To Show, To Learn, To Grow

Like many life-changing events, one this spring came disguised as an unexpected interruption. I had just come inside to eat a quick lunch on a Saturday afternoon after doing a myriad of outside chores.  I was comfortably tired from stacking 85 pound bales of hay, cleaning pens, and hauling the hose around to fill up our horses’ water troughs. I opened my laptop and clicked on the Facebook icon to kill a little time and entertain myself while I ate a sandwich.

The first thing I saw was the highlighted Messenger symbol showing that someone had sent me a personal message. I don’t get a lot of Facebook messages, so I was curious and opened it up right away. The message was from a woman in Canada named Roxanne. It was short, offering no information other than “Please call me. Thank you. Roxanne.”

I really couldn’t imagine what Roxanne wanted to speak to me about. Annabelle and I had met her at a reined cow horse clinic almost two years before, and as part of a group of about thirty riders we didn’t have a great deal of one-on-one interaction with either her or her husband. They were nice people, but I had things to do and I almost left the message for another day. Curiosity and good manners got the better of me though, and I dialed the number she had provided as soon as I finished my lunch.

Roxanne answered the phone and began the conversation with “I just want to tell you right away that I am not calling you to sell you a horse,” which is the thing that a lot people selling horses say to keep you on the phone long enough to hear the sales pitch. Nonetheless, I remembered that Roxanne and her husband Doug had been riding very nice horses when I met them, so I was interested to hear what she had to say.

As the conversation went on I realized that Roxanne honestly wasn’t trying to sell me a horse. She explained that they had an older gelding that they owned and adored and never wanted to sell. They had loaned this horse to a young girl in Canada who had shown him in reined cow horse events, but the girl had changed disciplines and was no longer riding him. He was a “fantastic show horse” that needed to be used, but not as hard as Roxanne and Doug rode. Roxanne remembered Annabelle from the clinic, and she had gotten our contact information through our trainer.  She added that she had asked the trainer lots of questions about us to make sure we took good care of our animals and had a good professional support system in place if we needed help with training.

She went on to extol the virtues of this wonderful-sounding horse. Doc had been trained by an Olympic equestrian, Shawna Sapergia, who was Doug’s cousin. Just a few years ago Shawna had actually used the horse to qualify for the Olympic games when her regular mount got hurt, and the duo had marked one of the highest scores of the group of Canadians in the try-outs. The young girl who had been riding Doc had qualified for the National Reined Cow Horse Celebration of Champions show in Texas every year. She stressed again that the horse wasn’t for sale, but they would consider a care lease to us.

Were we interested?

As hard as it is to believe now, I was skeptical. It just sounded too good to be true. I was also a little gun shy.  Only a couple of months before we had had to return another show horse that a generous friend had loaned to Annabelle. After driving to California with high hopes for that match, we brought the horse home and invested a lot of time and energy trying to make the combination work. It became apparent, though,  that the high-powered horse was not going to be a fit for my eight year old, so Greg and I had taken the mare to Indian Valley and left her with our friend’s parents. Annabelle had been devastated that it hadn’t worked out with Sophie, so I was leery of even thinking of taking on another loaner horse.

Roxanne went on to say that if we wanted to try Doc they could bring him down in a month when they came to the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association’s Triple Threat Clinic at Annie Reynolds’ beautiful Why Worry Ranch. We could take him and try him out, and if it didn’t work they could pick him up on another trip down or I could ship him back.

It was an extremely generous offer, but I was still hesitant. I told her I’d think about it; she said she’d send me some links to photos of the horse, and we rung off.

I immediately put a call in to my friend Jacki. She had met Roxanne and Doug at the same time I had, and I knew she had interacted with them some after that. She’d also been privy to the emotional ups and downs we’d had with the last borrowed horse, and I was almost certain she would concur with me that it was a not a good idea to consider taking on another one, let alone from people we barely even knew. I explained the surprise phone call to my friend and described the horse with the limited information I had.

I was completely floored by her reaction.

“Why would you not try him?” she said, “What have you got to lose?  If it works out, great!  If not, you can just send him home.” When I looked at it that way it didn’t sound so crazy. I called my friend Jake, who had helped Roxanne track us down, and though he didn’t know anything about that specific horse he did vouch for the honesty of the Sapergias, and called Roxanne a “straight shooter.”

Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, a friend from Nampa was driving to Canada to ride in a clinic at Roxanne and Doug’s a few weeks later. Annabelle was eager to meet Doc, of course, and Roxanne agreed that our friend could bring him home to us on her return trip. We’d have him for about a month and if he wasn’t working out Roxanne and Doug could pick him when they came to the Triple Threat Clinic in May.

Perfect.

Doc arrived in Idaho late on a Monday evening in April. I had allowed Annabelle to stay up past her bedtime to go with me and pick him up when he got to town. It was cold and damp outside when we unloaded him, and true to her nature, Annabelle insisted on taking his halter rope to lead him to our trailer. Doc breathed out white puffs of dewy smoke in the dark air as he lifted his head and snorted. He was anxious to move around after being confined for fifteen hours, and almost stepped on Annabelle as he pranced down the driveway. I took the lead rope from her and loaded him up in our rig, thinking that I sure hoped that wasn’t an omen of things to come.

We had made Doc a special stall with a private corral and bedded it deeply with shavings for his arrival. The Sapergias are known for taking excellent care of their horses, and I knew Doc had spent the last weeks in a heated barn at their place. When we got him home I led him to the roomy stall, where we had rigged up a clip-on light so that he could see where he was. I locked the shiny new gate that Desperate Hubby had hung for him and patted him good night.

Annabelle started riding Doc the very next afternoon as soon as she got home from school. She got along with him splendidly from the start, and I sent Roxanne video after video of her loping him around, spinning him, and even riding bareback and bridleless. He seemed like a perfect fit, and we were all thrilled.

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We took Doc to a practice reining show with our local club the weekend after he arrived. Annabelle didn’t know him well yet, but being a confident and accomplished young showman she wasn’t at all intimidated by taking a strange horse into the arena. Roxanne warned us that Doc could tend toward the bad habit of bolting off during parts of the pattern that called for running a straight line down the arena, so Annabelle practiced beforehand what to do to get him stopped if that happened. We spent a lot of time talking about staying safe and monitoring his speed, but to our surprise and delight Doc was a perfect gentleman in the arena, staying quiet and soft and going only as fast as he was asked. We were ecstatic.

The following weekend one of the largest regional shows of the year was to be held at our beautiful local facility, the Ford Idaho Center. We love to show at the Idaho Center, and since Annabelle and Doc were getting along so well we decided to enter the pair in their first real competition. Annabelle was thrilled at the opportunity to show her new mount there. Many of the toughest youth competitors from surrounding states would be in attendance, and she was excited to be riding a horse that she felt totally competitive on.

She bathed and brushed Doc and he was looking his best when we left early that morning for the show. He was clothed from head to toe in Annabelle’s favorite color, pink, and I thought he carried it off nicely.

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Doc warmed up beautifully at the showgrounds, and I was excited and nervous as the duo entered the arena. Their pattern started off moderate and sane. I had instructed Annabelle to be ready to school the horse, meaning to make him slow way down or stop to correct him if he got too speedy in there, since we weren’t sure how he would react in the big, bright arena surrounded by grandstands and lots of spectators.

The pattern started off quietly enough until Doc got to his first run-down. Annabelle was a tiny figure on the big brown horse, and the entire crowd fell silent when the powerful gelding took off in a dead run toward the far end of the pen.

I briefly entertained the (terrible) idea of climbing over the fence to run in and try to stop the out-of-control animal, but Annabelle had it handled. She had enough presence of mind to grab the reins with both hands close to the horse’s mane and throw her whole body weight back against the chain curb strap that gave his bit leverage. He came to a sliding stop, and she backed him up a long ways, spurring as hard as her little legs could in admonishment.

The crowd of spectators released a unified breath, and a couple of the trainers who were standing near me at the gate laughed with what sounded like nervous incredulity. “Did you see that? She just pulled that big old horse into the ground when he ran off!!”

A wave of relief swept over me, but I knew it wasn’t over yet. Instead of just turning around and leaving the arena as many amateurs might have done (not to mention your average eight year old kid), Annabelle continued on in the pattern. She rounded the end of the arena with Doc checked up tightly. As soon as he lined out for the next run down he did the same thing, throwing his head up and bolting as fast as he could go. This time Annabelle was ready for him, and all sixty pounds of her muscular little body hauled him into the ground again, backing him up as harshly as she was capable of.

Annabelle finished the run slowly, keeping Doc in total control, and pulling him down to a stop a couple more times when he got strong. I met her coming out the gate as they announced her score of zero, more proud of her than if she had earned the highest mark of the entire five-day event. She had a strange smile on her face, and as I congratulated her on her excellent handling of a very scary situation she calmly asked if we could go outside to our stalls.

As soon as we walked out the door she burst into tears.

“I am never riding that horse again! He is scary and I hate him!” she sobbed. Her hands were shaking and her whole body trembled with released emotion.

These were strong words from my fearless eight year old. From the moment our friend Kris had put her on her gelding Chic at the age of four, and then hauled her to show after show  to ride him because we didn’t even have a horse trailer, Annabelle had been riding and sliding. She’d shown multiple horses already in her short career and had feared none. She loved to go, and usually the faster the better.

I talked to her as we walked. “Honey, you don’t ever have to get back on him if you don’t want. We’ll take him home and turn him out if that’s what you decide, and in a few weeks we’ll take him to the clinic and send him back home to Canada.” This appeased her somewhat, but she was still mad and frustrated. “I want to take him back to our house right now! I want to get Freckles and show her instead.” We talked about it for a moment, and decided that we would go get my sweet mare Freckles and bring her back for Annabelle to ride. I had been planning on showing Freckles later in the show, but my little girl and her downtrodden confidence took precedence.

We unsaddled and loaded Doc up for the half-hour drive home. Not long after we got on the highway my phone rang. It was Roxanne, who had watched the disastrous run on the live internet webcast.

She was mad.

“Did that (insert naughty name here) scare her? “ I told her yes he did, and that right now Annabelle was feeling like she didn’t want to ride him anymore. Roxanne was very upset. “You tell her how proud I was of her for pulling him into the ground. She had perfect instincts and she is STRONG for such a little thing!”

We talked for a little while more and Roxanne told me the reason for her call. Shawna Sapergia, Doc’s original trainer, was on her way to Idaho from Canada to show at this same show. Roxanne was going to call her and ask her if she would get on Doc and tune him up, and maybe give Annabelle a lesson. Would I ask Annabelle if she was willing?

I told Roxanne I would ask, but I wasn’t sure if Annabelle would be persuaded to get back on the horse. As soon as I hung up the phone I explained to her what Roxanne had said. Annabelle was steadfast: Doc was scary and she didn’t want to ride him again. Ever.

I told her I completely understood and that it was totally her choice; I would support her either way. The last thing I wanted to have happen was to for her to lose her complete delight and confidence in riding and showing these amazing animals.  I suggested she should just think about it, though, because getting a private lesson from an Olympic equestrian doesn’t happen every day, and no one knew Doc better than Shawna Sapergia.  I let that sink in a bit, and turned the radio back up in the truck.

A few minutes later out popped the girl I knew.

“Mom, I was just thinking……” “Yes honey?” “What if I do send Doc back, and then it turns out he could have been fixed and I never found out?”

I smiled and told her she had a really good point.

Annabelle was originally scheduled to show Doc that same evening in the outside arena at the Idaho Center. We had planned to make a horse change to Freckles for that class, but after some thoughtful discussion and planning we decided to go ahead and have her ride Doc as well. It was possible he would be easier for her to handle in the outside arena, which had much less commotion and excitement swirling around it. She had already proven that she could get the horse stopped if he ran off, so I felt (reasonably) comfortable she wasn’t in actual mortal danger.

As the afternoon progressed, we made arrangements to meet up with Shawna the following morning, and got Doc entered into a schooling class for Shawna to ride.  Now we had a plan.

But Annabelle still had to get on the brown horse and show him that night.

We found a quiet warm-up pen off to the side of the show grounds, and my spunky little girl loped Doc until “his tongue was hanging out!” (her words). She was relaxed but vigilant when she rode him into the arena, and he was as good as he could be through her pattern. She marked a 68.5 and ended up fourth out of twelve entrants. It was a wonderful confidence booster.

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She was all smiles as she left the arena.

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The next morning we drove back to the Idaho Center and met up with Shawna in the outside warm-up area. Meeting the Olympic rider was pure worship at first sight for Annabelle (and maybe a little bit for her mom, too). Shawna was tall and elegant, picture-perfect for the equestrian pursuits where she makes her living. More important than that, she was sweet and genuine; understanding of Annabelle’s situation and equipped to offer help without being condescending or coddling. Shawna rode Doc for half an hour or so, reminding him of some of his early training, then schooled him in the class, tuning up his responsiveness and listening skills.

After she rode Doc, Shawna gave Annabelle a long lesson, showing her some of the cues that she had taught him in his training and explaining how to utilize those commands to control the horse’s speed. Annabelle blossomed under Shawna’s calm teaching style, and I could tell she felt much more comfortable after the lesson ended.

As we drove home that evening we were more optimistic about Annabelle’s future with Doc, but still not totally sold on the idea that he was going to be a match. She still had to face the next day of showing in the big indoor arena again where Doc had been so scary the first day of the show.

The next morning we were both a little nervous, but Annabelle was excited to ride again. We went over and over the things that she had learned from Shawna, rehearsing what she would do if Doc tried to take off again or went faster than she wanted. My daughter’s nerves got a little more intense as the day wore on, and by the time it was her turn to enter the arena she was noticeably on edge. She now knew that Doc might be a totally different horse inside the huge indoor pen, and she was hoping she was ready for it.

As it turned out, she had nothing to worry about. Doc was fresh off his tune-up from Shawna and he had been reminded to listen to the cues he was getting and remain compliant. Annabelle took him slowly and smoothly through the pattern, marking a respectable 67. While she wasn’t close to winning a horse show prize in that class she won something much more valuable:  the return of her confidence.

It was the best thing we could have hoped for.

From that day forward she never looked back. At the very next horse show the duo won the 10-and-Under Short Stirrup class and a beautiful wooden NRHA plaque. The pair were getting in sync, and it was obvious they were going to be a good team.

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Our plan was for Annabelle to show Doc in our local reining club shows, and maybe a few National Reining Horse Association sanctioned shows.  We set goals at the beginning of every year, and Annabelle’s goal for the 2015 season (before Doc was even in the picture and we weren’t exactly sure who she was going to ride) was that she wanted to qualify for the Northwest Affiliate Finals of the National Reining Horse Association. This year the Affiliate Finals were to be held right here in Nampa at the Idaho Center, so it would be a great opportunity to match up with other talented youth from all over the Northwest without having to travel. I was excited that she was dreaming big; it gave her something quantifiable to work toward and to look forward to.

One possibility that we hadn’t considered at the beginning of the season was for Annabelle and Doc to start competing in cow horse classes. I had always told Annabelle she could not show on cattle until she was ten, and she accepted that rule just fine until the day she was invited to help put “used” cattle out of the arena at the Triple Threat Clinic where we drove to meet Roxanne and Doug in May.

The horse’s owners were thrilled to see how well the pair was getting along, but Roxanne was visibly concerned about Annabelle being able to handle Doc with cattle in the pen.  If a cow slipped by her and Doc started to chase it down the fence she might not be able to get him stopped.

Roxanne kept saying “She’s so bitty!” There were plenty of people horseback, though, who could help if the big horse got out of control, so we decided to let them give it a go.

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Doc surprised Roxanne and delighted Annabelle by being as quiet and manageable as he could be. Annabelle loved moving the cattle, and after lunch she got a mini-lesson on boxing from the hilarious and talented Wade Reaney.

When our friend Jake Telford gave his blessing on her showing in youth boxing during the IRCHA show a couple of weeks later, I had nothing else to say about it.

A couple of weeks later Annabelle talked me into entering her and Doc in the Northwest Reined Cow Horse Association Cow Horse Challenge show in Moses Lake, Washington. I registered them for the club’s Beginning Boxing class since Annabelle had never shown on cattle before. Our friend Jerry Beukelman was there, along with friend and trainer Dan Roeser, and they generously coached the duo when they worked their cows in practice and in the show pen, helping contain Annabelle’s exuberance and quieting my nerves.  Never one to hold back in the face of a new challenge, my eight year old came out with both guns blazing, winning her class of nine contestants the first day and tying for third place the second. She was the only child entered in Beginning Boxing.

From then on out the pair competed in reining and cow horse events at venues near and far. Annabelle showed Doc in the Snake River Reining Alliance show series, where she was working to qualify for the NRHA Affiliate finals, and in a couple of the Intermountain Reined Cow Horse Association shows in the youth boxing.  In June she stared showing in the Greener Than Grass class at the Gem State Stock Horse Association as well, determined to get more experience showing the horse on cattle.

Since she didn’t own Doc, Annabelle was somewhat limited in the classes that she could enter. The NRHA has strict rules about ownership, and while she could show him in the Youth 10-and-Under Short Stirrup Class, she wasn’t allowed to enter other NRHA youth classes at a sanctioned show without owning the horse she was riding. Since I wasn’t totally familiar with NRHA restrictions, I read the rulebook carefully, and always checked with the office when I entered her to be sure she was not competing in a category where she wasn’t allowed.

Although I was scrupulous in adhering to the regulations, questions started being asked as the team began to see more success in the bigger reining shows.  I was standing in the warm-up pen talking to Roxanne on the phone after Annabelle had won the Youth 10-and-Under Short Stirrup Championship at the Luc McGregor Memorial Classic when the show secretary came walking rapidly toward me. “Someone has been in the office asking,” she said, “does Annabelle actually own the horse she is showing?” Annabelle wasn’t required to own Doc in any of the classes where they competed, I was positive of that, but that didn’t mitigate the questions.  I followed the secretary back to the office and we looked carefully through her entry.  Everything was in order.

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When I told Roxanne of the complaints, she wasn’t surprised and addressed the issue in her usual direct style. “I knew people would start bitching as soon as they started winning,” she said. “We’ll fix that!” After further discussion, Roxanne and Doug made the very generous offer to sell Doc to Annabelle. The price for which they offered him to us was unbelievably reasonable for a horse that they could have sold instantly on the open market for tens of thousands of dollars.  I kept the transaction a secret from Annabelle until the day the papers arrived from the American Quarter Horse Association showing her as the official owner of All Reddy Doc.

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She laughed and then cried as the meaning of the paperwork in front of her slowly sunk in. The bond that had developed between the big horse and the little girl was cemented, and we will forever be indebted to Roxanne and Doug for sharing such a wonderful treasure with us.

When we weren’t hauling to shows in the summer, Doc got to just be a regular horse. He lived in the pasture with his buddy Snip, and Annabelle played around on him during the week, trail riding and loping him bareback to keep him in shape. He knew his maneuvers, and a horse as seasoned as he was didn’t need a lot of practice to stay sharp.

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He even did double duty when asked, the always-happy expression never leaving his face. (Isn’t he gorgeous?!)

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Over the course of the season, Annabelle and Doc improved with every show. One of the great challenges of our sport is to balance exhibiting your horse to the best of his ability in the show pen and at the same time keep him convinced that you will correct him if he makes a mistake. There were many times this season when Annabelle and Doc ended up with a zero score in a class after Annabelle realized he needed to be schooled. I was proud of my little girl for not only having the instinct to know when the horse needed corrected, but also for exhibiting the maturity to do that even though she would knew it meant she wouldn’t place in a class.

Annabelle took some lessons on working cattle from our friend Jason Gay at Jake Telford’s, and with his help they won their first cow horse buckle in tough competition at the Magic Valley Reined Cow Horse Show in August. My little girl showed her grit that weekend, sitting in the chilly wind and rain without a proper coat (my fault, poor planning) waiting for her turn to school in the show arena.

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The wet and freezing practice paid off, and I thought she looked just gorgeous in the new show shirt she picked out when we stopped by a local western store to buy up some jackets.

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The buckle she won at Magic Valley wasn’t her first, but I do believe it is one of her most beautiful.

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By the time the end of the show season arrived in late October, Annabelle and Doc had accomplished all of her season goals and more.

The pair ended up reserve champion for the year-end in the Gem State Stock Horse Association “Greener Than Grass” Boxing class, competing against a dozen and a half adults and winning a beautiful pair of engraved spurs and a cool jacket.

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She brought home another beautiful buckle for first place in the Snake River Reining Association 10-and-Under Short Stirrup for the year, and added a stunning custom tooled headstall for reserve champion in the Youth 13-and-Under. (By the way, she wasn’t under arrest in the picture. The banquet featured a dress-up theme of the Roaring Twenties.  Her buddy and fellow short-stirrup rider was the winner of the costume contest.)

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Annabelle’s proudest accomplishment came during the NRHA Northwest Region Affiliate Finals held in Nampa in October. True to her goal, Annabelle qualified to enter the Affiliate Youth 10-and-Under Short Stirrup class, and she gained a world of experience competing against the toughest kids from states all around our region. The show was a grueling schedule of late nights and early mornings, showing after midnight on a Wednesday and getting up for school the next morning; then heading right back to the arena as soon as classes were over to ride again.

In the end, she surpassed even her own expectations.

As the first rider out on a chilly Saturday morning, she marked a score of 72, which held up through a nail-biter rest of the class and ended with her being crowned the 2015 NRHA Northwest Region Short Stirrup ,Champion. She also won possession of the huge traveling trophy for the Low Roller Horse Show Short Stirrup Championship, along with lots of other awesome goodies.

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Annabelle amassed so many prizes during this special year that we joked we needed to add a room to our house to put them all in.  We did end up moving things around in the dining room so there was a place to showcase the huge bronze, and added some of the other prizes around to make a little trophy display.  Her older sisters took one look at the re-purposed banquet and dubbed it “The Shrine.”

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I can see their point, but I still think it’s kinda cool.

As we get ready to embark on another year of showing, I’ve been reflecting on what we learned from this incredible past season.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t proud my daughter is becoming such an accomplished rider, and gratified that she possesses a special ability to get along with a variety of horses. It thrills me that she projects a happy and confident presence in the show pen, known for her smiling face beaming at her fans as she races by in even the most complex reining pattern.  I am delighted that she has been able to accomplish a great deal without the benefit of a regular lesson program, by and large maintaining her own horses with only a little help from me (and the occasional drop-in Olympian).

What I am truly most pleased about, though, is the dedication and hard-work that my little girl puts in each and every day to help support her dreams. I have never had to mandate or even suggest to Annabelle that she needs to go outside and exercise her horse or practice maneuvers (though I have on occasion beseeched her to ride in a saddle instead of bareback, or to get off her mount when the snow started sticking to the ground). She rises without objection in the wee hours of the morning and helps load horses in the dark, rides for hours in the truck without complaint (as long as I remember to feed her), and stays up long after a late class has ended to make sure her horse is cared for and settled comfortably in his stall.

Annabelle’s dedication is completely self-generated and largely self-guided.

During the school year she rushes in the house as soon as she gets home to complete her homework so she can go outside and ride. If the weather doesn’t support riding, she grooms her horses, braids their manes and tails, or just walks them around the place. She feeds all the horses every night, and meticulously administers different hay rations, supplements and medications as needed. Once she is back in the house she practices reining maneuvers on foot, running circles through the living room and sliding down the hallway in her socks, explaining before every “go” what imaginary horse she is riding, the age of the horse and show venue, and often who she is competing against (interestingly, she beats Jake Telford quite a bit in these imaginary shows. Sorry Jake). When she tires of being her own horse she goes to her room, where she maintains a stable of dozens of horse statues housed in two or three barns and several arenas, and moves the animals around in different configurations until she is satisfied. The girl is focused.

That focus, of course, does not come without its drawbacks.

My little darling is bossy and hard-headed when it comes to her horse program management.  She wants to do things her own way and generally places little value on uninvited suggestions or unsolicited advice.  For the most part she doesn’t really enjoy taking lessons, but she will sit happily outside the warm-up pen at a show and watch different trainers ride for hours, picking up techniques that she thinks might help her with her horsemanship.  She wants to do everything herself, in her own way, and will not accept help except in the rarest of circumstances.  She catches horses, grooms, wraps legs and braids tails all by herself.  She has singlehandedly saddled her pony, Reno, forever, and in the past couple of weeks has figured out how to get the saddle up on Freckles and even Doc without any assistance whatsoever.  When she is finished riding, she puts the horses up without aid..

Which sometimes takes forever.

Some of the biggest arguments we have had have been at horse shows, at the end of a long (or a long, long) day.  More than once I have begged (I know, I am the adult, but if you know Annabelle this doesn’t surprise you) to just go to the hotel room, get some dinner, have a glass of wine (for me – believe this, I earn it).  Unfortunately, my little sweetie will NEVER consent to putting a horse in the stall at a show with sweat on it, dried or not.  She always insists on washing down her mounts and then waiting around until they dry completely before she leaves the show grounds.  The only exception she makes for this rule comes during cold weather when washing could make the horses sick; other than that, time of day, time spent in the truck, time spent riding  or showing or cleaning stalls means nothing.  The horses come first.

As they should.

Despite her strong will and super-competitive nature, I have worked hard to instill in Annabelle the fact that our sport is not only about winning.  For the first couple of years she showed I tried to keep her from realizing that she was competing with the other kids.  I just told her to try to do her best that day, and the overriding goal was always to strive to do better than last time.

Competing in any judged event can bring out the worst in a competitor’s personality, and in the last few years we have been exposed to a wide gamut of reactions from fellow contestants after a score is announced.  With regard to how our competitions end up, though, I have always emphasized to her that “sometimes you are going to win when you probably shouldn’t have won, and sometimes you will not win when some will say you should have.  Once in awhile it will all come together and it will seem just the way it should. No matter what happens though, you have to take it in stride with a smile on your face.”

As a friend says, when you go in the show pen in our sport, you are paying for the judge’s opinion.  Like many things in life, it is what it is.

Gradually, of course, Annabelle has come to fully realize that she is competing for money and awards and recognition, and that not everybody in the class is going to come away with those things.  Nonetheless, I try hard to keep the focus at shows far away from winning.  What’s more important is spending time with friends old and new, enjoying our horses and each other, and endeavoring to learn something every time we go in the arena.  I’m proud to say Annabelle is just as excited for one of her friends to win a class as she is for herself, and she takes an unintended schooling run or a hard-fought loss in stride ( though sometimes it might take a  minute or two).  She also knows that the day she starts exhibiting bad sportsmanship or blaming others for her loss will be the last day she will be privileged to show a horse, at least while I have anything to say about it.

All of this being said, as every horse show parent knows, the dedication that even the most passionate horse girl has for equine pursuits can wane as other adolescent hobbies begin to gain in interest. I am realistic enough to know that Annabelle may not always be so dedicated to her horse endeavors, and that someday she might not even want to show anymore (shudder).

She has already displayed an interest in different riding disciplines, and spent most of the winter posting around in her English saddle, trotting Doc and her pony Reno over poles and small jumps whenever the frozen ground allowed.

This banquet awards season, where she received so many year-end accolades for her efforts in reining and cow horse, has re-directed her back to her usual realm, but if she chooses to stray that is alright with me.

Her love and dedication for horses and the physical and mental challenges of showing have already matured her far beyond her years, and I am satisfied with that.

But I do hope she rides forever.

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Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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