The Rundown: The Big Day

Showing horses prepares you for plenty of things in life, like college, the real world and a career. You can add “wedding” to that list, too.

By Tara Matsler
The American Quarter Horse Journal
June 5, 2013

Tara and Cody Matsler wedding, photo by Becky Newell

Despite the lost shoes, paper-napkin pocket square and encounter with a diamondback rattlesnake, everyone seemed to be in high spirits following mine and Cody's wedding. (Becky Newell photo)

Folks go on and on about the benefits of being raised horseback. Young horsemen learn responsibility, the value of hard work, determination, honor, courage, plus a whole mess of other important traits. People say great things about how horse-handling prepares you for college, the real world, a job.

What they don’t mention is how showing horses prepares you for The Big Day.  

From what I gathered from the whole bridal process (my wedding was on May 26), prepping for a wedding is much like preparing for an AQHA world championship show.

When you’re on the road to a gold trophy, you start with finding the right horse, then aiming to get qualified. In relationship-speak, this means you need to find Mr. Right (as we all know, not every horse is a world champ, nor is every guy husband-material). Next comes courting (or point-earning, horse people might call it). The day he whips out the engagement ring I would liken to receiving your qualification letter in the mail. Yippee!   

You’d think the hard work would be over at that point, but it’s not. Oh no, you’re not going to haul to Oklahoma City for nothing, my friend! This is your Big Day – you’re going big or you’re going home.

I’ve never considered myself a crafty person, but that darn wedding of mine sure brought out a never-seen-before crafty side of me. Before I knew it, I was making homemade leather-scented ornaments in the shapes of Texas, cowboy boots and stars, which served as party favors. I was buying up Mason jars left and right, plus wiping the Walmart shelves clean of votive candles to fill those jars. Between the work done between Cody and me, plus his family, in some ways it looked like Pinterest exploded at our wedding. (On that note, I recently read an article titled “ ‘Pinterest stress’ afflicts nearly half of moms, survey says.” If you want a good laugh, check it out.)

All the hours Cody and I put in preparing for our wedding might look quite comparable to the time I logged prepping for the 2006 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show, where I won the working cow horse world title with TC Lena. When you have your eye on a prize, you work without fail. As you step into the show pen, you want to do it with the knowledge that you did everything up to that point to give you and your American Quarter Horse a shot at gold. Very similarly, when you get to the altar, you want all your little ducklings in a straight-and-narrow row.  

What I know to be true is that you don’t get to a world champion trophy or a fantastic wedding without an awesome support group. For instance, the horse showing success I’ve seen over the years would not be possible without the help and support of my family, the Christiansens.

To be a Christiansen means quite a bit to me. It means calling Terry my dad – a man who has earned two AQHA reserve world championships, plus a National Reined Cow Horse Association world title. It means calling Bonnie my grandmother – a 70-year-old cowgirl-with-an-attitude who sports two AQHA world championships. And it means calling Travis my brother – a kid who has earned his fair share of horse-show accolades, too.

But being a Christiansen means more than the success we’ve all seen in the show pen. The things that can’t be measured in buckles, trophies and ribbons are what I love most about being a Christiansen.

To be a Christiansen is to know I always have at least one of my kin standing at the in-gate, willing me to make the best ride possible, and to make it out of the pen safe and sound. It’s knowing that win, lose or draw, I’ve got someone there who knows all the emotions coursing through me, because they’ve felt them, too. It’s knowing that I’m riding a horse bred by someone who shares my last name; a horse bred by someone who shares my passions and dreams. The reason I work for the American Quarter Horse Association is because it was the Christiansens who encouraged me to love the breed that has given us so much.

I’m not sure who I am if not a Christiansen.

As a friend pointed out at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions this January, that show was the last time Dad and I would compete against each other as Christiansens. That thought left me with a bittersweet feeling, and it’s one I carried right up ’til May 26.

To successfully pull off our wedding, Cody and I were in need of a great deal of help from our extended family and close friends. Everyone on hand knuckled down that weekend, but they had a great time while they did so. The reception dinner was prepared by loving hands, as were the bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages.

At the end of two days, which our wedding had dragged into, all we were left with was a sensation of success – and some leftover brisket. Everything slid easily into place. It didn’t matter that my brother forgot his dress shoes and held up the picture-taking process. It didn’t matter that one of our groomsman, who started the weekend with a severe case of food poisoning, didn’t have his pocket square, and thus had to make do with a paper napkin in his pocket. It didn’t matter that our welcome table careened down the hillside and was found at the tail of a rattlesnake.

All that mattered was when I unwrapped my wedding present from my parents – the coat rack Dad and I started eight years ago – the finished design featured no longer just a “T,” but also now a “C” and an “M,” perfectly representing not only mine and Cody’s initials, but an “M” for our now-shared last name, Matsler. I didn’t think my father could express his approval in a more appropriate way; now I suppose that was only part of it.

When it came time to give me away, my dad’s voice cracked. I knew he would he cry, just like he did when he met me at the back gate at the 2006 Ford Youth World. Despite the tears, my father looked Cody straight in the eye and shook his hand.

My dad – my family – was ready for me to be more than just a Christiansen. With that in mind, I too, was ready to be more.

The greatest lesson my family has taught me is this: At the end of the day, it’s not about the trophy in your hand; it’s about the folks there to celebrate with you.  

Lucky for me, my herd has grown. Not only do I have the Christiansens at my side, but the Matslers, too.

Enjoy more horse-showing quips, quotes and anecdotes from AQHA Internet Editor Tara Matsler by visiting The Rundown archives at www.aqha.com/therundown.