THE HORSE SHOW DAD
Wade B. Cook Finally, I get an opportunity to get back at my daughter for my experiences of being a Horse Show Dad. She probably shouldn’t have asked me to be a part of her new book. At least, she’ll be embarrassed, to the degree that Cow Girls get red-faced.
Okay, being a Horse Show Dad has been enlightening and has allowed me to spend time with my kids. That is the greatest blessing of all. But underlying all of the activity is a weird side, one that does not meet the eye—and I’ll pull back the curtain and let you peak inside.
It has also allowed me to spend money, and I mean a lot of money, all for the love of the horses. Well, that’s the line anyway. You’ll hear it everywhere. It’s partially true from my perspective. It’s the love of the horses, but only because of the love of these kids for their horses—and that beautiful barn-mate I’ve chosen to spend my life with.
They are all into these beasts of burdens. And it’s a wonderful thing to behold.
Now, I’m pretty sure you read into that sub-heading, that the kids and moms are busy and engaged. That they may be, but it’s deeper.
One year I showed up in Oklahoma City where the Youth Nationals were going on. Where’s mom? She’s back at the Hotel, sick. Sick? Yes, the weather, the heat has gotten her down.
She was down 2 days. The heat was so sweltering—it was muggy to the nth degree.
I went out to the horse show and looked up the stalls we were occupying. No one was there. All of the kids and most of the parents were in the arena watching afternoon classes. Usually, they’re busy primping away.
But it was cool in the arena—down around 80 degrees. Oh, what a relief. And it just so happens, that the afternoon was ticking away and Leslie would be showing in about 45 minutes.
That’s part of what I mean by consumed. Dad here, does not want to miss a class. No, I didn’t need to be there when they handed out ribbons, one Thank You, enough for me. But I did want to see my little girl ride. At first, I didn’t even know what posting was, or why a judge asks them to do gaits in a certain order.
I was just enjoying being still and quiet in the heat and watching. So, I would ask, “What time is she in her class?” Now, that seems like a simple question, but there surely is no simple answer. First, they are mentally gone. They are thinking about hats, ponytails—or more appropriately, buns—and a hundred other things that a fifteen-year-old showgirl can think of.
“Dad, DAD,” a tiny voice screamed. “I forgot my gloves at the hotel.” Or my jods, my clip, my show-__________. It didn’t matter. It meant I was off to the hotel. Good, I could check on the Horse Show Mom.
Now, this was before cell phones, you know the ones that do everything. The first phones had no camera, and no Facebook posting capability. There was no Facebook. I would have to describe everything with spoken words.
So, out to the car I went, in the 93-degree weather. It was 93, the wind-chill factor at 95 degrees and . . . what do they call it on the Weather Channel . . . “it feels like” 212°. I had to hurry. There was no way the class could go on without her gloves.
I quickly learned a few shortcuts, looking for a Popeye’s Chicken along the way. I love horse show food, so don’t get me wrong. Horse Show Food has its own space on the American Diet Pyramid—soon be added to the Periodic Tables and the Richter Scale, simultaneously.
I made it just in time. Luckily, Mrs. Mickey’s Mom was sleeping. Sorry to mix metaphors, there. You see our family has two animal loves in our lives. Horses and Disneyland. Oh, and let’s not forget our trusted canines.
Leslie won her class, and her name and fame started to grow. It took me three more classes to cool down. The Entourage moved back to the barn, and the small party began. Those are fun. I tried to keep track of how many ways people could say, “Good Job.” There is only one.
Oh, the horse, you ask? Well, the horse got some extra TicTacs. They love mints.
These Horse Show Kids are consumed, but their love for “just hanging out” with the horses proves a point. For years, Leslie spent more time with the horses than with us or even her friends.
What parent has a difficult time getting their daughter away from the horses—busy picking dirt out of their shoes, and mucking stalls.
It’s hard to pinpoint a time when the love story begins. It does begin, and for years it changes the meaning of their lives—well, for all our lives.
Everyone gets drawn in, and I mean Lock, Stock and Barrel. Is that a horsey expression? Well, if not, there will be plenty coming up.
These kids are into winning. That’s good. They do get the “Participation Ribbon” in the lead-line walk class when they’re four or five. But these horse show kids are brilliant. They know at this pre-pubescent time of their lives that growing up in a social mess may be politically correct, but serves no real purpose in getting ahead. They want the Gold Ribbon. Second Best is just not good enough.
And, my wife is the best Horse Show Mom I’ve ever seen. She is all in. Anything. Anytime. Her love for our girls and our horses is a deep well.
A QUICK STORY TO PROVE THIS POINT
First an aside about my wife’s illustrious Horse Show career. For years she had ridden and participated in these non-qualifying horse shows. She got a second place here and a third place there. This will come into the following story in a humbling way.
We’ve told this story several times, but I really want you to get to know my daughter. More particularly, I hope your children get to see inside her heart.
She was six. It was her first year with horses, and she was scheduled for a lead-line class. Now, do you really get that? The child/rider may wear any outfit they choose: Western, English, Hunter/Jumper. They are so cute. The cameras were clicking away, and these were real cameras.
An adult, holding the lead-line, walks them into the ring. They walk one way. They halt and stand still. Then, in a trick of magnificent agility, they reverse and walk the other way.
And then, lo and behold, the judges are conflicted—not being able to choose the #1, the Numero Uno, the IchiBan—must give the blue ribbon to all participants. Applause erupts.
The first time I saw this, I thought it was great. Little did I know that as a Horse Show dad, that I was playing into Liberal Political Thinking.
Okay, back to the story.
Our two trainers at the time were very good, and sort to famous in the horse show arena—Dede and Alicia. They had already committed to other families to take their daughters or sons into this all-consuming and strenuous Lead-Line class.
Leslie wanted one of those two to take her in. This wrestling went back and forth for weeks. It takes a lot of practice to get these young riders ready for the glory to follow.
Finally, after the umpteenth time of bugging mom, Mom finally asked, “Leslie, what is the problem? Why can’t I take you in? Well mom . . . (Now here comes a glimpse into her heart from two angles) . . . “Well mom (long pause), You’re really good at thirds.”
I’ve learned since then to never underestimate the power of exponential returns and the passion of a little girl.
When writing this I usually refer to girls. I’ve theorized: Don’t get in the way of these young girls. There is a reason for this.
At these ages, there are about 8 girls for every boy. Sometimes classes with 20 kids would contain, maybe on male contestant.
These girls have an incredible love for their horses. Maybe the boys were busy doing something else. My best friend in 4 and 5 grades had a collection of horses which could win contests.
Then something happens. I guess life sets in—money, babies, and a dozen other things. The point is, and I’m guessing, about 80% to 90% of horse trainers are men.
I love discovering new things. I love doing research. I take my books with me. I read all of the time. While the girls are primping, practicing and preparing, I’m busy with my research.
I’ve learned a few things which are very strange:
Horse Show people can’t spell. What happens to their brains. And it’s not just Horse Show people, quite often the disease afflicts Thoroughbreds. Here is an example. One of our favorite horses is MakeMyneMynk. That’s weird. She came with this moniker, but her barn name is Mynk, and people call her Schmynkers.
Next, most horse show people don’t know how to make money at this game. The only profitable sections of this great Horse Business are Training and having a Profitable Stud. The rest of us wile away on the peripherals shoveling in more money.
Shovel in, shovel out. The days march on.
There are so many things I’ve been able to accomplish since we started down this path of Horse Ownership. Being a Horse Show Dad is the most visible, but surely not the only one.
I have used this time to continue running my company. The management was just a phone call away.
Occasionally we would plan radio interviews, TV guest appearances, but more often, we’d schedule a Seminar. No, we never interfered with a class, except one time in Louisville.
I found incredible eating places. Still to this day, the best Lemon Grass Chicken is in a Vietnamese Restaurant just north of the Fair Ground in Albuquerque. I have my favorite eating places all over the country, thanks to Horse Shows.
But the most profound aspect—read that accomplishment—was writing books at the Horse Shows, usually in the stands—read that bleachers. I carried my pads, not riding pads, with me, and would think, take notes and write.
One of my New York Times Bestsellers was written in Scottsdale.
Also, I’ve been able to watch my girls and my family grow up. The Young Contestants are being challenged, tried and tested—and maturing into wonderful young women.
But even though I remained busy, the most profound aspect of being a Horse Show Dad is raising Horse Show Girls.
Every day is a day of wonder, and oh, we still haven’t figured out how to monetize this.
“I’m not much of a Horse Trader, but I wouldn’t Trade these experiences for anything.”