Blank. It’s not what you want your mind to be when asked to write a blog. In my line of work, I get a barrage of ideas about riding and training coming my way, and I confess my mind gets a little overloaded at times and goes a little blank. The same thing can be said for showing horses. There are so many little details to learn and remember; it takes a great deal of focus.
Several weeks ago I entered my first National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Non-Pro Bridle class, where I went down the fence for the first time. Blank is not what I wanted to be when I rode in there – mind you, this coming from a person who, in my first two NRCHA outs, missed the markers and got my circles backward. Going down the fence was not something I planned to tackle until I got the circles sorted out. But at the urging of my dad, Jack McComber, who has a lot more show pen experience than I do, I entered the Bridle rather than the Limited. He told me it was a waste of my horse to keep entering the boxing classes because this horse is exceptional down the fence. So I entered up – and he was right.
I showed cutters as a youth, I’ve run barrels a lot, and I’ve shown in a handful of ranch horse shows, but despite the advantage of being around some tremendous horses and horsemen in my life, I definitely think of myself as a rookie showman. In order to not totally freak out, I had to sort of build myself up a bit – pep talk myself, so to speak. I had to draw from a lot of experiences, in different disciplines even, in order to mentally prepare. I think people who come from the corporate world and enter the show pen as non-pros for the first time probably have to do much the same thing – draw on the skills they’ve learned as professionals in different areas and try to use those strengths in a totally foreign setting. I was fortunate to grow up a horse show kid, so it’s sort of ingrained in my subconscious how things are supposed to go down in that arena. Making it happen is a whole different deal. Ride in there, complete your pattern, box your cow, roll it out of the corner and “whack,” “whack,” then circle up in the middle of the pen, right? How hard can it be?
Pretty hard. But based upon my very limited experience, I think what’s important is to give yourself some credit for going for it in the first place. The cow horse discipline requires superior timing, composure and a pretty high degree of athleticism in order to do it well – and I’m not even talking about the attributes of the horses yet. Yes, I’m a big time cow horse fan with a deep appreciation for the bridle horse tradition and it’s an honor just to have one of these horses to get to compete on in the first place (thank you, Blue Allen). Between my job, my kids riding and showing, and our family ranching and roping, we’re kind of all-in when it comes to horses. The cow horse, to me, is the pinnacle of what a great horse should be.
What puts the icing on the cake is how nice people at the shows are. The camaraderie found in the cow horse world is something I’ve found to be genuine. I’ve had people help my kids at shows and at the youth clinics for no other reason than that’s just what you do. You just can’t ever repay that. I attribute this spirit to the fact that the most seasoned pros will tell you that they’ve made every mistake you can make, and they’re willing to put that experience to use to help build the next person up. Why do I do what I do as an editor? I hope to stay true to the goal of making things better for horses and providing tools that help riders. I think it must be the same for many horse trainers. They don’t want you to have to walk in there blank, because chances are they’ve done it. So, if like me, you’re tackling a new hurdle, give yourself some credit for getting out there and doing it. Give your trainer some credit for coaching you up and tuning your horse, and go out there and enjoy the ride on the exceptional equine athlete that you’re privileged to partner up with.
How did my first fence experience go, you ask? It was awesome, at least in my mind! There were definitely some things I’d do differently next time, but I placed. I petted my horse a lot for going out there and laying down a run despite the places where I was not quite as dialed in as he was. People were so nice and encouraging and I can’t wait to return the favor.
Bonnie Wheatley has been the editor of Barrel Horse News since January 2007. She grew up horseback working for various horse trainers, including her parents Jack and Sylvia McComber. Bonnie and her husband, Scot, have two beautiful children who also love riding – son Regan and daughter Sage. The Wheatleys live on the Eastern Colorado plains near Colorado Springs where they rope, ride and enjoy the Western lifestyle as much as possible.