There was a NRCHA sanctioned reined cowhorse show in my neighborhood today. Being recently retired and having decided to stay off the circuit for awhile, I was a little ambivalent about going.
I've been avoiding the shows and the people involved in them for many reasons,
one of which is having to decide if the sport I've been so heavily involved in is fair to the horses I love so much. I took a good friend with me, a former client who hasn't been showing either. We stood by the rail, looking around and feeling a little awkward.
It wasn't long before I heard a friendly, "Well hi there Janet! Where have you been?"
I turned to see a fellow competitor coming up with a big grin and a friendly pat on my arm. For Colorado cow folk, that's the equivalent of a bear hug.
I explained that I've quit training and am now a writer for a small town paper and was congratulated in earnest. It turns out most of my fellow trainers are happy to hear I've escaped. I guess I'm not the only one who thinks horse training is a crazy way to make a living.
My friend Kathy and I settled in to watch the show. The non-pro bridle class was up and running. In two-and-a-half more years I'll be considered a non-pro again, as long as I'm not tempted to start giving lessons again or take one last horse in for training. I haven't known if I was ever coming back, but I was pretty interested in the class in front of me.
I saw an awful lot of people I didn't know. In the months since I've been gone there's been a big jump in the people showing cowhorse. The economy hasn't hurt this show circuit much.
People kept stopping by and saying hello. I felt more at ease by the minute.
I saw a couple of horses I was really impressed with. Some nice, solid geldings who knew their job and took their fairly green riders through the pattern and down the fence with ease.
I saw a couple of sharp, confident riders on some pricey horses. They were as tough as anything I rode against in the Open classes. I watched the owner of the last ranch I worked at take her 11 year old stud horse down the fence. They looked a little rusty, but I was happy to see he was sound. His chronic quarter crack must be staying healed, thanks to my shoer and his barefoot trims. People thought we were nuts when we showed this horse barefoot in the front with sliders in the back. Seeing him take that cow down the fence happy and sure, made me feel pretty good.
"Do you wish you were riding?" Kathy asked.
"I don't know, kind of," I answered.
"Me too," she said.
It was bittersweet though. I want to get out there again. But I realize I'm not ready. I quit because I saw too many horse snap from being pushed too hard. I quit because the life I led was breaking me down as sure as it was so many good horses.
I'm just now starting to really formulate how I want to train my horse. I think I've figured out how to be competitive and still have a sound and happy horse to ride. Much of my theory revolves around not being in a hurry. In making sure I complete each tiny step in a way to build on the next.
I still have some thinking to do. I have a lot of riding to do. Most of it won't be in an arena either. But I'm starting to think I will go back. In a couple of years.
Before we left I visited with a bunch of folks I used to consider friends. I even managed a conversation with somebody I hadn't been able to talk to for quite a few years.
He seemed genuinely happy for me and glad we were talking.
It was a pretty good day. It gave me lots to think about and made me eager to ride.
I can't wait to get my horse and head out. But I can't imagine doing anything but saddling up and heading out a mountain trail. I want to trot up a few hills and daydream about showing again. But for now, I guess that will be enough.