Level Headed

Journal columnist Pam Britton-Baer writes about how it feels to win a trophy at the AQHA Level 1 Championships.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Journal columnist Pam Britton-Baer had a great West Level 1 Championship show. (Illustration by Gabe Trevizo)

I’m a realistic person. I never enter a horse show expecting to win.

I mean, my horse was a rescue. I literally found him in someone’s backyard, tied to a post, parked between a Weber barbeque and a few pieces of patio furniture. So as I headed to this year’s AQHA West Level 1 Championships, I invented a T-shirt slogan: We’re Just Here For The Showmanship. It’s our best event, probably because it doesn’t involve riding, and if you read my last column, you know I took up jogging – jogging! – in the hopes of improving our performance. (Insert barfing emoji.)

Of course, one always hopes for a miracle. Alas, the first class of the show was the one I expected to flub the worst: hunter hack. My fear of riding over fences hasn’t improved with age. It hurts to fall off these days. I know this. My back knows this. My knees know this. Deep inside, my cranium knows it, too. There’s a tiny little Pam in there screaming, “DON’T DO IT!” every time I point my horse toward a fence. Little wonder we finished in last place.

I had similar expectations for Select hunter under saddle. I do not have a big, fancy mover. He is not, nor will he ever be, a world champion. But that’s OK. There was a method to my madness. I wanted ring time.

We made the finals.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. And then we made the finals of Rookie amateur hunt seat equitation, a huge class, and we’d done it with boo-boos. I was in shock. Might we have a chance at a ribbon in Select hunt seat equitation? The tiny Pam in my head murmured the words, “No. Way.”

We ended up reserve champion.

I can’t even type those words without tearing up again. When I walked out of the arena, silver trophy in hand, I headed straight for the other show pen. My daughter had been called to ride in youth hunter under saddle, which is how I found myself alone outside the South Point Arena, looking for my family. So there my daughter was, trotting on the rail, when she spotted me with my silver trophy and tri-colored ribbon. Her face crumbled. She started bawling right there in the middle of her class. I did, too. My husband spotted me next. He was filming from the rail, but he handed the camera off to a friend as we hugged and laughed and cried. There wasn’t a dry eye among our group. I’m betting a few spectators were crying, too.

We finished out the show with a bronze in Select showmanship. This, my friends, was my goal – to do better in showmanship than I had the year before. But it didn’t end there.

My little rescue pony ended up winning high-point Select English horse.

The tiny Pam in my head fainted in shock. What a show.

Through the years, I’ve watched friends walk away with big wins and nice prizes. I’ve always wondered what it was like. I’ll tell you: As you walk away from the arena, perfect strangers smile at you and congratulate you and all you want to do is hug every person you come into contact with. When you win high-point, your phone blows up with dozens of happy messages from friends. When you post a win picture and an Academy Award-like speech on Facebook, you’ll cry like a baby as you compose the words, then cry all over again when people respond.

We’ve been blessed. I have no idea if it’ll ever happen again, but it doesn’t matter if it does. As my husband so wisely pointed out, live in the moment, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

I still want a T-shirt printed up, though.

Pamela Britton-Baer is a special contributor to the Journal. To get a message to her, write to aqhajrnl@aqha.org.