Picture this – I’m standing at the in-gate just before the course walk for the Idle Dice Open Stakes Class at Devon. I have a Press Pass (Sidelines has hooked me up!), and I am trying to play it cool, but internally I am bouncing off the walls. I am literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Beezie Madden and Margie Engle. Everywhere I look, I see Olympic greatness. I stand at the gate, snapping photos with my pathetic, amateurish, digital camera, at the literal legends of our sport who are counting out strides just feet from me. It feels like I’m through the Looking Glass.
Inside the Press Box, I stick out like a sore thumb. But, I am almost just as thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder with real equine journalists (there are people who do this for a living, how cool is that!). I quickly catch on that nobody really claps in there, and it’s all very routine. They take notes, snap photos, and idly chat about how long the winner interviews will likely take. Once again, I find myself trying to play it cool.
The class ends, and I have taken dutiful notes on every round, where the rails fell, and which rides I liked. I’ve tried to take photos, but once again the pathetic camera has utterly failed me. (I vowed about a hundred times to upgrade that particular piece of equipment as the class went on.) When I sat down to write this post, though, I realized nobody tunes in to Tucker the Wunderkind for class results and you’ve seen my photography skills. Instead, go to Show World for the results, and check out the photos from Sidelines blogger Beth Harpham at Chasin’ - they are fantastic. And here’s the good stuff, from my perspective.
Katie Dinan did something amazing at the beginning of her Open Stakes round that I won’t soon forget. She came to the first line, fences three and four (which, it goes without saying, were larger-than-life), and right in the middle of the line, her horse Nougat du Vallet let out a HUGE buck, about two strides out from the monster oxer that was fence four. Katie just got him straight again and cleared the oxer with no problem at all. They had just announced, moments ago, that she was Best Child Rider at Devon in ’09. Just in case anyone forgot that she’s not only awesome, but also just a kid. I was totally impressed, and vowed to remind myself of that moment the next time Tucker flicks an ear at a fly and I think it’s a good excuse to make a circle.
After they gave Charlie Jayne his blue ribbon for the class (his ride was completely awesome, by the way), of course they called on my idol, Mclain Ward, to cover him and Antares F with ribbons. I had already been cleared out of the Press Box (winner interviews coming up, real journalists with deadlines of that day only allowed — and don’t think for a second the lady didn’t look right at me when she said that) and was milling around in the crowd, when I remembered that, watching the live feed on Thursday night, I saw Mclain give his ribbon to a little kid. I quickly positioned myself by the kids at the rail, and waited.
Sure enough, Mclain and Antares wandered over to the rail, and he handed his Leading Open Jumper Rider Championship ribbon to this charming young lady, Sophie King. Just as I had done in front of my live feed two days before, I let out an audible “awwww,” and looked up at Mclain. And now I can tell all those meanies who told me that fairy tales aren’t real and Prince Charming doesn’t exist, that they are wrong. Because let me tell you . . . he looked down at me from atop his big white horse, and smiled, and then . . . he winked at me. And then he and his big white horse rode off into the sunset, or at least that’s how I remember it. It took a lot to snap myself back into journalist mode, bend down and get some photos of the incredibly adorable Sophie, and make sure it was okay with her parents that I put her photo in the magazine. Starstruck is an understatement.
I had already decided that this was the Best Day Ever. I sat in the press box. I watched my heroes do the course walk. My favorite Olympian gave his ribbon to a little girl, and I was there to see it. And then we had a Moment (okay, so maybe I had a Moment, but I’m counting it). Devon has always had an air of magic for me, even the years when I was there to groom for yearlings who really didn’t want a horse show on their agenda, but this year had been particularly wonderful.
But, apparently, the stars had even more in store for my inner child, because after the course walk for the High A/O Jumper, where Mclain was coaching some of his students, this happened:
If you can believe this, I managed to introduce myself, shake his hand, and explain that I work for Sidelines and would love a photo with him for the magazine. He was very gracious, and polite, and even signed the Sapphire Breyer model that belongs to Amy’s daughter Sophie. And, thankfully, also had somewhere to be, so that I didn’t have time to gush at him or say anything foolish. I’m blushing furiously in this photo, but let’s not tell anyone. We’ll just say I got some sun that day.
It’s official. . . Devon is magical.