By Sara Laughlin
I sat nervously atop my horse waiting for the results of my horsemanship class. Starting at 8 p.m., I completed my first pattern where I was judged on the overall appearance of my horse as he completed the elements. Then, I had to repeat the pattern again once I made the semi-finals, and now here I sit in the final round. It is now 11:30 p.m. and I have not gone back to the barn since the class began. Late nights like these are common at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the most prestigious horse show in the nation.
The All American Quarter Horse Congress is a widely known show that houses over 6,000 horses every October in Columbus. The show draws the most competitive contestants from all over the United States and Canada. I have been trying for five years to earn the honorable title of top ten. As I sat atop my horse waiting for the results, I thought back to all of my wins and accomplishments over the course of my career. I thought about how close I have come at this show before; how many finals I have made but have come short of placing. Finally, the results came in and my hard work paid off. I received 8th place out of 200 other contestants. I was a winner.
Although I had lived on a farm my whole life and my mother had shown since she was eight years old, I did not get into showing until I was nine-years-old and willing to put in the hours of practice to compete. I started on my mother’s old gelding from when she showed as a young adult. When I was ready, she took me to my very first riding class in Ashland, Ohio at the county fairgrounds. My first class was a disaster. Since my legs weren’t quite long enough to reach the horse’s belly, he stopped in the middle of the class to chew on the wall. The judge had to pull me away so I could join the rest of the competitors again. That mess-up proved to me just how hard I was going to have to work at riding. I went home and practiced harder and showed more frequently. I was determined to make my horse mind his own business.
After two years of showing my mother’s horse, my parents bought me my very own. Stan was a big, bay Quarter Horse and my parents bought him for my birthday. If I could clean his stall, ride him, and take care of him by myself on a daily basis, then I was allowed to show during the summer.
Throughout my show career I have won many titles. I am a two-time Northern Ohio All-Around winner, two-time Performance Horse of the Year and two-time Halter Horse of the Year. I have also been a four-time All American Youth Show Champion, Geauga Horse and Pony Classic Champion and have continually been a representative on the Northern Ohio Congress Youth Team. Words cannot describe the accomplishments I have earned as an equestrian.
One of my favorite memories was taking Stan into a costume showmanship class. The class was sponsored by the Northern Ohio Youth as a fundraiser for the club. I dressed Stan up like a “dunce” who had never shown before; however, everyone at the shows knows Stan and how good he is showmanship and they got a good kick out of the costume. Once when began the pattern, the cone atop of his head, which was held together with fishing twine, fell over his eye and he completed the pattern like a one-eyed pirate. Afterwards, we received a standing ovation. He truly is Mr. Personality.
Riding horses is a team sport unlike any other. In sports such as basketball and football, you can substitute when the game gets tough; you can trade partners when someone isn’t pulling their weight. However, in horses, you have one partner. It takes a large amount of teamwork and patience to work together. There are no substitutions in showing; the horse you take out of the trailer is the horse you have to work with that day.
Although I have many winning titles, there is always something to work on when I am at home. To prepare for a show, it takes many hours of practice during the week. I have to make sure my horse can recognize my cues and signals because we have to be in sync with each other’s movements. Not only do I have to tune my horse to move correctly and accurately, but I also have to work on your posture and your body placement in the saddle.
There are many different events that I participate in at a daily show. In the mornings I participate in halter, a class judged on the horses’ confirmations, and showmanship, a class that judges my horse’s abilities to go through obstacles. In the afternoon, I show western pleasure. This class is judged solely on the three natural gaits of the horse: the walk, trot, and canter. Some other classes that can be shown but I do not compete in are jumping, barrel racing, and English events.
Showing horses is a wonderful experience and has had a big impact on my life. I have learned how to communicate with others such as blacksmiths, vets, and horse trainers. I have developed confidence in myself and a strong sense of dedication. I have also learned that you can’t win every class, but there is a great sense of accomplishment when you are standing in the winner’s circle.