When it comes to horses, it takes time to ditch a lifetime’s habits.
By Pamela Britton-Baer | October 13, 2009
The American Quarter Horse Journal
I was a hunter/jumper snob.
But at least I admit my faults. In my defense, I suppose 30-odd years of showing on the open circuit will do that to you. I was one of those riders who’d look down her nose at American Quarter Horse people. At the big national shows where I’d bump into “those breed-show people” I’d watch y’all lope around the rail and wonder why in the heck you did it, and how you did it … go so slow, I mean.
And then I married a cowboy.
Don’t ask me how it happened – I’m still trying to figure that part out for myself. The long and short of it: I met a man who swept me off my Dehners. (Dehners being the preferred footwear of hunter-jumper types). That cowboy husband showed me the light: Quarter Horse people are nice.
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Their horses aren’t half bad, either. I knew that, of course. I’d figured out long ago that riding an American-bred – as opposed to a Thoroughbred – was a whole heck of a lot safer than riding a 1,500-pound catapult. It wasn’t much of a stretch for me to think I should maybe trade my warmblood in for the new, improved Quarter Horse – you know the type: the model with its long, sleek lines, the powerful body, and the – praise God for miracles – sane mind along with it. And if I traded in my Westphalian, maybe I should try my hand at showing the Quarter Horse circuit, too. I mean, how hard could it be?
Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?
And I’m sure I was ignorant, or ig-nant, as my cowboy husband likes to say. Those words, “How hard could it be?” would haunt me for months to come because, my friends, there’s a whole heck of a lot more to showing Quarter Horses than meets the eye. Flashback to five years ago: I was the uber-successful hunter rider. Show champion at most of the major shows. Trained by one of the very best hunter/jumper trainers in the world. Heck, my brother-in-law rode for the U.S. equestrian team. I’d be a shoe-in at these Quarter Horse shows.
I got my rear end kicked.
I’m embarrassed to say the fiasco haunts me to this day. I will never forget the look of horror on the faces of my fellow competitors when I made the mistake of cutting across the arena for a better spot on the rail – in the middle of a class. This, I later learned, is tantamount to running the judge over with a Mack truck. I was guilty of illegal blocking, too. That’s when you inadvertently get between another rider and the judge. I swear I thought the hissing I heard was the rider next to me urging her horse to go faster. It never occurred to me that she was hissing at me, until she all but yelled the word, “Move!” Not that I blocked her for long. I was going so fast NORAD probably had me on the radar. And this was another thing I learned – the pace of the Quarter Horse is way slower than his open-circuit brethren. Waa-hay-hay slower.
I came home with my tail tucked between my legs.
Indeed, I was so mortified that it would be several more years before I’d attempt another Quarter Horse show. I needed a fair amount of time for people to forget my face. I might have stayed away from the Quarter Horse circuit altogether if circumstances hadn’t worked to draw me back in. I found a hunter/jumper prospect, a weanling, and he grew up to be a big, gorgeous, beautiful boy.
He was a Quarter Horse. But you knew that was coming, didn’t you?
At one of our first schooling shows, he was beating older, more seasoned horses, and I was flush with success.
First out of 13 horses – get out of town! And then someone hissed the words in my ears again…Quarter Horse shows. Yeah, right. I wasn’t going through that again. But the trainer who did the hissing was insistent. I could do the Quarter Horse shows, she said. My horse could win. My ears perked up like a dog with a new chew toy.
Did I mention that I’m hypercompetitive? Seriously, if I could win a ribbon plucking my eyebrows out, I’d be there.
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But there was more to it than that.
I’m a closet American Quarter Horse Journal reader. Forget the other magazines. I’m a Journal junky. When my subscription runs out, I go down to my local feed store, tucking my Q magazine between my other purchases like a teenage boy with something to hide. I might pretend indifference to the Quarter Horse world, but I was mesmerized by the pretty horses. Ooo, how I loved the glossy photos between the pages. They were my window to the Quarter Horse industry, and I’d studied them for years.
Time to humiliate myself all over again?
In hindsight, I guess it was inevitable. Frankly, I probably bought my hunter prospect with that very thought in mind – showing the Quarter Horse circuit. But if I was to do this again, I’d need to go back better prepared. I’d have to get myself one of those fancy square-shaped saddle pads, the one with that plastic number holder on the side. I’d been lacking that in my big debut, and I knew rule No. 1 of showing: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. New saddle pad. Check.
I tried to glean from the pictures if Quarter Horse people were as hung up on brand names as certain USEF trainers. I’d comb through the pages of the Journal looking for that rarified species of equestriannes known as the English Rider. She (or he) was usually sandwiched between pages and pages of horses wearing shiny halters and riders in sparkly clothes. (I do love those sparkly clothes, though!) What I saw was encouraging. It appeared English attire was universal. My Tailored Sportsmen and Pytchley hunt coat would work just fine. OK, so I was good to go there, too. Cool.
My next bit of research was a tad more difficult. How did one know if a horse had the correct movement for the Quarter Horse circuit. What was “flat-kneed?” What did “slow-legged” mean? And just how slow was one supposed to go, anyway?
One might think the logical solution to my dilemma would have been to contact a local Quarter Horse trainer. That would have been the smart thing to do.
I’m blonde. Enough said.
Apparently, I like to do things the hard way, so I ordered myself a video. Did you know the AQHA Web site has a whole host of videos for sale? Instead of buying a DVD on how to tighten my abs (as if after carrying a child that was possible), I’d be learning Quarter Horse slang. Words like “flowing” and “cadence” were explained. The correct position of a horse’s head was demonstrated, as was the proper way of go. I was feeling emboldened. Saddling up my little 16-hand guy, I practiced what Carla Wennberg and Leslie Lang had preached. I worked on keeping my horse’s head level. I worked on slowing things down…way down.
I worked on me. Having ridden hunt seat my entire life, I tend to hover over the saddle like the Goodyear Blimp, an apt analogy in more ways than one. I’m constantly hearing my husband yell, “Lean back,” from his official director’s chair placed firmly in the Peanut Gallery. This, it turns out, requires muscles I never knew existed. Alas, my cellulite remains unimpressed. After the head Peanut videotaped me one day, I determined I was ready for my first Quarter Horse show. Well, OK, not exactly my first, but it felt like my first. A quick glance at the AQHA Web site revealed a show two hours from my home.
So this was it. Did I have the courage to jump off the cliff again? And if I did, would I humiliate myself one more time?
It was my husband who reminded me of that age-old adage: It’s not whether you win or lose… And you know what? He was right. No matter what happened, I’d prepared myself as best I could. My research was done. My horse was prepared. Who cared if I won? I was embarking on a new adventure.
Season of Champions Newsletter
Besides, the bigger question was… was the Quarter Horse circuit ready for me?
Fall is here and it’s that time of year again … time for the Season of Champions.
Starting October 19, the American Quarter Horse Journal will bring you weekly email updates on happenings in the Quarter Horse world from the All American Quarter Horse Congress to the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity to the Bank of America Racing Challenge.
And November 7-22, subscribers will receive the Season of Champions newsletter daily to get a close-up on the happenings at the 2009 AQHA World Championship Show from winning runs to behind-the-scenes stories.
The Season of Champions newsletter will return to weekly delivery November 23 with a preview of the National Reining Horse Association Futurity and will conclude December 14 with a wrap-up on the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and NCHA Futurity.
Make sure you don’t miss out on any of the important details and stories during the Season of Champions. Sign up for the Journal’s special e-newsletter today!