Second Family

As I write this, it is three days before Thanksgiving. As you read it, it will be approximately 10 days before Christmas. Whether you’re a cutter, reiner or cow horse enthusiast will determine whether you are packing up and leaving the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity, still recovering from the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity or looking back fondly on the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Futurity.

I can already tell you how the days between now and then went. The fact that this column is the last thing I write each issue is a good indicator that, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the Quarter Horse News team worked hard to meet a print deadline so you could be enjoying this magazine today.

At that point, the team split into two groups – those who scheduled vacation days to spend time with their families and those who continued working. By Thanksgiving Day, both the NCHA Futurity and the NRHA Futurity were in full swing, with Quarter Horse News reporters closely following the action.

Back when I was fresh out of college, I can remember the incredulous looks I got when I told friends and family I wouldn’t be home for the holidays because I had to work. They didn’t understand that the news doesn’t stop just because it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Eve, just like many outside of the agriculture industry don’t understand that horses and cattle still need to be fed and tended 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

I’ve eaten more turkey dinners in barns and shedrows and at arenas and horse shows than I have with my family. I’ve flown on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, just to make it home for the holidays.

And what I’ve come to realize is “home” and “family” take on a different meaning over the years. For as much as I love my real family, it’s the horsemen I’ve spent holidays, weekends, late nights and early mornings with who have become like a second family to me.

My real family and non-horse friends finally understand that holidays are a hit-or-miss proposition for me, depending on show schedules. And my second family, my colleagues and friends in the horse industry, understand that it’s not so much a conscious choice as a way of life.

Because of this wide spread but close-knit second family of mine, I’ve been fortunate to spend some holidays in the homes of people who have invited me in, as family. I’ve made new friends and spent time with old friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough.

Sure, it’s all in the name of work, but it’s a job I’m happy to do, because I love what I do. I see that same passion reflected in the faces of the horsemen who, like me, willingly give up their holidays to pursue their dreams.

As I’ve gotten older, I find that I actually enjoy the holidays I get to spend by myself. It gives me time to reflect and appreciate the season for more than just the good food and shopping sales (although those are great, too!) And, it gives me the opportunity to pay back a little bit of the kindness that has been shown to me by my second family through the years. Sometimes, I’ll invite “strays” to have Thanksgiving dinner with me at a local restaurant; other times I’ll invite out-of-town friends to attend a Christmas Eve church service.

This year, I challenge you to do the same. Take a look around. Do you see a loper or groom who isn’t able to visit family over the holidays? Invite them in. Take them under your wing. Show them that their second family is there for them, just as they have been for me. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?