Lawrence’s strong back shimmers in the evening light as water sloshes over it. I take a step back to get my city shoes out of the way while Jane rubs her horse down, prepping him for the show the next day. After knowing Jane for 11 years I finally made it to the Glens of Antrim to visit her in her home, surrounded by some of her favourite things. How unlike the chaotic field of tents and rambunctious urban teenagers that were our common passion.
Blueberry pancakes set us up the next morning before I climb aboard the gigantic horse hotel on wheels, along with Lawrence and Jane’s team for the horse show – her dedicated mum and dad, and Nikki … who seemed to be as much of a younger sister in the family as the groom. Just east of Belfast Jane pulls us into a relatively empty field that is roped off into sections. Following orders, I place two lawn chairs in their usual spot, right in front of the vehicle for front row seats.
Now this is no Calgary Stampede right here – it is much more dignified than that. Helmets, riding jackets and jodhpurs replace stetsons, cotton plaid and denim. Women outnumber men. Draft, Hunter, Cob, Connemara and Riding Horses are groomed with precision according to their class. For Lawrence it was a lot of hair off the top, two wide lines drawn on his rump prepped with pigs oil, and sharks teeth to finish the look off. The black nail varnish on his hooves is already beginning to wear off from its unappreciated application the day before.
“That is a beautiful horse,” each of my hosts would say now and again as horses and riders circled in front of us.
It was that day I began to understand these shows were not about primping a horse and displaying it as if in some sort of beauty pageant. They are about owners “spotting talent” in a horse at a young age, training it, grooming it and giving it a future career with someone else. You have to pour heart and soul into an animal, knowing you will have to let it go. It takes cost and risk for very little return. After a bad fall (her father made sure to tell me that it was no fault of her own), Jane recovered from a broken back in her early 20s. This was only several years after wining Supreme Champion at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS – the win of wins! Her first question was about when she could ride again.
Even after a lot of work to get a horse to a show, there is no guarantee for a win. I can’t say that I’m too much of a fan of the subjective nature of judging at this event … both during the competition and after. Horse and rider are all under scrutiny from a hundred pairs of eyes.
By the time Jane’s event was over, the field was full of people, horses, pet dogs and gigantic vehicles. The dark clouds gave up their rain as we climbed into the shelter of our vehicle and reversed out to head home. My own brief attempt at cowgirl-turned-proper-horse-rider-with-the-english-saddle was a bit of a bust that afternoon and reminder that there is a long way to go before I could live the particular fantasy where I am the heroine in a Louis L’Amour book. But this is where Jane thrives and dreams.
As we walked under canopies of lush, green forest surrounding Glenarm Castle the following morning, we shared mutual inspiration for the starting of great things that grow from existing talents that we gave time to develop alongside our professional and spiritual lives. It just so happens that we are both in a place where these realities have collided with enough ferocity that the sparks have jumped, igniting opportunity. In our respective areas we are “spotting talent” – taking raw material and beginning to forge something new from inherent possibility.