By: Barbara Aitken Jenkins
It’s officially been eleven days since I traveled home from my first AQHA World Championship Show as an Amateur exhibitor.
Miss Shiney and I haven’t ridden since last Monday in the Amateur Reining prelims. We both needed a break. She had turnout time, and I’ve gotten back in the work groove and cleaned the house. This past week has been a time of resting and reflection.
There is a moment that keeps popping up in my memory, and it didn’t even happen at the show.
I had decided I needed at least a 71 to make it in the Level 3 finals, and I figured NRHA Hall of Fame trainer/clinician/NRHA judge, Doug Milholland, could help me finish up those last few details to mark the score.
I was sitting on Doug’s track outside of Purcell, Oklahoma, Saturday before the Amateur Reining. Doug, whom I’ve ridden with most of my life, was helping me leading up to the show.
After spinning for the sixth time or so, I looked at him and asked, “Be honest. Are these spins zeros? Are they even close to a +1/2?”
He answered, “They’re a 0. They might end up being a +1/2 in time. But not by Monday.”
I remember that comment striking me as one to remember after the lesson.
At show time, Miss Shiney and I completed all the required maneuvers of AQHA Reining pattern 8. To be honest, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a “wow” run by a long shot.
After hearing the below-average score, I quickly made my way to a quiet place and started to cry. I wanted more out of the ride, I wanted more out of Miss Shiney, and I expected more of myself.
Having watched me exit the holding pen, Doug soon rounded the corner and gathered me up in a hug. I tearfully looked at him and said, “I just can’t get it done. I want it so bad, but I just can’t get it done.”
Doug immediately answered, “It’s a beautiful day, and you have both feet on the ground. You didn’t get it this year, but you will. You will get there.”
As my tears subsided, Doug and I continued talking. He invited me to ride with him more, to keep my chin up, and keep working. He smiled then bid goodbye, mentioning he had two other horses to ride that day.
Over this past week, I realized something profoundly vital to my journey as a competitive equestrian.
Doug knew I most likely wouldn’t be finals bound. He knew Miss Shiney’s and my weaknesses. He still came to the show to support me. He still pushed me to be better up to the time I went through the gate.
Why would he do that knowing the odds?
Because Doug’s goals aren’t centered on the gold. He wants me to be a diligent and intelligent horsewoman. He wants me to understand the horse, its body, its mind, its capabilities. He wants me to be able to read a horse and ride a horse to the best of my abilities.
I realized this past week, as much as I want the gold, I want to be a true horsewoman more.
Doug and I discussed the fact that the majority of horses we competed against live with trainers. They live life tuned to the max. We discussed that I have an uphill slope to climb since I choose to be a stay-at-home amateur. I have to work harder, understand more, feel more, implement more, and be better than the rest.
I want to win so much it consumes my thoughts sometimes. However, true success will be earning respect as a knowledgeable horsewoman who never stops striving to be at the best of my abilities. I’m hungry to learn as much as I can about the horse and the sport.
I plan on spending next year pursuing goals both in and out of the show pen. I plan on riding with Doug as much as I am able when he isn’t on the road judging or hosting clinics across the world.
I’m truly blessed to have a horseman like Doug, who is willing to teach me and mold me. I firmly believe stay-at-home amateurs should find someone willing to teach them.
I know one of these days I’ll walk out of the Gateway of Champions, gripping a globe. And when that day comes, I’ll know I earned it. It will be these moments of clarity, perseverance, and humbleness that hoist me to World Champion status. It will be the horses I’ve ridden, the lessons I’ve learned, and my unwillingness to ever give up on my dreams.