The Rundown: Lessons Learned

Some horse-showing lessons are best learned the hard way, like knowing when to choose beef over chicken.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

After I learned my lesson, I lived on a steady diet of steak, which I attribute to my fourth-place finish with Blues Nu Boon in the NRCHA Celebration of Champions non-pro bridle. (Journal photo)

Let me take you back six years ago to my first adventure at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Celebration of Champions.

At the time, NRCHA’s world show was held in Stephenville, Texas. Taking two weeks out of my senior year of high school to drive down to cowboy country from my home in Snohomish, Washington, 17-year-old me enjoyed an entertaining trip with my dad, Terry, and his mom, Gramma Bonnie. Also in attendance was our trainer, AQHA Professional Horseman Jim Spence, plus a fellow horseman by the name of Bruce Pinkerton.

Back then, Bruce rode with Spence’s good friend Mike Helsen. Since Spence was already making tracks to Texas to show a hackamore horse, and keep me and Dad in line, Mike wanted to know if Spence would be willing to keep an eye on Bruce, as well.

All was going well – or as well as could be expected – until we ventured to a steak house on Friday night. Now, this wasn’t just any steak house, and it wasn’t just any Friday night. The restaurant was only open two nights out of the week – Friday and Saturday – and, if I remember correctly, only featured six items on its menu. Out of those six entrees, five were beef-related, one was chicken.

That Friday night was the eve of Dad and Bruce’s class finals – my dad would show Classy Sugari in the non-pro hackamore and Bruce was riding his trusty steed CDB Hickory in the non-pro limited. As the waitress came around to take our orders, every single order featured some form of bovine muscle … that is until she got to Bruce. Without a second thought, Bruce requested prairie-range chicken. And, unknowingly, he trampled across a hornet’s nest. You see, we were in the midst of a chicken-hater – every fiber of Spence’s body rejected poultry. But on the eve of a momentous occasion, like the reined cow horse world finals, Spence expected nothing less than a 12-oz. rib-eye.

I can see that Spence had a point – if you’re going to work beef, you’d better eat beef. But my dear friend Bruce did not see eye to eye with Mr. Spence.

After Spence’s incredulous explosion (“You ordered what?! You aren’t going to work a chicken tomorrow!), the waitress gave Bruce the chance to change his order. Bruce, being a man to stand by his poultry, didn’t budge; he just went ahead, ordered and ate that chicken.

So there we were, Saturday upon us. The wind blew and blew (almost like it does in the Texas Panhandle) and the sky was an ominous shade of rust. Dad’s mare, “Classy,” was a little flighty, but he got her through a solid rein work and fence work. And guess what – the beef pulled through! Dad and Classy toted back to Washington the 2007 NRCHA non-pro hackamore world championship.

Next up: Bruce and his little gelding. They laid down a nice run, but the competition was pretty darn stiff. Pulling out a reserve world championship title was nothing to slouch about, but Spence couldn’t help giving Bruce a hard time while we lined up for Bruce’s win photo.

“You just had to order the chicken!” Spence jabbed. And that was a lesson to us all (or so I thought), especially since Spence showed up to the next show, rooster in hand, gave AQHA judge John Tuckey the 4-1-1, and tossed Bruce a feathered adversary instead of a cow.

Between then and now, I learned a lot of things – I mean, I went to college after all (Spence’s hoity-toity nickname for me being “College”). But despite the academics, I must have been knocked on the head and unlearned one of the most important lessons from my pre-university years.

How else would you explain why I ordered a salad, topped with chicken, before my non-pro two-rein prelims at this year’s NRCHA Celebration of Champions? And my dad, he’s no less guilty – he ordered fish ‘n’ chips!

Really, it could’ve gone worse. Dad was fifth in the draw aboard Wright On Sugari (half-sister to Classy). Dad posted the second-highest rein work score in the two-rein prelims, and I the third-highest, right behind him by half a point. Dad boxed his cow out front, then decided to take his feisty heifer down the fence: wrong decision. They flew off the corner and made quick work of the rest of their fence work. His run didn’t go exactly to plan, but Dad did end up tied for first place in the prelims. They had a most unfortunate accident, though, in the class’ finals. As she was circling, “Halle” lost her footing and proceeded to somersault. Luckily, both she and Dad were OK, received a fence work score of 0 and 10th place.  

I, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. I shall blame it on my lack of Zen with the bovine species. Lenas Fillynic and I boxed our cow out front quite a bit in the class prelims, but not nearly long enough. Truth be told, when we came around the corner to go down the fence, I already knew my lunch had been ate. We proceeded to spend the rest of our run playing “catch the cow,” which we lost, but not for lack of try on my little mare’s part! Alas, our fence work score was too pitiful to mention and we landed in 12th place, not good enough to make the 10-horse finals.

What I did learn from that unfortunate run was two things: 1) Read your cow, or AQHA Professional Horseman Don Murphy will yell at you … um, I mean, lovingly criticize you in a gruff manner. 2) Never eat chicken if you’re going to work a cow.

With those two lessons in mind, I lived on a steady diet of steak until my prelims run on my bridle horse, Blues Nu Boon. I did a world better on “Bunny,” earning a spot in the finals, then placing fourth in the world with the second-highest finals fence work score.

Let this be a lesson to all of you, do as I say, not as I do: If you’re gonna work beef, you better eat beef.