he is freed of all horse-related duties. And, as a thank you to my dad, I have decided to wait to tell him about the four-legged surprise I’m bringing home until after Father’s Day!

Gabrielle Baker IHSA
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