Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't You Miss It?

by Laura Crum

The other day a friend was visiting and I pointed out a silk tree in my garden. “I grew that tree from a seed that was taken from a tree at the Oakdale Rodeo Grounds,” I said. “Back when I used to rope there a lot.”

The friend, who rides but does not rope, looked at me. “Don’t you miss it?” she said.

“Miss what?”

“Oh, the roping, the competition, hanging out with the cowboys, the whole thing. Don’t you miss it?”

My immediate impulse was to say no, but instead I gave the question some thought. Because no, I don’t miss it, in the sense of wanting to do it again. But I do think of that period of my life (my thirties) fondly, and I certainly am glad that I had that experience.

I’ve written before on this blog of the distaste I eventually acquired for competition, and the love I re-acquired for quietly cruising down the trail. At the present moment no horse event draws me as much as gentle, non-competitive trail riding, either solo, or with my son, or with a friend. But certainly there were many years when I just lived to go team roping—I practiced several days a week and competed every weekend. I was never more than a just-competent low level roper, but I hung out with some good ropers. I was actually better at training horses to be rope horses than I was at winning ropings. But it was all great fun.

I think back to some of the big ropings I went to, with hundreds of competitors and their talented (and not) horses milling about. In those days I was thrilled just to be there, to be part of the whole thing. I always tried to do my best and I was tickled if I placed, but I think the greatest thrill for me came from simply participating in this grand western scene.

And now? Well, I won’t belabor the various negative aspects of competition that eventually drove me away. I’ve talked about this before on the blog. I will say that though I don’t wish to compete, I still retain a fondness for the grand western scene, and I’ve chosen to take my young son up to our local practice roping arena twice a week ever since he was six months old. At first I just watched, with my baby in a backpack, when he was two till five I rode around with him in front of me in the saddle, five to seven he rode his pony, first on the leadline, then independently, and seven to ten he’s been riding his retired rope horse, Henry, gathering cattle and bringing them up the alley, occasionally chasing a slow steer down the arena.
“Are you trying to raise him up to be a team roper?” the same friend asks.

Well, no. But I am trying to give him the part of the experience that I loved and still enjoy—that being together with a group of “cowboys”, all mounted on their shiny cowhorses, ready to go do a job of work. And yes, I’ve worked on commercial cattle ranches with real ranch cowboys and know the difference between them and team ropers, but it’s the best way I can think of to convey what, to me, is really a poetic image. Its an image that always resonated for me, and I want to give it to my son.

So, no, I don’t “miss” being a roper, and no, I don’t so much want my son to become one. I do want him to feel the thrill of the group gathered to work cattle on all their pretty horses—the comraderie and the love of horses and the western spirit that underlies it all. Are these two things in conflict? I’m not sure.

Have any of you ever experienced this sort of paradox? Loving some elements of a horse activity and not others, and not sure how to reconcile them? Any solutions that have worked for you?

PS-I wrote this piece a week ago, and my son and I watched the cutting class at the County Fair yesterday—the same class that I won twenty-one years ago on Gunner. It was a little odd for me to sit there watching it, explaining the rules of cutting for my kid. I was able to accurately pick the horse which scored the highest, so I haven’t totally lost my feel for it.

At the end of the class my son said he’d like to try cutting and could Henry do it? I explained that Henry was a rope horse, not a cutter, and we would have to teach him how to hold a cow.

“Gunner is a cutter,” my son said. “Maybe I could use him.”

“Gunner is thirty years old,” I said. “He’s really too old and stiff to go back to work.”

And I reflected that I had neither the time nor the skill any more to train a cutter, and I certainly didn’t have the money to buy one, or a place to put another horse.

So, another potential dilemma. If my son retains his interest in cutting, shall I try to find a way to plunge back into it? I’m sure I could borrow a horse if I combed the ground thoroughly enough. But just the thought of the hauling, the endless cattle needed for practice, the entry fees, the constant politicking among the trainers and just interacting with all those trainers and their oh-so-wealthy non-pros again makes me cringe. I do not relish the thought of dealing with that world.

At the same time, watching people lope their horses around the warm up pen and walk into the herd brought back a rush of memories. I could almost see myself out there in that same pen on Gunner, all those years ago, and the buckle we won is still in my closet. If my son really wants to do this, surely I should support him?

I’ve got to admit, I really hope my son stays happy with trail riding. But perhaps I’ve sowed the seeds of my own demise by introducing him to these other (competitive) aspects of horsemanship—roping and cutting—all in the interests of sharing the “grand western scene” with him—that world I loved so well and pursued so long. How should I handle his new interest? Any thoughts?


Alison said...

For me it was showing hunter, and no, I don't miss ANY aspect of it. Friends of ours continue to do it with their young girls, and just listening to them makes me wince. Your son will REALLY have to want it badly. And if he does, he will convey that to you, and be willing to put in lots of work of his own. Then it will be his, and not yours.
PS. It seems your dilemma is too many horses! I am happy managing two, which makes time for teaching and writing and being sane.

Unknown said...

I'd suggest finding him a mentor that might be willing to let him have a few test rides on a cutting horse. Then you can see if his interest is real and lasting.

We test a few interests quite often, rarely does anything make it past three months.

If he loves it, then the work you have to put in will be worthwhile - especially if he has to pick up some of the cost and work on his own.

I find cutting incredible to watch, and I'd love to experience riding a horse that knows his stuff. But competing? No way. Too political and I get enough of that at work.

gillian said...

I think you're conflating cutting and competing at cutting. Maybe you don't need to get so ahead of yourself just yet.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--You're right. I've got too many horses. I'm not in denial, just don't know what to do to change it. I've been owning horses non-stop since I was sixteen, so, if I don't want to dump my horses when they get old and/or crippled, I've got to maintain my herd of retirees. Then I rescued a couple of perfectly useless but very sweet horses that were about to go to the auction. OK--now I have five in my crippled/old herd, turned out in a nearby pasture. I own two I can ride, my son has one, and I board two for a friend--whose board bill pays for my feed. These five live on my small property (which is really set up for four). But I don't own a single one that I could/would sell. So, yep, I've got too many horses, but don't know exactly what to do about it that I could stomach doing.

Breathe and gillian--I was visiting with my team roper friends this morning, half of which have dabbled at cutting, and those two suggestions both came up. Let my kid ride a broke cutter at a trainer's place and also that we could just practice cutting on Henry. We've got the roping cattle, and Henry is enough of a cowhorse that he'll turn with a cow. Maybe that would be plenty for my son at the moment. And practice is the fun part of cutting anyway. So, thank you for reminding me that we can enjoy playing around at cutting without competing, and I agree, Alison, if my kid wants to compete, he'll have to prove he's serious about it.

Tripletakestudio said...

I don't miss jumping. I feel like I'm supposed to, but I don't.

Laura Crum said...

Tripletake--That's a very interesting comment. That's just how I feel. Like I OUGHT to miss roping and cutting....but I don't. I sort of feel guilty that I don't, and it kind of skews my perceptions when I'm thinking about those events.

Jan said...

Laura, in a way, you are in a very good, and unique, situation - as your son shows interest in cutting and possibly in competing, you can explain the things you have learned firsthand about the whole scene, and how some of them are not that good. He has the unique advantage to hear about them before experiencing them; depending on his maturity level, he can choose to participate or not. And since you already know that it takes a lot of work and money to be involved in the competition world, work and money may become self-limiting factors for him. But your experience can teach him a lot, early on. Good luck!

Francesca Prescott said...

This post made me smile, as I can identify with what you say in so many ways. Years ago, I used to jump, and loved the idea of competing far more than actually competing. When I quit jumping because I fell in love with dressage, I had the same thing: I loved the idea of going to shows, loved all the ceremonial that went along with it, the plaits, the white gloves, etc. But the reality of shows just isn't my thing, nor did it turn out to be my daughter's. We both get far too nervous beforehand, which makes the whole palaver (and it is a palaver!!! I mean, honestly!! The preparations, the towing, the equipment...pff!) worthwhile. Again, I wish I felt otherwise, as I envy some of my friends who seem to live for competing. I love going to watch them, love the atmosphere, but seriously, rather them than me!

As far as your son is concerned, he's super lucky to be able to draw on your showing experience, not to mention enjoy the opportunity to actually go out and compete if he chooses to. It all sounds pretty ideal to me. I guess he'll find out for himself whether it's his cup of tea or not.

By the way, I love the sound of your relationship with your son. Truly wonderful. You're clearly doing a great job :)

horsegenes said...

When my kids were showing livestock we made such good friends with many families and when my kids stopped showing, I missed the social part of it. I miss seeing the kids growing up, the camaraderie of being show parents, etc. I don't miss the politics - not one little bit.

I just stepped back in the show ring this year (after about a 30 year gap). And I have to admit that I am loving it. I haven't really taken it to seriously and an enjoying meeting new people. I am staying with smaller shows and I don't really care if I win, as long as I do better than I did the time before is all that is important to me.

What do you think about Ranch Versatility for your son? Maybe that is something that he could do on his old faithful Henry and really excel at. It would give him a taste of cutting, trail, western pleasure, halter, roping, herdwork etc. From what I have seen, it is a pretty laid back group and you really have to have an all around horse. Not so highly specialized that they can only do one thing... kind of - a jack of all trades, master of none- kind of horse. They put in a Limited and youth class this year.

Laura Crum said...

kel--You will probably laugh if you read this, but when I saw your comment about ranch versatility, I literally shivered, sitting here at my desk, picturing myself back in the world of AQHA shows. Yikes, I thought--anything but that. Ranch versatility appeared long after I quit showing, so I'm familiar with it only by hearsay, and it does sound like a great class. However, my experience of AQHA shows was so not enjoyable, that I can hardly imagine going back. I do know what you mean by the camraderie, which I enjoyed the most when I went team roping--and its one of the reasons I still hang out with our crowd of local team ropers. But I guess I never really fit in with the horseshow group.

Francesca--yes, yes, yes--I have so had it up to here with the preparations (wash the horse, polish the tack, practice furiously, be nervous), and the hauling (I've hauled way too many miles in my life--I'd be quite happy never to do it again), not to mention the expense. And I am just not that social a person any more. I like riding through the trees and seeing a few deer better than chatting with dozens of people I don't really know. I guess I'm becoming a hermit. But, for my son's sake, I'd go back. I'll just have to see if it becomes a strong interest for him.

And Jan, I've pretty much decided I'll start out by teaching my kid to work a cow in the simplest way on Henry and see where it leads. You're right, I have a lot of experience I can use to help my son--at least at the beginning level.

Anonymous said...

I used to show dressage at the training level and I had loads of fun, hanging out with friends and competing more with myself than anyone else in the class. I've done a lot of showing with various livestock and do I miss the whole scene? Well, ya, briefly, when I head back to the local county fair or see a dressage show in action. But I found that it was simply a season in my life. We go through so many seasons and that was one for me. Now if I want to participate at a dressage show I volunteer and get to participate without all the stress of showing my self. My kids have started riding and if they wanted to get serious with any discipline I would certainly support them anyway I could, within the family budget and the time allowed. It's the same thing we do with any hobby they may take up. And yes, if they are serious then they have to contribute financially or with labor in some way as well. I loved the idea of finding someone who could let your son have a try and see how it goes for a while, you should know if he is driven to go for it or not. After all you are his friend and his mom!!!

horsegenes said...


The ranch versatility isn't limited to AQHA... There are little shows popping up everywhere. I don't think that you have to have any special breed. I will probably regret saying this, but I don't think (in my area anyway) that AQHA shows are a good place for youth to show in those type of events. Local working cow horse clubs have been hosting versatility clinics and adding classes to their shows.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Kel, I didn't realize the class existed in that form...I've been out of the loop a long time. I haven't heard of this around here, but its probably happening and I just don't know about it.

Lynn, Yes, I agree. If my kid shows a strong interest and is willing to work at it, I will back him up. But to begin with, I think I'll just introduce a little simple cow work on Henry.

Susan said...

Laura, If you can, go over to my blog and read my reply.

joycemocha said...

What is your local 4-H program like? Some are intensely competitive show programs while others are more supportive of kids actually learning how to train their own horses. And have fun. Might be worth a look.

(she says, hands all wrinkly from cleaning TWO sets of tack for the horse show tomorrow...going for English and Western classes both)

Laura Crum said...

Susan--I did read your post and thught you had some good points. Thanks.

joycemocha--Yep I remember all that cleaning of tack. Hope you had fun at the show.

Funder said...

I love gaiting a horse fast. The problem is that most of the time, they're braced, freaked out, inverted, and running away underneath you. It's taken years for me to get Dixie to rack with a nice neutral frame and happy ears (not that it should take a good trainer years, just that it took ME years). I really wish I could ride with some other gaited people again sometimes, but it breaks my heart to see yahoos bracing in a chair seat, hanging on to the reins with a huge curb bit... Sigh. I know what you mean, and I don't have any easy answers.

joycemocha said...

Laura--we had an excellent time at the show. Mocha's hock action was marveled at in the English classes, and the English classes were an excellent opportunity to get her to work through her second show nerves and settle down, while ensuring brilliant action. She got calmer with each class, which was what my main goal was.

And, well, yeah, we brought home some pretty pieces of colored fabric. We went into 8 classes, with three judges each, so opportunities for 24 ribbons. We came home with 15 ribbons, almost half (7) of which were reds. I was really proud of her two blues in Dressage Suitability, the more so because I heard the other rider make a comment about "that reiner" before she added into the class.

But go check out my blog for details.....