The Rundown: "The Look"

Do you know what “the Look” is?

The American Quarter Horse Journal

At 10 years old, I had yet to perfect "the Look," as my dad, Terry, and my mare, Our First Millun, would confirm. (Photo courtesy of Tara Christiansen)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably received “the Look.” Heck, you’ve even probably given “the Look” a time or two.

“The Look” conveys so much all with one withering glare. Blank face, narrowed eyes, “the Look,” says, “Right now, I’m convinced I’m right and that you’re wrong – I’m the one with all the right answers.” Years later, you’ll reflect back on “the Look” and realize, “Yep, I was wrong.”

Me, I’ve had years to perfect “the Look,” as my father will surely attest. Now, I’m sure raising a teenage daughter is no picnic for any father, much less when you’re also teaching your daughter how to show a horse while all of those crazy hormones are rushing around. Let me just take this minute to apologize to my dad: Sorry, Dad.

Truly, a parent who is capable of teaching a child – whether it is how to ride a horse or any other sport or hobby – is to be commended.

Take Ted Robinson for instance. He and his son, Tucker, have worked out a recipe for success for working together. As they’ll both admit, it’s not sunshine and daisies 24/7, but it’s a relationship that they’ve made work in and out of the arena.

“We bounce a lot of things off each other, and it works good,” Ted says in “The Look” by Annie Lambert on Page 166 in the March issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal.

“I’m not going to tell you we’re 100 perfect on with each other all the time. I can see ‘the Look’ once in a while, but if I notice something, I‘m going to tell you,” he continues. “But we don’t mince words about anything. I think we both respect what each other can or can’t do, and we try to build on our weak spots.”

If you’re not familiar with the family name, both Ted and Tucker are champion reined cow horse trainers. Ted, 62, has an unprecedented seven National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity open championships and two World’s Greatest Horseman titles, while Tucker, 33, has been coming on hot the last few years. In 2010, Tucker put on quite the show at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity when he and Stylish Little Oak, owned and bred by San Juan Ranch of Shandon, California, laid down a picturesque fence run in the finals for a score of 224. (Even if you don’t show cow horse, but you can appreciate a fantastic athlete, this run is certainly one to watch.)

In the March Journal, Ted explains what “the Look” all comes down to: When you’re sorting out a problem, you often don’t like to be told what needs to be heard.

As a result of unsolicited advice, “You can get ‘the Look,’ ” Ted explains. “But there have never been harsh words exchanged. Tucker can do his own thing; I don’t stop him from being who he is. He is supposed to surpass me – that’s what you’d hope.”

It was a family friend of ours, at a horse show, of course, who made note of this not-so-gorgeous “Look” that my teenage self occasionally threw at my poor father. Looking back on it, there were many ways in which I could’ve made life, and training, a whole lot easier on the man. But honestly, I wouldn’t trade the experiences that we – me, my dad, my mom, my brother, my gramma and grampa – shared, all because of horses. Well, they weren’t just horses, they were American Quarter Horses – every single one of them. 

My family has been breeding, raising and showing Quarter Horses for quite a while now.

Back when my dad, Terry, was 12, he started showing a 1969 bay gelding by the name of Leo’s Night Cat. “Leo” was by Leon Jr and out of the Cat’s Bell Boy mare Bell Boy’s Kitty. Tracing back to Leo, Joe Reed and Clabber, our Leo was nothing short of a great starter all-around horse. With points in horsemanship, western pleasure, hunter under saddle, trail, western riding and one attempt at pole bending, it was at Leo’s shank that led my dad to his first AJQHA (now American Quarter Horse Youth Association) World Championship Show, where the duo competed in showmanship.

As Dad likes to say, “Leo could do just about everything, except pull a cart.”

It was this faith in Leo’s all-around abilities that led Dad to test the waters of reining and working cow horse competition. Unfortunately for Leo, my dad was bit by the speed bug, and since then, he has been a cow horse adrenaline junkie.

The Next Chapter

Ebony Power, as it would turn out, was the perfect fix for my speed-crazy family. A son of Power Light and out of the Poco Bay mare Poco Tena, “Ebony” was a head-turning 1971 black gelding that my grandparents purchased in 1978. Following my dad’s success as a youth, my gramma, Bonnie, went on to win an amateur working cow horse and amateur reining world championship with Ebony. My brother, Travis, and I were never subjected to the tortures of a cantankerous pony – it was ol’ Ebony who taught us how to ride.

California is the birthplace of reined cow horse competition, and you can believe that it was the epicenter of competition back in the day. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, nearly every weekend Gramma Bonnie and Dad loaded Ebony into the trailer and put a whole lot of miles on our white pickup, tearing up and down the coast from western Washington to California.

It was a tight-knit community – the California cow horse community – and it was a hard niche to work your way into, especially for an out-of-stater. There was one family in particular that did its best to welcome Dad and Gramma into the mix – that was the Murphys. C.J. and Nelle were nothing but little kids at the time, but trainer Don and his now late wife, Melene, were (and, today, still are) some of the front-runners in the reined cow horse industry.

It might have been a broken-down truck that solidified Dad’s friendship with “Murph.” With Dad’s affinity for mechanics and Murph’s, let’s say, lack thereof, it was a match made in heaven, or at least one made in a horse show parking lot.

Over the years, Dad has jumped at any chance he got to learn from Murph, or any chance my brother or I had to learn from the great reinsman. You can bet that I was overjoyed last November at the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show when I was given the opportunity to do a story with Murph for the Journal.

One has to laugh when Murph’s response to the question, “How hard was it to coach your own children?” is, “It was way harder on the children than it was on me.”

Murph is another father who’s had to deal with the trials and tribulations of coaching his own kids. Nelle and C.J. have had their own storied success in the show pen; whether it’s the Murphy genetics or Murph’s prevailing encouragement at very loud volumes (which is how I describe my dad’s “coaching”), they’re certainly a family that knows how to win.

Be on the lookout for some sage wisdom in “Quarter Chat: Don Murphy,” which will appear in the April Journal