Journal at the World

August 26, 2013

Finding Her Place

An injury keeps her from riding, but Nancy McKay finds horse-showing enjoyment in a new event: halter.

By Jody Reynolds
The American Quarter Horse Journal

Nancy McKay and The Kids Story in aged geldings at the 2013 Adequan Select World

Nancy McKay is thankful for halter as a way for her to continue showing AQHA. "Samson" is her aged gelding. Journal photo.

Nancy McKay’s story reminds us that we all can find a place within the American Quarter Horse show industry.

The 64-year-old from Newburgh, Indiana, was raised around horses and grew up showing AQHYA. She gave them up to raise her family but made a return as an active Select competitor. Riding – specifically western pleasure – was her ultimate passion.

But, she recently had to make a difficult decision: Face unbearable pain, or give it up.

In 2011, she underwent lumbar fusion surgery to relieve excruciating back pain. She'd lived with pain since an accident during her teenage years. But in recent years, the pain became so bad that she couldn’t walk the length of the barn, lift a saddle or enjoy even a short ride.

The surgery was successful, and she can now cope with her pain. But there’s a big catch: “After a year of recovery from the surgery, the doctors gave me the OK to try to ride, to see if I could do it,” she recalls. “I could ride, but then I couldn’t walk afterward. It hurt so bad.”

Her trainers, AQHA Professional Horseman Brad Pitt and wife, Vicki, saw Nancy’s desperation. She wanted to ride and be involved with horses, but everyone knew riding was no longer an option.

“Brad said to me, ‘Why don’t you do halter?' ” she remembers. A light bulb clicked on, and Nancy realized halter was her solution for staying involved with horse showing.

They found her a gentle gelding, The Kids Story, who would be easy for her to show. “Samson” is a 2009 bay gelding by The Amarillo Kid and out of Perpetual Story by Perpetualism.

“I fell in love with him because he’s sweet, he doesn’t bite, he doesn’t jerk on me,” she says. “Any sudden movements, and I hurt and I’m in trouble. He’s never tried to walk over me. He’s just a real good guy.”

Nancy says it’s been a long transition from western pleasure to halter, but she’s starting to get the hang of it, and she definitely enjoys staying in the competitive showing arena.

“I’ve had to learn a lot of different things,” she says. “I’m not great at it! I make a lot of mistakes! I just try to do my best.

“Halter keeps me around the horses,” she continues. “The horses are my quieting thing. I can be so upset, but you get around a horse, and he doesn’t care that the dog ran away and the washer quit. He just says, ‘Pet me, rub me, do something with me!’ It quiets me down.”

Nancy and Samson are qualified for aged geldings August 27 at the 2013 Adequan Select World Championship Show.

“I owned Samson last year at the Open (AQHA) World (Championship Show), and he got third in the world in 3-year-old geldings,” she says. “That trophy is at my house, and I’d love to have another one to go with it!”

Nancy is thankful to the Pitts, her daughter-in-law and horse-show traveling partner Jamie McKay, and Samson for helping her continue her love of horse showing. The only thing she misses about riding is the gratifying feeling of a great ride.

“I miss the satisfaction of knowing you had a good ride,” she says. “That feeling of sitting up there and going around the pen and thinking, 'I’ve got this in hand!' Knowing you’re satisfied with what you did.”

Her advice to others who have a physical limitation is simple: “If you love to ride but you can't ride any more, you still have halter or showmanship. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make the decision to do halter or showmanship. I opted for halter. If you really, really love this horse infatuation that we have, you’re going to find something to do with it, even if it’s not showing any more. Just fiddling with the horses around your place. Or breeding. You’ll find something to do with a horse if it makes you feel good.”

Nancy is cheered on by her husband, Bob; son Robert and daughter-in-law Jamie and their three children; and daughter Tiffany and her family.

Stay tuned to find out how Nancy and Samson fair in aged geldings on August 27. There are 27 finalists in the class.