It was not just any horse show but the big one--Madison Square Garden--and 14-year-old Tamar Howard of Arcadia was ready. It had taken months of preparation and hard work.
Tamar and her horse, Canadian Club, were among the best 15 teams in the United States, invited to participate in the Wimbledon of horse shows on the basis of her record. This year she won 72 blue ribbons in 26 horse shows sanctioned by the Pacific Coast Horseman's Assn.
She is ranked No. 1 in the association for ages 14 and under in the hunter and equitation categories. Hunter competition is designed to show the horse and equitation ratings are based on the rider's form, position and control of the animal.
"I knew through the whole year I had qualified for the Garden from the point standings," Tamar said. "I knew I was definitely in and it was really fun to be there."
She traveled to New York with her mother and her grandmother but explored the show grounds by herself.
"When I got to Madison Square Garden," she said, "I was lost--I was very lost. There were tons of people walking around.
"I had to walk a long way to find my horse. The barn was on the fifth floor."
She found Canadian Club, also known as C.C., and went through her checklist. Had her riding equipment arrived? Were her bridle, saddle and the rest of her tack there? Did she have the peppermint Lifesavers that C.C. loved?
Tamar went back to her hotel.
"I was excited and found it hard to relax. I got only three hours of sleep."
"Tamar does better with less rest. Maybe she was working off nervous energy," her mother, D.D. Howard, said.
At 4:30 a.m. Tamar was back at the Garden, riding C.C. into the practice ring and giving him a chance to become acclimated to the new environment. After a warm-up, a groom cleaned him and braided his mane and tail for the show, only hours away.
Then came the waiting.
Tamar returned to her hotel and dressed in the classic manner: beige britches, black boots, blue riding coat. She stuffed her hair into a hair net and put on a close-fitting riding hat.
She brought her spurs and riding crop and C.C.'s Lifesavers--a reward for a good performance.
Tamar was ready.
"I wasn't too nervous," she said, "because I knew that I was either going to do well or I wasn't. It was as simple as that."
"I could tell by the look on her face she was determined to be good," her mother said. "Tamar has incredible concentration and drive, and when she wants something, watch out, because she is going to get it."
Tamar rode into the ring. The last words were from her teacher and horse trainer, Karen Healey, who wished her luck.
"I felt a little weak in the knees," Tamar recalled.
She and C.C. cleared gates, fences and jumps, and by the end of the show Tamar had won the designation of 17-and-under hunter reserve champion with her second-place finish.
She won a saddle, two bridles and a gold, horseshoe-shaped ring with a diamond and a blue sapphire.
Canadian Club won a roll of Lifesavers.
"Tamar outrode the others," Healey said. "She has a cute, nice horse but her riding was superior."
Tamar said: "I never expected to win. C.C. knew it was an important show. He knew it was time to really pull, and he did. I was excited and knew we had a chance to win, but it was up to C.C. to come through."
"This year has been phenomenal for Tamar," her father, Bobby Howard, said. "She will have
ups and downs, but winning the Garden has taken the pressure off because now she knows she can win anywhere. It has helped her confidence and her outlook."
At times it looked doubtful that she would make it to the Garden.
"Tamar told me it would be OK if we didn't go to New York because we had qualified, and that was our goal," her mother said. "I am sure underneath she was thinking, 'I want to go,' but she made me feel like it was all right if we didn't. We felt it would be tough to beat the big guns, but then to go and do so well is mind-boggling. It was fun too. We went to parties and had the best time."
Mother and daughter share an interest in acting as well as showing. D.D. appears on television's "Hill Street Blues," and Tamar started performing in television commercials when she was 7 years old.
The New York show brought back memories to D.D. Howard. "I rode when I was a little girl and showed in Madison Square Garden when I was 9 years old," she said. "It was so exciting to go back to my old stomping grounds, and to have Tamar do so well was a thrill. It was hard to believe."
Tamar's father, Bobby Howard, also has strong connections to the equestrian world. He was a jockey for 14 years and rode in the 1969 Kentucky Derby.
"I think Tamar is talented, but she was exposed to it early," her father said. "I don't know if it is in her blood because some people are great and their parents had nothing to do with it."
The Howards bought their daughter her first pony when she was 2.