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Tricks of the Trade (8)


The next stage is horse makeup. Abigail’s horse, Poco, has white legs that sometimes appear dingy, so Abigail applies color-enhancing spray— an equine formula developed for show horses — to brighten. She paints hoof black, the equivalent of fingernail polish, on Poco’s hooves and winds fleece polo wraps — colored purple to match her costume — around his legs.

She applies clear hairspray to Poco’s mane, tail, and rump. She scatters purple glitter over all three and seals the glam with a second coat of hairspray.

Saddling the horse is the most important element of preparation. Saddles are spot-cleaned and hand-rubbed with oil; all stirrups, reins, and straps are inspected for safety.

Abigail smooths out Poco’s saddle blanket and layers it with a purple fleece cover. Abigail’s steel-frame saddle, custom-designed by a former trick rider, weighs 50 pounds.

She bends her knees, hoists the saddle up from the ground, twists her upper torso, and releases the saddle as though uncoiling a spring.

The saddle plops into place. She fastens the front and rear cinch straps and adjusts her stirrups.

She tugs to check if they’re snug. “I’ll check the stirrups and straps an hour before we enter the arena, too,” says Abigail. If Poco sweats, he can lose several pounds. His back may become slippery, causing the saddle to move and the straps to slacken.

“Our lives depend on secure straps and a well-fit saddle. We never let anybody else check them!” She drapes a purple belly dancing scarf, complete with glittering bangles, across Poco’s breast collar.

During the final hour, she and Meishja duck inside the trailer for quick showers. They wriggle into small costumes and create big hair with a curling iron. With headbands and feathers pinned, they dash outside with dime store mirrors to paint bright eye shadow, thick eyeliner, and jet black mascara in the fading sunlight.

Their faces — smooth as a porcelain doll’s — each flash a smile. And they’re off.

(Read more Tricks of the Trade)

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