By: Barbara Aitken Jenkins
Success in the horse industry requires a strong combination of grit and grace.
As a stay-at-home amateur, it hit me one day that I’d compete at the AQHA World Championship Show without a trainer. I knew my husband, Cody, would be at the back gate to give me last words of encouragement, but other than, I succumbed to the fact I would compete amidst a sea of strangers.
The reality was quite the opposite.
When the draws were published, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Of the draws between 40-50, four were friends.
I was draw 44. My friend and stall mate, Caitlin Ferguson was draw 46. My best friend, Emily Russell, was draw 49, my good friend Jenny Honey was draw 50. We all joked that the World Show had suddenly become a “home show.”
We wished each other good luck in the holding pen, laughing and praying for the best.
On Tuesday night, I ran into trainer/judge/AQHA professional horseman, Brent Maxwell, whom I had formed a relationship with during my years living and working in Ohio. I casually asked him a few pattern placement questions. Without hesitation, he began talking through each maneuver.
“Ride the pattern smart,” he advised. “Use your arena, and don’t try to win the prelims. We’ll work on the finals pattern when you get there.”
A few hours before showtime on Wednesday, I ran into trainer/clinician Dana Hokana, a woman who I have collaborated with multiple times as a freelance writer. I’ve even lessoned with Dana long-distance via her video lessons with my mare Lean On Black Satin.
Even though Dana had four clients competing in the Amateur Ranch Riding, she immediately stopped, gave me a hug, and proceeded to provide tips on how to best run the pattern.
“I’ve never seen your palomino mare, so you need to do what’s best for your horse, but here is what I see in this pattern,” she shared. Her last words to me were, “Let me know if you want me to be another set of eyes. I’ll help in any way I can. You will be amazing.”
With the encouragement of my friends, my family, and the professionals willing to share their expertise, I felt at ease walking into the pen. Our pattern started beautifully. Just as we had prepared. Just as I had hoped it would go.
Some of you saw my ride sitting in the stands, or tuning in to the live feed or watching the video I posted on Facebook. There is not any way I could have prepared for what happened in our extended lope. The trip, the reins ripping out of my hands, the recovery, the continued pattern. None of it was imaginable when I entered the pen. Nothing could have prepared me for those moments.
Miss Shiney kept her resolve even when everything fell out of control. Once we stopped, she stood still, ears perked, waiting on me to regain the confidence to continue. While picking up the rein, I contemplated my next move. Should I finish the pattern? Give a wave and walk out, head hung? I decided in an instant to give her another pat on the neck and said, “Come on, girl, let’s ride. ” She possessed the grit to pick up and keep going.
Miss Shiney and I walked out of the pen with a composite score of 102, one of the bottom scores of the day.
Up until the time of the trip, our ride was one that might have given us a call back for the Level 2 awards and maybe even the Level 3 finals.
Of that, I’ll never be certain.
After settling down from the shock of what happened, I felt humbled by the amount of grace my family, my friends, top professionals, and even Miss Shiney had shown me throughout the day.
Being a stay-at-home amateur does not mean you have to do it on your own. Trainers, friends, fellow amateurs alike all want success for the people who share their passion. Never be afraid to simply ask for advice from a trainer you admire or ask for a helping hand from a fellow exhibitor. In return, be supportive, encouraging, and invested in the people around you. We all love horses. We’re all in this together. The world, especially the horse show world, is much better with both grit and grace.