Equestrian Mom Tribute Series: Horse Show Mom by Clare Sullivan

In honor of Mother's Day this coming Sunday, we are honoring our Equestrian Moms. This is the first in the series from Clare . 

Clare (left) and her Mom (center) in 2018 at Clare's last home collegiate show. 

Clare (left) and her Mom (center) in 2018 at Clare's last home collegiate show. 

“Are you going to warm up your horse?”

“Yeah, obviously.”

At fifteen, I knew it all. I had decided I didn’t want a horseback riding trainer, and I didn’t want my mom to act like one. After all, my mom had never taken formal lessons from a professional or ever owned a horse. At the time, I didn’t count the hours she’d spent next to the ring observing and internalizing the teachings of my numerous trainers. She learned what diagonals are and understood the strategy to a perfect circle. She could certainly teach me a thing or two, but I would not have listened. I didn’t count the numerous stalls she mucked on Saturday mornings to get us on the good side of the barn owner. Then, when Saturday mornings turned to everyday mornings at the barn we managed together, I didn’t count that either. It was a long time before I gave her credit for being the reason I could have a life devoted to horses.

Clare and her Mom at Across Alligator Alley in 2013. 

Clare and her Mom at Across Alligator Alley in 2013. 

Every month of my high school career, we crossed the state of Florida via Alligator Alley for the horse shows taking place on the more horse-friendly coast. The aptly named two-lane highway we took from southwest Florida to southeast Florida was boarded for miles with Everglades swamp. My mom was the designated truck driver and therefore the designated conscious person. I was the designated co-pilot who snoozed away in the cab. With the hitch attached and the show ground hours away, my mom and I barreled down the road. There was a constant sway of the rig from the farthest left edge of the lane to the farthest edge of the right, and back again. I was in no place to criticize my mom’s driving of our rig. After all, she had worked tirelessly to make this weekend happen. At the time we didn’t have our own truck or trailer, so we got to competitions through luck and my mom’s utilization of the kindness of others. One month there was a free space in a trailer leaving from down the road. The next my mom persuaded a family friend to let us borrow their GMC. The one after that she rented a UHAUL truck for the weekend. Each time my mom would call in a favor to this person she worked with, or that person she knew from the barn. She made sure I got to those shows, even if it meant multiple IOUs.

After years of trainer fees and many weekends under the watchful eye of a professional, we realized the two of us were capable enough to show successfully without one. We started our mother-daughter show career in 2011. This came with it’s own list of pros and cons.

Clare chart.jpg

I loved getting to know my mom more each weekend, during the long drives to the competition or the early mornings spent prepping for the day. I learned we are more alike than we are different. In the case of the apple not falling far from the tree, I had not gotten more than inches away from my mother’s trunk. I was more or less an only child, with my brother being much older and already out of the house, so my mom spent most of her days unknowingly (or possibly knowingly) molding me into a younger version of herself. She raised me to be independent and decisive, just like she is. We are very alike. Sometimes too alike. We both want to have a plan. We both think our plan is the best plan. And we both are unwilling to adapt to a new plan. With the stress of a horse show on our minds, and without a trainer as an intermediary, we were on our own to navigate the bumpy road alone.

The parts of the road that were supposed to be smooth were filled with potholes because of my obliviousness to my mom’s language of love. I couldn’t recognize how good I had it. My mom was always the first one to jump to her feet whenever something needs to get done. She’s a “what can I do to help” kind of mom. She is a “put me to work” kind of mom, great at showing affection through her actions. She’s the mom carrying a fully stocked plastic cooler. Inside it holding Gatorade, cheese sticks and evidence that she’d been preparing for her role as horse show mom for weeks. At the time I would roll my eyes, thinking my mom was embarrassing me by being everywhere all the time, with just the right thing to quench your thirst. I was easily caught up in the stress of getting to my competitions on time, focusing on what needed to get done. I wanted to be able to do it all myself, but she just wanted to help.

Usually the controversies were over minor things, and they naturally resolved themselves. My mom’s support was more important than my teenage pride. In the way that we shared in the difficulties together such as a sick horse or a low placing, we also shared in the triumphs. When my horse and I qualified for the biggest show we’d ever been to, my mom was the one who got him a spot on a trailer to Louisiana, and drove me the fourteen hours there. She stood with us by the show ring late into the night, as we waited for my turn to enter. We didn’t win, or even place in the competitions we were signed up for, but my mom always had a smile on her face as we exited the ring and found her in the crowd of show supporters.

Her encouragement never waned even when I moved four hours away for college and joined the equestrian team. I started touring the state of Florida again to show horses and she always made horse show mom appearances when she could. The first time I went to a collegiate horse show was my first show without my mom. The realization hit me as I was driving to Florida State University with my fellow riders. Tears silently boiled over, as I was approaching a rite of passage I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross. Four years later, with my collegiate showing career coming to a close, I have a feeling my teammates will miss my mom more than they will miss me. She is known among us all as an extraordinary supporter because they’ve also recognized how special her encouragement is.

Clare and her Mom after Clare qualified for the Collegiate Semi-Finals in Texas.

Clare and her Mom after Clare qualified for the Collegiate Semi-Finals in Texas.

Even though I’m in college, I still need my mom to help me put my chaps on and to hairspray into place my fly-aways. My mom has shown me the patience and dedication it requires to raise a strong-willed, independent daughter. Adding the responsibility of horse care into the equation creates the possibility of an explosive outcome. Competition after competition, we grew to become a mother and daughter force to be reckoned with. I don’t think I’ll ever stop needing her. 

“Are you going to warm up your horse?”

“Yeah, can you come help me?”