Above: Sculpture at Westworld, Scottsdale, Arizona
I walked into the cavernous building with anticipation, and some nervousness. After all, the person with whom I was meeting was someone I had last seen about 35 years ago. She was such a big part of my life when I was a young girl, and then, abruptly, she was no longer there. I have missed her, and my old life, ever since. I never would have thought when I last saw her that so many years would pass before I’d see her again. What would it be like to reconnect with her, to talk to her once more? I would soon find out!
I first met my friend and mentor, Juli, when I was about 11 years old, and she was 16. We lived in Wisconsin, and my family was just getting into owning, riding, and showing Arabian horses. Almost everything that I know about horses, riding, and showing, I learned from Juli. I was young and impressionable, and I looked up to her so much. I learned more than “horse stuff” from Juli; I learned my work ethic from her, and through our experiences traveling to the horse shows, it awakened the desire to travel and live an adventuresome, gypsy-like existence. I also won a lot when I showed horses, and that was due to Juli’s help.
I arrived early in anticipation of meeting her. I was at the Scottsdale Arabian horse show in Scottsdale, Arizona, near where I now live. Sadly, I had not been to a horse show in years, and when I walked into the Equidome, all the memories and emotions came flooding back. There was a western pleasure class going on in the show ring, and I stood off to the side and watched.
Things had changed, and yet they were still the same. There were the same beautiful horses in the ring, probably even more beautiful than when I was showing. The riders were wearing the same type of colorful clothing, but flashier, with more rhinestones, and the horses’ tack had more silver and adornments. There were few horses in the ring, but that was because the class was a championship class, and these horses were the finalists from other, larger classes.
The young girls that milled around in the spectators’ area where I was were dressed in the usual horse show chic: dressed half for the show ring, and half for the barn, overly made up, their hair perfect, but wearing jeans and old boots. I remembered those times when I had been dressed like that, when I felt like I hardly dared to move for fear of messing up my hair! When I looked at those girls, I saw my own face, but 40 years ago. I thought about how weird it was to think that. Back then, at that age, I couldn’t have imagined what it was going to be like when I became my current age. No one thinks it’s going to happen to them. When you are a teenager, the world beyond the next few minutes doesn’t even exist.
I do know some of what I thought – I thought my life as it was then would never end, that I would always have horses, and would always ride and show. I also could not have imagined my life without those things, nor could I have imagined how quickly it all came to a screaming stop.
When I saw Juli approaching me, I recognized her immediately. I waved. She didn’t see me the first time, so I walked closer. I waved again, and this time she saw me. Her face lit up in a smile, a face I knew so well, but didn’t know anymore. “You look just the same!” she said, kindly lying a little bit.
“You do, too,” I exclaimed! Then we both laughed.
“Not really!” we said. We were the same, but older, and in some ways, it was like the intervening years had not existed.
“Tell me everything that’s happened!” I said, kind of meaning it, but knowing it wasn’t going to be possible in an hour’s time. We both laughed again, like old friends do.
We went to get coffee in the combination vendor and snack area just outside the arena. The classes were over for a little while, and Juli, who was one of the judges, had a break. We got our drinks and found a table.
We talked about horse shows, jobs I’ve had, our families, people we used to know, some that are still around in the horse business. Juli has been a professional trainer all these years, and it was a life that I had wanted. I will always regret that things didn’t work out for me to stay in the Arabian horse world. It hurts me more than anyone will ever know.
An hour and a half flew by, and Juli had to get back to the judges’ platform. It was so hard to hug her good-bye, and wonder when I would get to sit and talk to her again. After we parted, I wandered around the vendors’ booths, looking at show clothing (incredibly expensive now), tack, and all kinds of souvenir t-shirts. I wanted one, but restrained myself from spending $30 on a t-shirt.
I see the shadow of my former self out there in the ring:
Then, I walked back to the arena, and this time there was an English pleasure-type class in the ring. The horses were Half-Arabians, and all looked as if they were half Saddlebreds, always a showy, beautiful combination. They were stunning, and again, I saw myself as I had been so many years ago. I wanted to stay for the rest of the day.
I slowly walked to my car, and left the horse show world behind, at least for now. I wondered again how I could make it happen that I could go back. At this point, I will be lucky to be able to ride a “real” horse again.
I went home, and the rest of my day was spent in a fog of emotion and memories even as I enjoyed a photo shoot. I don’t know what the answer is to my longing to go back in time and “fix” my horse life, because that may not be possible. I want to ride regularly again, but it won’t be the same.
One thing I do know, though, is that I will do my best to not let so much time pass before I see Juli again. Maybe by talking to her and being with her, I can come to some form of acceptance of my fate. But I know myself, I won’t accept anything without a fight. I don’t want to give up the dream.
Where do I go from here? And, most importantly, will I get there before it’s too late?