Rita Spencer said she was too nervous to watch as her tiny, 9-year-old daughter Angie, prepared to compete with her pony. Foxy, on the opening day of the Upperville colt and horse show today.
At 52 pounds and not quite four feet tall, the third-grader is shorter than Foxy and her other pony, Knick-Knack, with which she has won more than 200 ribbons.
A shy girl with big brown eyes, Angie is spare in her responses and needs coaxing from her mother and brother, Scott, 11, an enterprising young man who has started an "emergency service" business selling braided paraphernalia and carrots and apples for the horses.
"I concentrate on going between the jumps and finding a good spot," Angie said when asked what's on her mind during competition. She took a second place in modeling today and will compete again Tuesday.
She is the youngest competitor among 160 children participating in the early rounds of the week-long horse show, although 3-year-olds will be led out by their parents Tuesday.
The first show Angie completed in - and the first she ever went to - was in April, 1976, but by December she had compiled enough points to become the medium pony champion of North Carolina, atop Foxy.
"We come from a small town [York, S.C.] and there's not enough there to do for the kids," Angie's mother said, brushing her daughter's brown velvet cap. "I wanted her to try riding to see if she'd like it.
"I'd love for her to take ballet or become a concert pianist. But where else is she going to get exposure to this kind of thing, to get such self-control and poise at her age. She's met so many new friends traveling around but it's been a learning experience. But if she decides she doesn't want to do it anymore, that's her decision."
Scott did not take to riding as much as Angie but he and another boy joined Rita Spencer on the weekend and summer circuits that take them around the Virginia horse country and to Florida in the winter.
Angie missed 23 days of school last year, but is "a very conscientious student and knows she has to keep her grades up if she's going to continue this," her mother said.
"Fortunately, I have a very patient husband," she added. Peter Spencer, who is in the children's clothing textile business, has also had a few bills to pay.
Knick-Knack cost the Spencers $8,000 and Foxy $3,500. In addition, traveling expenses exceed "several thousand" annually.
"We told her this year that she can keep anything she earns in prize money over the cost of the entry fee. We made a mistake last year and told her she could keep what she earns and she accumulated over $1,200," her mother said.
Russ Walther Jr., Angie's trainer, said, "She's a bit unusual. She's a very smart youngster and everything you ask her to do she follows the instructions and does very well.She's destined to become a great rider."
Angie brushes and helps bathe her ponies and has practiced braiding them. Most of the riders are at the stables around 5:30 a.m., he said, but Angie doesn't arrived until 8.
"Confidence is a very big factor with children so we take the 'green' rider and put the child on an experienced horse to build confidence."
The hardest thing in dealing with a youngster who wants to ride, he said, is "to make sure they want to do it themselves and don't have their parents pushing them. It's a little like the Little League [baseball] syndrome."
Angie has had only one relatively minor fall and it is a fear of that happening again that prompts her mother to avoid watching competitions. Angie, however, said she is not frightened about falling and sums up her reaction to that accident: "I was mad that I did it."