Dark Skies: From Horse Hubby to Horse Hero

In Stories

It took a monsoon for me to discover just how ‘horse-smart’ I had actually become.

Saturday was a lesson day. My wife Michelle and our daughter Elle were scheduled to school on the competition course at the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farms in the late afternoon with fellow riders from their eventing team. The weather forecast was typical for late July in Maryland: hot, humid, thunderstorms likely in the late afternoon/early evening.

My wife and daughter headed out for the barn around noon as they would be trailering with the team, while I ran some errands. Storm clouds were already brewing and thunder could be heard in the distance. Doubtful they would be riding later today, we went about our schedules, planning to meet at the house later in the evening. Around 1:30pm, the distant thunderstorm wasn’t so distant, and much of our area was getting a much needed drink. About an hour later, I get a text from Michelle:

We r still going. Got a big storm here an hour ago. Seems like it’s over now. Do you think u r coming?

One thing my wife knows about me is that I watch the weather. As a Safety Director on a military installation, I tend to err on the side of caution and watch the radar maps from my phone. I get home from errands around 3:15pm, and text her back,

home, printed [the schooling docs]…clouding up, TWC [The Weather Channel] says T-storms likely by 5pm

Five minutes later she responds,

Lvg now

Ah, only the finest communication between a husband and wife.

I hustle out the door to meet her around 4pm and the skies are tell-tale grey, with rumbles of distant thunder echoing in the valley aside Sugarloaf Mountain. The trainer announces, “Let’s tack up quick and get going” which to me was code for, “we’re going to get wet.” No sooner than they had entered the warm-up arena, the first wave of rain hits. Standing in the judges area, which is covered (“I got them Safety Director skillz” sung in my best Dom “Schrammo” Schramm voice) I watch them warm up their horses in a quick cloud burst. Enough to soak the riders and their rides before they moved on to the competition course.

Elle and Riley warming up
Elle and Riley warming up

As we moved off to the competition course the skies actually broke for a brief moment. Behind us (as the radar map indicated) the next wave (a very, VERY fitting description) was quickly arriving. Thunder still loomed in the distance.

Notice the dark skies to the right, this had just passed
Notice the dark skies to the right, this had just passed

Over the next 15-30 minutes, we moved from jump to jump and our brief window of opportunity quickly began to close. The secondary tree line behind us was nearly obscured by the approaching rains. I pointed this out to my wife and her fellow riders, but alas, the lessons continued. The rain picked up in intensity (DUH!) and as we made it to the tree line (yes, the area furthest from the parking area) Mother Nature opened up her skies the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a decade or more. Rain… a lot of Rain. Not just buckets of rain. This was like standing under a waterfall, and if you looked skyward, you probably could have drowned standing up!

At this moment, my wife turned to me and said, “I think we need to go back to the trailers.” I was ready to ‘snark’ my next comment, (snarky comments are part of this horse hubby’s repertoire), but as I looked next to her I could see the water in my daughter’s eyes… and it wasn’t the rain. The three of us turned to slosh back to the trailers, a good half-mile from the parking area. She led, we followed, and I walked next to my daughter and Riley. Approximately 50 yards into our hike, Mother Nature upped her game, and it was my lesson to learn. The winds intensified, driving the rains into our eyes, and in near “white out” conditions, my daughter became scared. Scared to the point where she wanted off of Riley. Something I’ve learned over the past couple years is that horses are easily influenced. A confident rider and horse can jump the biggest obstacles presented, but putting a nervous rider on a green and nervous pony? Things can go bad quickly. With each gust of rain pelting us in the face, Elle grew more and more scared… and so did Riley… and inside, so did this horse daddy.

My horse knowledge is extremely limited. I wasn’t raised with horses, I didn’t grow up riding horses… HELL, I’m ALLERGIC TO HORSES! As much as I wanted to “spook”, I couldn’t let it happen. I was the one being schooled now, and I found out just how “horse-smart” I’ve become. I found a calm in my voice and a re-assuring grab of the reins under RIley’s chin that settled everyone (self included). For the rest of the hike back to the trailers in the drenching two-plus inches of rain that fell on us, I had a death grip on the reins right under his chin (sorry Riley). No one was getting bucked or running off.

We slogged back to the trailers. The parking area complete under 3 inches of water. We loaded our two ponies before the others arrived. The nervous laughter when the rest of our party returned, quickly turned goofy, as we celebrated another successful schooling event… after all, we were already soaked!

(L to R) Patrick, Michelle, Elle, Courtney Sendak
(L to R) Patrick, Michelle, Elle, Courtney Sendak

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