Scratching the Horse-Showing Itch

The humorous tale of a Journal columnist rediscovering county fair competition.

I’m broke.

And it sucks. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that things will get better, lately I’m part of that middle-America crowd struggling to make ends meet. And so while I had every intention of competing in an American Quarter Horse show this past month, it simply wasn’t in the cards.

It has been torture.

I have a horrible addiction: Equine showitis. You might know someone with the same disorder. Chronic symptoms include: a constant desire to scan show schedules. A manic need to practice patterns. Frequent thoughts of securing a second job in order to pay for said addiction – or perhaps selling one’s child (depending on the aforementioned child’s behavior that day).

As an Equine showitis sufferer, I’ve tried my best to cut corners. That $5 cup of coffee in the morning? Gone. Those biweekly manicures? Who needs to get their nails done when they’re going to get gunked up with hoof black, anyway? And hair color? Why bother? My hair’s stuffed beneath a cowboy hat more often than not.

Alas, even with all my scrimping and saving, it’s still never quite enough. I can’t quite justify spending all that money on fuel when I might need it for minor necessities. Like food.

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It occurred to me lately that I could trot off (no pun intended) to the nearest schooling show to alleviate some of the Showitis sting. But I have to be honest: Those shows are frustrating. One never knows if one will be showing to a judge whose appreciation of a hunter under saddle has more to do with what the exhibitor is wearing rather than how that exhibitor’s horse is performing on the rail. I’ve taken to Googling a judge’s name. That way I know whether or not I’m showing to someone who actually speaks my language.

I’ve decided to boycott schooling shows.

And then someone told me of a place where one could show one’s horse and possibly make money. (Picture Pam going, “Arrhuh?”) A place populated by people like me: the broke breed show exhibitor in search of the next pattern. A place where one could find quality judges who knew the difference between a hunter under saddle and an English equitation horse.

The local county fair. (Cue the sound of a scratching record.)

The fair? I asked. You mean the same place that exhibits mama’s famous rhubarb pie? The one spot in town where you can buy fried cake, fried ice cream and fried chicken all in one place (probably at the same booth)? The only place on Earth where one can see the world’s tallest horse, the world’s smallest man and the Giant Dipper all on the same night?

Yup, I was told. That’s the place.

Turns out I’d been missing the boat. It appears that there is a way for lonely and broke amateurs to show their horses, and some fairs even give you a check. Not a lot of money, of course, but enough to cover entry fees and maybe a little gas.

And if I did really well, I might even have enough left over to put toward my next Quarter Horse show. There was just one problem. I’d never shown at a fair before. Scratch that. I’d shown at them a million years before, back when Farrah Fawcett had happening hair and bell bottoms were still in style. Yes. That long ago. A quick scan of the premium booklet, and I recognized I had nothing to fear. The class list looked familiar. There were even one or two classes I hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

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Now, I’m not going to say that I traveled to my first county fair full of confidence. I’d gotten my rear end handed to me enough times to know anything was possible. My horse could suffer an equine meltdown. I could suffer a Homo Sapiens meltdown (probably during showmanship). Heck, the judge might have a nervous breakdown.

I needn’t have worried.

My breed-show experience served me in good stead. I was well prepared for the competition, and let me tell you, there were some mighty fine horses at that fair. Several riders hailed from breed shows. People who’d figured out long ago that there was a way to satisfy the Showitis itch. I was in heaven. In my very first class, I earned back my entry fees. When it was all said and done, I not only broke even, I actually made a profit. Go figure! My husband was so thrilled, he decided we should stick around for another day just to take in the sights, maybe sample some pie.

There was good news when I arrived back home, too. A long-awaited royalty check was in the mail. That meant we could now afford luxuries – such as Starbucks and two-ply toilet paper. And that I could do another Quarter Horse show, hopefully soon.

See you at the shows.

Pamela Britton-Baer is a special contributor to The American Quarter Horse Journal.

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