A wise friend once told me that you don’t really know how a relationship will look until a full calendar year passes. The idea is that if you’re still together at that point, you’ve weathered each season and seen all that comes with it (good and bad). I think this generality can apply to many things in life, from settling into a new house, for instance, and seeing how it holds up to weather extremes, to managing a new horse in a new career.

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/68nzZ2l_AY"]

Through every season, Happy has been ... well, happy, and generally as dirty as possible. Photo: Courtesy Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com

I’ve been keeping you updated on adventures with my retired Thoroughbred racehorse, It Happened Again (Happy), whom I bought a year ago Sunday, and who’s been with me here in Kentucky since the turn of the year. After making nice progress with our riding and training, we took our first trip off the farm in September to participate in a Thoroughbred show at the nearby Kentucky Horse Park.

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/7WPitll_NG"]

Happy during his ear-trimming session before the horse show. Photo: Courtesy Courtney Heeney/TheHorse.com

Happy was his usual curious and cheerful self the day of the show, loading and hauling like a champ, then unloading and calmly surveying his surroundings. The venue was the grandiose Rolex arena, flanked by a giant grandstand, flags, a Jumbotron, and a pond complete with fountains and ducks! We had a chance to school in the arena before our classes, and he didn’t seem to mind any of the potential distractions.

In fact, he only had one startle the whole day: During our school, he cleared his nose beside the grandstand, and the echo caused him to plant his feet and look up into the empty stands, incredulously, as if to say, “Where are all my fans?”

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/7pjWrPF_Hk"]

Happy schooling in the Rolex ring. Photo: Courtesy Erica Larson/TheHorse.com

But we did have our fan club that morning, and for them I was very grateful. Three members of our team, Erica, Alex, and Shawna, came out to support Happy and me. They helped tame my tresses with a new-fangled hairnet (I had not shown in 14 years!), cleaned the green off Happy’s mouth, helped me tack up and recall my courses, and took photos. A friend from the barn shouted some pointers as we warmed up (basically, “breathe!”).

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/71cyXOF_Ez"]

Happy in our War Horse In-Hand Class in the Rolex ring. Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Beckstett/TheHorse.com

Even though we only schooled over two of the jumps we’d have in our class, my brave horse had four clear rounds. I think he could’ve set the land-speed record for cross-rail jumpers, had I let him, but we decided to take it easy and have a calm­-as-possible learning experience.

Happy was super serious about his horse show debut in the 18" cross-rail jumper division.

Photo: Suzanne Fischer

In the end, Happy won reserve champion in his division, along with a tip of the hat for being the highest earner among his retired racehorse counterparts at the show.

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/7iXSW9l_Co"]

Happy back home after the show. Photo: Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com

It wasn’t so much that we walked away with prizes at our first show, but that we had a completely positive experience. Happy confirmed what a solid citizen he is.

It’s been almost a year since I met my horse and brought him to Kentucky. We’ve weathered abscesses, hives, hard-keeper struggles, pasture injuries, and saddle-fit issues. But, more importantly, we’ve thrived, learning new skills, attempting new feats, and building a foundation of trust that I hope will serve us well into the future.

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/9jjfXql_FW"]

Happy at his second hunter pace, in November. Video: Sharon Shephard/TheHorse.com

As the year draws to a close, I hope you’re also able to reflect on a safe, enjoyable year with your horses.

This column originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Horse. 

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/9RCxxEF_LW"]

Happy in the fall. Photo: Courtesy Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com