It's Showtime for Two Barn Rats

Two Oak Bluffs 
girls, friends since kindergarten, spend months at the crow hollow horse farm getting ready for the agricultural society horse show.

It’s saturday night. Alicia Oliveira and Ana 
Irwin, young barn rats from Crow Hollow Horse Farm in West Tisbury, have cleaned tack until dark. Frisbee, the gray gelding pony they share on a lease, has been scrubbed till he shines, and his mane carefully braided. Their tack box is loaded: hard brush, soft brush, hoof pick, tail comb, saddle wipes, fly spray, Cowboy Magic. Plus the Good Luck Hair, taken from Frisbee’s mane, a talisman Ana made up.
After dinner, Alicia, ten, lays out her show britches, jacket, shirt, lucky socks, garters, stock pin, and show belt. She shines her show boots. Then she finishes up the last round of “good luck” phone calls to friends. She and Ana, nine, even have a special song: “Wake up, stay up, there’s a show today, everyone’s on their way, it’s a special day.” At 10:30 p.m. bedtime comes too soon; who can sleep anyway?
Sunday morning at 4:40, the first red streaks of dawn crack the sky in Oak Bluffs. Alicia is awake – no alarm needed. Ana is still asleep at home, but 
she won’t be for long.
Alicia and Ana have known each other since their kindergarten- and first-grade days; they are the first to appear at Crow Hollow, which hugs a rolling, meadow-filled stretch of land off New Lane. It’s an eye-prying 5:50 a.m. Barn owners Kristian Strom and Samantha Look arrive at 6 a.m. to feed, clean stalls, and finish grooming twenty-odd horses (not all of them show-bound) with help from Alicia, Ana, and the rest of the barn rats. Frisbee loads into the horse trailer at 7:15 a.m., and with Kristian at 
the wheel, the girls head for the fairgrounds. An “awesome” trailer horse, Frisbee started life as a packer pony, and he knows his job.
“Why am I doing this?” asks Alicia’s mother 
Margaret, following the trailer. “Because she’s my kid.”
It’s showtime in the horse world on Martha’s Vineyard.
This is no story about children of wealth and 
privilege. These girls ride horses because they love them, and their parents understand and support their passion. Their connection to horses consists of things such as sacrifice, devotion, friendship, responsibility, and commitment.
At the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society 
on West Tisbury’s Panhandle Road, the trailers begin lining up. Each horse is led into its own stall. Alicia and Ana fetch hay and fill a water bucket for the pony. Then they go pick up their numbers from the judging booth across the ring.
Twenty-two-year-old Frisbee has white eyelashes, and his owner, Alexia Jason, swears he bats them at the judge as he goes by the booth. This plucky pony 
is an Islander, born and raised at Scrubby Neck in Edgartown, one of the Island’s best-known riding stables until it went into private hands several years ago. He’s a cherished pet more than anything, “just Boo-Boo,” Alexia says, using his nickname. An Island riding instructor and trainer, she is the one who first suggested last summer Alicia and Ana were ready to lease Frisbee. She thought sharing and caring for their very own horse would be good for the two girls.
According to Alicia, Frisbee thinks he’s a real 
stallion – in fact he isn’t – because “he’s kind of crazy, and he tries to be the boss.” She and Ana take turns riding him on alternate days so they won’t overwork him. Twenty-two in horse years is not young. Even though at 14.1 hands he’s the smallest in Crow Hollow’s herd, he’s the alpha, or top, horse. He’s very interactive, say Alicia and Ana. “He’s very physical, like, ‘Hey, come here and pay attention. I want to play!’”
Frisbee can do everything – gymkhanas, jumping, dressage, trails. On his good days he loves to canter. On his bad days he likes to walk. “It’s just he’s not feeling spunky,” they explain. “We love him anyway.”
Alicia doesn’t have to be at the show as early 
as she is, but she wants to watch her friends and 
give them support. She has soft cocoa skin and lush golden brown curls like her mother, a Wampanoag who until the age of seven lived in Aquinnah, when 
it was still called Gay Head.
“Alicia always makes little lists,” Margaret 
says. “Her father does that, too.” She thinks her daughter and Ana make an awesome team. The two girls deliberate for hours, she says, learning how to 
cooperate on who gets to ride Frisbee when and who does which chores. A year older than Ana, Alicia’s 
the leader, the organizer, the one who makes sure everything gets done. She wants to be a riding
instructor when she grows up.
Like Alicia, Margaret, a field service coordinator for NStar Electric, rode as a girl. She stopped showing after getting disqualified in a pleasure class 
because her horse was blind in one eye. They were 
up for reserve champion, and Margaret cried all the way home. A tall, attractively athletic woman now, she’s trail queen for several of the Island’s barns, and 
exercises horses for friends, as well as being a barn-
rat mother. To help pay horse expenses, she works a 
second job for Kitchen Porch Catering in Chilmark and a third driving for Musik’s Limousine. Like so many good riders, she carries herself like a dancer.
“I’m a wanna-be Monty Roberts, a wanna-be rodeo girl,” she says. “Pretty funny for a forty-three-year-old woman, huh?” Hardly, when her one-eyed horse once saved her from drowning as a child. At thirteen, Margaret was swimming bareback in Lake Tashmoo. She and the horse got caught up in the current near the bight, and she lost contact with her mount. Swept under, she thought her life might be about to end, but the horse stayed beside her, 
guiding her safely to shore.
As one of six Gonsalves children, Margaret gave pony rides to her classmates until their parents asked her to stop because all the kids had started wearing paddock boots to school and asking their parents 
for money. Husband David works for the Steamship 
Authority and as a court officer. Like Ana’s dad, Patrick, he’s sitting on the bleachers at the far end 
of the ring today, watching his daughter perform.
“He just puts up with us,” Margaret says. “He’s wonderful. But he often wonders why we never have any money in the bank.” She laughs.
Ana’s mother, T.A. (short for Tommye-Ann), works as a beautician at Rosecuts Salon in Vineyard Haven. Her husband Patrick runs Ana Imports and sells Yucatan hammocks at the Aquinnah flea market.
“Ana canters across the living room floor,” T.A. says. “She was just born like that. I didn’t push it.” While Alicia rides English, meaning English saddles and disciplines such as jumping, dressage, or eventing, Ana rides short-stirrup (beginner jumping) and Western. She takes lessons with her mom.
Crow Hollow Rules are in effect today. That means the girls are not competing with each other 
or their friends, even when riding in the same class. What matters is each girl’s own personal best.
“Showing is our goal,” Alicia says. “It says that we’ve worked hard. We do our best and have fun.” Both have been collecting ribbons since they began 
in the lead-line classes, where you simply walk beside your horse to demonstrate confidence and control. Alicia estimates she has around 100 ribbons, and 
Ana has already accumulated 21.
Unlike horse racing and many other sports, which try to generate one big high after another, time meanders by during a horse show. As class after class goes by, it can be a challenge for a competitor to maintain concentration, since the event schedule may keep you standing around for an hour or so between classes.
It’s exciting to be at a show, the girls insist, 
because everyone feels the same fear – that it’s what you’ve been waiting for all year and you might make stupid mistakes. Ana especially likes watching the lead-liners because they’re so tiny.
The sun heads high above the Ag Hall barn. 
At 1:30 p.m., it’s time to pack up the tack, load 
Frisbee into the trailer, and head back to Crow 
Hollow. Frisbee gets a bath and a liniment rub. 
Then Alicia and Ana climb on Frisbee and ride 
double bareback up the road to a pasture near the 
little barn, where Frisbee spends the night, and 
the barn rats go home.