#MyRootsRunDeep: When the Light Turns Yellow

The best horses will teach you when to hit the brakes, when to proceed with caution and when to go for it.

American Quarter Horse Youth Association

Emily and 'Ralph' after their Level 1 win.

You know that moment when you're driving toward a green light that hasn't changed in a while? Well, even if you're too young to drive, here's the basic scenario: You're driving along and suddenly it turns yellow. In your head, a million things fly around as you analyze the situation. You stare into the deep, yellow haze that suddenly clouds all of your vision and keeps you from making a quick decision. From here, there are two types of people. One type says, "Let's go for it," and accelerates, making it quickly through the intersection, noting as they pass under the light that it has turned a bright, burning red. The other type slams on the brakes, giving the seat belts a workout as their bodies lurch forward. Half choked by the protective belt and still breathing heavily, they come to a stop over the white line. Everyone else continues driving even though you, in your head, believe your life just flashed before your eyes. 

As a 16-year-old who has experienced this moment a number of times since I received my driver’s license, I certainly understand this panic.It takes a lot of quick thinking to make the safest decision, and it really is a difficult thing to do. 

Since I was 10, I’ve owned an American Quarter Horse, a breed that understood my indecisiveness and supported every decision I made. Quarter Horses are noble and trustworthy, and definitely the least judgmental animals I have ever connected with. Quarter Horses have a special spirit that rebuilds and empowers even the most broken of hearts. 

Once I fell in love with this irreplaceable breed, I quickly found how talented they are in the show pen. They know how to get out of trouble, and they know how to keep you humble. This is what makes them the greatest of teachers and even better teammates. 

Many people are mistaken by what horse showing truly is. Some riders simply view it as an event to win what they deserve and for their horse to perform and behave as he should. But to most, horse showing holds an incredible meaning understood by dedicated equestrians. For those who are unsure of this interpretation, my personal experience with Quarter Horses can uncover the wonderful moments and truths that occur in and out of the show pen. 

The denotation of performance, according to Merriam-Webster, is the fulfillment of a claim, promise or request. As an equestrian, I have dedicated my time and energy every single day toward these passionate animals. The moment I grab the reins and put my boots in the stirrups, we share a promise, each and every time. In this small agreement, I quietly whisper that I promise to be the best rider I can be, and even if I get frustrated, I will try my best to figure out our misunderstanding. In response, my horse will tell me that he will protect me, no matter what might happen to him or myself.

Promise after promise, we learn to trust one another, no matter how horrifying the situation. But when things are rough in the show pen, I, and occasionally my horse, will get nervous. If events suddenly change, I find myself in the same clouded frenzy as when the traffic light goes from green to yellow. However, the resolution to this panic is key to a true showman. 

To be a true showman is to know who your horse is. It's to know where he likes to be on the rail, how long of a rein he is comfortable with, and exactly how he will execute a pattern. When you trot or jog down the center line with both of your names being announced, the judges should see a rider showing her horse, not a horse showing himself. You must ride in unison and fulfill each promise you made when you committed yourself on his back at the start of your performance. Therefore, when fear arises, the rider should know two exact ways to handle it. One is to walk up to the first cone and say, "Let's go for it." Another is to say, "We are still learning, so let's hit the brakes and just do it correctly."

So, how do you know exactly which decision would be best? Well, this spring I performed at the Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships. I was 12th to go in my showmanship class with “Play for a Minute", and they were running ahead of schedule, which made me panic because I had to rush to the show pen. I didn't have as much time or space that I was comfortable with to warm up, so I watched a few patterns and headed to the first cone. Step by step, in what seemed like forever, I set up at the cone and stood back, smiling at the judges. I was nervous, so a million and one things were flying through my head about how I was going to perform my pattern. Finally, the judges nodded and everything clicked. 

In the brief moment when they cued me, the light had been yellow, but I knew what to do. The second I stepped next to “Ralph,” we both were ready to attack the pattern, exactly as we had practiced every day at home in the weeks prior. I thought to him, "It's time to give it all we've got." The energy and adrenaline rushing through me signaled my horse that he needed to be the best he can be. 

A few hours later, it was all worth it. As they called the placings, I got anxious. I was hoping for simply a finalist medallion. When they got to the top three, my heart was racing. All of my friends were surrounding me, holding my arm, smiling and supporting me. I listened to the number for reserve champion, and it wasn't mine. I was the last number to be called. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. I hugged my horse a million times, shaking from nervous energy, utter disbelief and absolute gratitude. 

In that moment when I heard my name, everything flashed before me, and I slammed on the brakes to think about them. I thought about the first Quarter Horse I had once shown in 4-H and all the fun memories I had learning to show. I thought about the hours I spent with my next two horses, trying to improve my basis and set new goals. Finally, I got to my current teammate, Ralph. I thought about the frustrating hours of him shifting his pivot foot, rearing up and moving when he wasn't supposed to. I thought about every single day that I spend with him, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It all led up to one moment, a moment that seems insignificant to so many riders, but one that means the world to me because my horses are what my life revolves around. 

Quarter Horses are honorable, reliable animals who will slam on the brakes or accelerate when you need to. They will always stay by your side. They will always offer advice. But most of all, they will always walk into the pen ready to give it 110 percent, no matter your nerves, no matter your attitude, and truly, no matter your mindset. I couldn't have picked a better breed to reveal my passion, teach me a new mindset, and push my self-discipline so that I work hard, show with passion and love unconditionally. 

My roots run so deep that they go beyond the title "equestrian." My roots reach further than a "passionate rider." I cannot be uprooted. I've been planted, grounded and watered with lessons and love so that I may grow into a strong individual, determined to take on the world with my honest partner by my side.