Sand that was deep enough to sting your legs and stomach as you slogged through it.
Heat and humidity that sapped your strength each time you tried to breathe.
Relentless sun that burned every exposed surface.
Sound like wartime conditions in the Persian Gulf? Not exactly.
It was the Potomac Valley Dressage Association Schooling Show Sunday at Cedar Rowe Quarter Horse Farm.
Carroll County horses and riders braved the less-than-inviting conditions to compete in four classes, and they brought home a variety of ribbons for their efforts, though what everyoneat the show really deserved was a Purple Heart.
Judge Patricia Smeltzer of York, Pa., recognized the problems that the deep sand in the ring posed.
"I'm trying to make allowances for this footing," she said. "The only saving grace is that it is the same for everybody."
But the deep going affected different horses in different ways. It was a boon for the feisty horses because it made them slow down. For the rest, though, it was a disaster.
The first of the Carroll County horses to compete had been doing beautiful canter work in the grassy warm-up area. When Bonway's Casey entered the show arena, however, he decided that cantering in hock-deep sand was not in his best interest.
Although the 10-year-old Morgan gelding received high marks and praise from the judge for his trot work, his reluctance to pickup the canter dropped him to fifth place in his Training Level, TestOne class.
"He's never been in sand this deep," said Casey's rider, Liuda Galinaitis of Westminster. "He's so big -- and such a super klutz -- that if he's not balanced just right he won't canter, and hecouldn't get hold of this footing."
The rangy chestnut also does competitive trail riding. His last outing in that sport brought home a third-place ribbon.
"He's very good at that," said Galinaitis. "He really behaves himself. But he's getting better at dressage. I really like the precision of dressage and the fact that you can never beperfect at it, so you have to keep working to be better.
"It's such a great feeling when you get something right, although that's a rare occurrence."
Bonway's Casey was not the only member of his family to strut his stuff at this show. His father, the 22-year-old stallion Ben Oz Vona, took fourth-place honors in the following class, which was also Training Level, Test One.
This former eventing competitor still breeds mares, but has not been out in public since 1987. Ridden by Bonnie Burger of Westminster, Ben put in an excellent effort Sunday. He was very obedient and tried valiantly to ignore the deep going.
Later in the afternoon -- by the time the heat and humidity had a chance to build -- the final Carroll County competitors enteredthe arena for two tests: Training Level, Test Four in their first class; and First Level, Test One in their second.
Krissy Kirk, a 15-year-old Wakefield Valley Pony Clubber, and her fetching gray QuarterHorse gelding, Mr. Shadowberry, were performing so flawlessly that everyone was stunned when they suddenly stopped and approached the judge's stand.
"I thought I was going to do Test Two, and that is theone I studied," Kirk told the judge. "I made a mistake."
Smeltzer, who had not noticed an error, allowed Kirk to start over where she left off. When the scores were posted, the talented duo placed secondbehind winners Anne Clinque and Today's Echo.
Kirk tried to cool off her horse and herself in the hour remaining until she rode her next test. She had the help of her mother, Karen Baker, and her grandparents, William and Ann Blankenship of Arbutus. Her stepfather, Larry Baker, also had been scheduled to compete at the show, but was kept at home by an end-of-summer bug.
It was a merry and encouraging family affair trying to keep the breeze blowing on the hard-working competitors. But despite all the effort, Berry's dappled gray coat and Krissy's fiery curls and sun-tinged nose were gleaming with sweat when they entered the ring for First Level, Test One. And they were dripping when they came back.
They put in a consistent and obedient test, hitting every mark and every transition right on the button to earna fourth place.
Kirk later talked about her partner.
"He's my first horse after riding ponies, and he's been wonderful," she said. "When we bought him he had been a Western horse, but he loves to jump, and he liked the change to being an English horse.
About their dressage work, Kirk said: "Right now we're working on leg yielding. Heneeds to loosen laterally, and he's learning. He's very smart. He knows what you want, and just how to get himself out of it!"
Karen Baker leaves the riding to her daughter and husband, but she supports them 100 percent. She was pleased when Krissy showed an interest in horses at an early age.
"It's such a good alternative to other things that kids today can get involved in," she said. "Krissy does all the work to keep up the horses -- that was the deal. She got her firstpony when she was 11, but she wanted the first one when she was nine. We were at the state fair and she came up to me and said, 'Give me your checkbook, Mom, so I can pay for this horse I want.' That was the beginning."