Vail Valley Voices: Some lessons best learned from a horse
The fair and rodeo’s horse shows are so all American that if Norman Rockwell was still alive, he’d paint it.
Dozens of kids on dozens of horses cantered around the arena Monday, looking for smatterings of applause and a little love from the judge.
Some got it, some didn’t.
Most kids and horses performed exactly as they were supposed to.
Occasionally a horse would misbehave so badly that one would think the French are correct to eat horses.
Parental pack animals
We talked to several parents sitting in the stands, watching their daughters and sons ride the equivalent of a retirement account around the Johnnette Phillips Arena. We’ll call him “Dad.” He’s a conglomeration of parents who want the best for their children.
Horse parents are pack animals, and stick together. Their genus and species are Check Writicus and Horse Trailer Backer Upperus.
They channeled Ronald Reagan, who said, “The best thing for the inside of a kid is the outside of a horse,” repeating it like a mantra.
They can tell you it costs $300 a month to board a horse and that it’s at least $100 every four to six weeks for horse shoes. They do not pay that much for their own shoes.
“That’s the bottom line if everything goes right, if the horse is an easy keeper,” Dad said. “Of course, everything never goes right.”
Horse are notoriously injury prone and can hurt themselves just by thinking negative thoughts. Apparently, when they’re thinking about anything they’re thinking about that, because horses are broken more often than Sandra Bullock’s heart.
Veterinarians are wonderful, but not free.
None of the kids live at the fairgrounds, so the price tag includes a horse trailer and a truck to pull it, transporting horses, kids and thousands of dollars worth of tack — that’s the leather stuff like saddles and bridles you strap on a horse to ride it. If you ride Western and English, you need two types of tack, and often different horses specifically trained for each.
“Hockey and ski racing are expensive,” Dad said. “But you don’t have to pay to board skis and hockey gear year round.”
“And skis and skates don’t eat when you’re not using them,” said Dad, who was taking Monday off work to haul kids and horses to and from the fairgrounds.
Horse show days start with the sun. Monday’s ended when the full moon rose, so it didn’t really count as a day off.
Dad nodded quietly, along with the other horse parents, gazing into Monday’s 90 degree heat and wondering when it might snow.
Kid learn the darndest things
Horse parents really do believe that the best thing for the inside of a kid is the outside of a horse, and they might be right.
They really do learn great stuff, Dad said:
n They learn that success follows work. It’s not easy and it’s not free, but it’s worth it. Sometimes your boots get dirty and it smells bad.
n They learn that training horses and kids is similar. You tell them and show them the same things over and over and over. It’s repetitious and tedious, but eventually their lights switch on and they get it — both the horses and the kids.
n They learn that the firm but gentle hand teaches best. Pound on a horse or a dog or a person, then try to order them to come to you and see how well it works out.
n They learn that the will to compete is nothing, but the will to prepare is everything. Tuesday night is gymkhana, horse and rider games. That’s the fun stuff. The kids who did well in the horse shows also tend to perform well in the speed competitions, because they’ve put in the work and the time.
n They learn that what they’re doing sets them up for what they must do next, that you cannot do just one thing. Everything builds on everything else.
n They learn that horses are flesh and bone and brain just like them. And horses have their own ideas about how things should go. Horse and kid will come to a peaceful resolution, or nothing is accomplished.
n They learn that a little double stick carpet tape on the forehead keeps a contestant’s cowboy hat from flying off in the middle of an event.
n They learn that there really will be a quiz later. The 4-H horse show includes a written test covering horse knowledge.
n But above everything else they know this: Horse parents love their kids, and their kids love their horses. It’s worth it.
They’ll both be back.
Randy Wyrick is covering the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo this week in his own unique way.