I spent last Thursday at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, New York, doing a photo shoot for an upcoming article with trainer Steve Weiss. Steve and fellow trainer Frank Madden recently combined their independent businesses, clients and staff to create a new venture based out of Old Salem. Steve was excited to show me around the striking facility and point out the extensive renovations that have been done over the last few years. As I climbed the stairs to the upstairs viewing room that looked out into the indoor arena, I shuddered. The last time I’d been in that indoor was during the Northeast Equitation Finals in 1989. I’d gotten to compete there at the Zone II AHSA Hunter Seat Medal Finals by winning a second place in some Medal class I’d probably helped fill (riding my all-purpose jumper/hunter/equitation/dressage horse), and it was my last-chance opportunity to qualify for the AHSA Hunter Seat Medal Finals. I had visions of going into the arena and blowing away the judges with my perfect round to earn my ticket to compete at Pennsylvania National. Murphy and his law must have stowed away in my horse trailer that day, because there wasn’t much that went right. We figured that because my class was last of the day, it wasn’t going to run until late, so my trainer took a bunch of students to another horse show and promised she’d meet me at Old Salem in time for my class. About mid-morning, I called the show and learned things were moving along MUCH faster than we’d anticipated, so my dad and I quickly loaded my horse onto the trailer and set out on the 60-plus mile trip from our base in Northern New Jersey. I can’t recall whether or not my horse actually got on the trailer easily (that’s a story for another day), but if he did, that was probably the ONLY thing that wasn’t a complete disaster. We achieved warp speed in dad’s faux wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer and arrived at Old Salem just as the announcer called the first rider into the class. I quickly registered and negotiated with (begged) the secretary to move me down in the order to give my trainer a chance to arrive. I don’t recall the outcome, but I suspect my request was not granted. I pulled my horse out, literally threw on his tack and my show clothes and started warming up. The weather was unusually hot that day, and I was dodging a ring full of other riders in the humid indoor warmup as sweat poured out of my helmet, down my face, neck and back and seeped through my navy wool hunt coat. With just a few riders left to go before my turn and still no sign of my trainer, I hunted down the only trainer I knew from horse shows. She kindly agreed to be my stand-in trainer and began coaching me through my warm-up. This is the point where I should have read my future in the tealeaves and headed home, but I still had delusions of qualifying for Indoors. Between my nerves, not having my trainer on site, rushing like a crazy person and it being hotter than Hades and crowded in that small indoor, I was NOT having a good warmup. The stand-in trainer did her best to work with me, but there’s only so much that can be done when you’re on deck. As we came out of the corner toward my final warm-up fence, my horse’s legs disappeared from underneath him in the humidity-slick footing. My breeches turned from gray to brown as I skidded across the arena floor, and clumps of dirt clung to my damp coat and face. At least the ringmaster had enough compassion to bump me down an extra slot while my stand-in trainer dusted off my helmet, threw me up on my horse and worked me over another fence or two before my number was called. I gritted my teeth into the most convincing grimace I could muster and trotted into the arena to face judges Fran Dotoli and Karen Marsh. My horse’s eyes doubled in size as he took one look around. He then added reining horse to his vast r?sum? as he spun and tried to escape out the in-gate. Mortified, I hissed (and possibly cursed) at him under my breath, worked him past the judges with his poll somewhere up in the rafters, picked up my canter with him well behind my leg and headed to the first fence without being able to ride him anywhere near a corner. I’ve somehow managed to push most of the details from my memory, but I do remember that it was unequivocally the WORST round I’ve ever had. I had more than a few chips, added an extra stride in the in-and-out and missed some lead changes. I’m not even sure I finished the round?I may have been eliminated for too many stops. At which point, I picked up my pride, walked out of the arena, put my horse away and my trainer showed up. I snapped back to the present as Steve suggested we sit down in the viewing area to go over his article and sort through the 300-plus photos I’d just taken illustrating his three exercises for nailing distances to fences. I smiled to myself knowing that from now on, Old Salem will no longer be the shifty figure lurking in the shadowy corners of my memory; it’s now the bright, beautiful farm where I added some new, useful tools to my riding toolbox. Stay tuned for Steve’s article in the July 2011 issue.