By Karen L. Waite, Ph.D.
A week or so ago, I judged an open show. I mean, it was sort of an open show, but also, sort of an Arabian breed show at the same time, which is pretty cool. It also had some half-Arabians, and some Pintos and a wide range of things, but mostly of the non-AQHA persuasion. Typically, when Arabians show at open shows, they wind up showing against stock type (AQHAish) horses and then sometimes things can get messy. If you use an Arabian, then the AQHAish people get offended. If you use an AQHAish horse then the Arabian folks get offended. Anyway, not the point of this story AT. ALL. Back to the matter at hand. I judged an open show that had A LOT of very high quality, non-AQHA horses, among other things. And that is where I had the chance to “meet” Damian. (Note: Typically when you meet someone while judging you don’t actually meet. You just interact for a few seconds).
Damian is a young man somewhere in the 12-13 range, and as you can see in the picture, he was READY for Showmanship. He looked sharp. His horse looked sharp. Everybody was SHARP, SHARP, SHARP.
They came in and started their pattern, came straight to me just like I was looking for, and set up pretty quickly. This pair was headed for the top of my card. And then it happened. Damian’s horse took notice of the fact that there was an Arabian halter class happening on the other side of the arena. And if you’ve ever witnessed a breed-type Arabian halter class, you know that those folks put the SHOW in Horse Show. It’s not the sort of library-esque halter we sometimes see…oh heavens no. It’s a PARTY! Hooting, hollering, tails flowing, horses jumping about…it’s an equine extravaganza. And suddenly, Damian’s horse decided that it looked like it was more fun “over there” and he jumped BIG-TIME.
Damian’s horse let loose with the kind of spook that would have had many adult exhibitors crying UNCLE. But you know what? Damian handled it. He quietly, cooly, professionally reset his horse balloon (after it landed). I didn’t say anything. I just waited. Damian didn’t say anything. He just reset his horse. And the two (or 3) of us continued on. Like the very best of horsemen, this 13 year-old handled the situation, got back to business, and what do you know, his horse did, too. And they trotted out like nothing ever happened…like there was no house…I mean horse…party next door.
In retrospect, if I could have given this young man a prize, I really would have. But given the rules of the Showmanship game, big spooks are kind of a “no no”. I can’t really let that go when there were so many other exhibitors whose horses did NOT suddenly realize that things were getting real “over there.” But let’s face it…Damian probably earned (and received) the best reward of the day. The knowledge that he could handle it for himself and his horse when things got rough…that he could save the old lady in the hat (that was me) from getting clobbered, by taking the leadership role and putting things back together.
This lesson will carry him through the next horse show (or the one after that), when he’ll probably win big…or in the wash rack when his horse decides that the Loch Ness monster is clearly coming up the drain…or anything else that requires an immediate flight response from the horse and a calm, cool reminder from Damian that “No…we’re OK, I’ve got you. You come with me, horse, and I’ll take care of you.” And that prize will reap many more rewards than a blue ribbon ever could.
There really aren’t prizes for the things that matter most, but there should be.