There is a special thrill as a child being in the saddle for the first time. This animal delivered to me a whole new perspective of the world in all of its glory. I lived for the lessons these horses silently taught me — to be responsible, to cherish all life, to be brave in the face of adversity, and the list continues. Most of the valuable lessons I hold dear were taught by the horses I have had the honor of riding, leasing, and owning.
I wouldn't be the person I am today without these horses I adore so much, but I would be wrong if I didn't say that the coaches who taught me how to ride and the judges I have asked for advice didn't teach me valuable lessons as well. Believe it or not, even the judge who laughed in my face and insulted me showed me a crucial lesson as well. There will always be someone who doesn't like me no matter how hard I try to impress everyone.
I competed at a three-day long horse show during the summer when I was eighteen back in 2015, and I was excited because after three years of hard work Boomer and I were finally competitive to take on the big and burly quarter horses that reigned over the arena. Boomer is an Arabian horse, a relatively uncommon breed to show at this particular show and even more unusual to compete in the specific sport of Ranch Horse Pleasure.
Ranch Horse Pleasure is an equestrian sport that was made for every rider and horse. If your horse wasn't cut out for the thrilling sport of Reining and wasn't slow enough to be competitive in Western Pleasure, then Ranch Horse Pleasure was the perfect sport for avid riders. This fun and new sport was what Boomer and I planned to compete in as a stepping stone to reining, and given his almost lazy nature, he was pretty good at it.
Boomer waiting patiently for me at the gate. Photo Credit: Danielle Weeks
Although this particular horse show wasn't a top-level horse show, the competition was still very tough. Classes are often full of horses worth tens of thousands of dollars in bloodlines and training, but Boomer had proven his worth before even though I got him for free and did a large portion of his training on my own for years before this show.
The professional training Boomer did have, was earned by me through hours upon hours of saddling up horses, feeding horses, cleaning stalls, working horses, and doing other tasks around the barn for my trainers to earn training time and lessons. The work was difficult especially while I was working two different jobs, and going to junior college full time, but it was worth it seeing how well my trainers polished Boomer into an even better horse.
On the first day of competition, Boomer performed well, and the judge for the first day scored us well above my expectations. Afterward, I asked this judge for feedback, and she kindly complimented us while pointing out some criticisms she noticed to help us do better. I took note of this for the next day, and after I fed, watered, and cleaned up after twenty or so horses, Boomer and I practiced for the second day of showing and nailed our pattern. I knew we were going to do great, and I was thrilled to perform tomorrow!
But after our performance on the second day, we received a strange score. Boomer performed better than yesterday, but we received a lower rating. After my class, I took care of Boomer and the other horses and went to the office to look at my scorecard. I figured, if the judge saw anything I didn't feel, he would have written it down on the card.
When I arrived, I could see the judge putting the scorecards into the binder for the day, and I was happy I could catch him before he left for the night. When I walked up to him, I introduced myself and shook his hand, and he was very polite until I described the horse I was riding today.
The immediate change in attitude this man had was so noticeable it almost made me hesitate to continue, but I still asked, "Is there anything you saw today that I could improve on with my horse?"
Boomer and I at the three-day horse show. Taken on the second day. Photo Credit: David Weeks
Apparently, my question was funny for him, because he laughed at me as if I told him a joke, but not before telling me, "Yeah, get rid of that crazy Arab and buy yourself a real ranch horse."
My jaw dropped, and all I could do was watch him walk away from me with an astounded look on my face. Shock turned in to horror because I knew this man's dislike of my horse cost me the horse show. The thousands of hours and dollars I had spent to get to this point, was gone. None of my hard work had mattered because of this one judge who decided my horse and I didn't deserve to be here.
I dragged my feet back to the barn because it was beginning to get dark and the horses needed to be fed and watered for the night. I still wore a dumbfounded look all the way to my horse's stall, but I looked at Boomer and saw he was already watching me. When I looked at him, he let out a soft breath and walked up to the door and waited for me to pet him. I doubt he knew I was going to come into his stall and sob into his mane, but I did, because no matter how cruel people are at least Boomer's hair is thick enough to soak up my emotions.
The last day of the show went well and the judge was fair at. Unfortunately, with the averaged scores for the weekend, the second score I received by the terrible judge booted me out of the top five, and I lost out on earning a championship buckle and ribbon.
I thought long and hard about continuing to show Boomer in Ranch Riding and Reining, and I thought, maybe he was right. Perhaps I didn't belong in the sport. I saw the glares. I heard the comments that my friends and I overheard. I know the things people told my Mother, because, "[she] let her daughter ride an Arabian? Don't you know they're crazy?!" Making my Mother feel uncomfortable to be at this horse show as well.
Making my Mother uncomfortable, and the terrible judge affirmed to me that I would never return to the three-day show that gave me such a bad experience.
However, a year later I competed for the first time in Reining at a horse show series consisting of four horse shows over four months. At the end of it, Boomer and I earned a Championship and Reserve Championship buckle in our two classes. Boomer was the only Arabian to compete at the series. The year after that in 2017, we won three Reserve Championships in Ranch Horse Pleasure at a different show.
So, nice try to the judge who told me my horse and I didn't belong in this sport. I will continue to ride my 'crazy Arabian' in Reining and Ranch Riding shows and we will tear up the arena and clean up the ribbons and buckles because we have done it before and after we experienced your terrible judgment. I'll admit that you may have won the battle, but you didn't win the war. Boomer and I are not done yet, and your bad attitude isn't stopping us.
Boomer and I with our amazing Reining trainer Steven Allen after we earned our Reserve Champion buckle in Oroville California. My other amazing reining trainer, Chantel Allen took this photo that I still cherish.