The Big K has a theory about learning to show your horse. In order to win, you have to show. As many shows as you can manage. He doesn't waste his time schooling at the local clubs, and he doesn't want you to either. He swears your horse knows the difference, and so do you. He schools at AQHA shows. He expects his clients to do the same.
"Showing isn't about money." He'll tell you. "It's about getting out there and letting everybody see your horse. It's about stepping up and showing what you can do.
The only way to become confident in the show pen is to spend time there."
Easy for him to say. He wasn't on Sonita. He wasn't me.
Of course, I was his client. I was showing in the open classes. Everybody knew I was riding with him. So I guess he had his own pressures. Sonita and I weren't exactly turning the show world on fire. By winning that is. We did draw a certain amount of attention.
Sonita went absolutely bat shit when I took her to a show. Head thrown high, eyes bulging, she'd stop and blow, and spin. She pin her ears and lunge at horses she deemed too close. She'd bolt and scatter when another horse came up behind her. That was just getting her out of the trailer.
One of our first shows was the Pre Denver in December. This is a large AQHA show held the week before the stock show. The classes tend to run bigger than the stock show itself, and you don't have to deal with the crowds of looky-loos from the stock show. They don't run cattle classes at the Pre Denver, so I was to show in reining. Probably a good thing, since I couldn't reliably fight my way through a pattern yet, much less get my horse down the fence.
I talked the woman trailering with me into coming to the show a day ahead of the rest of the Big K's barn. I wanted to give Sonita time to acclimate, and to work on my own case of nerves.
I am the kind of person who completely falls apart when put in any kind of public situation.
I come from a life of forgotten grade school reports, suddenly tangled fingers during flute solos in high school, and frozen, red faced, stuttering presentations in college.
Why did I pick a sport that put me alone in the arena with nobody but my whacked out horse and a judge? I haven't a clue. If you've got one, please share. I think it's probably some Catholic guilt thing. You know, public humiliation is good for the soul.
Sonita kindly kept me busy enough to keep my mind off my impending doom.
The Denver Horse Show Complex is an imposing beast. Echoing halls wind through what seem miles of stalls. Soft yellow lighting is diffused in drifting dust, keeping the horses in an artificial twilight 24 hours a day.
Row after row of slick, shining horses stood in the stalls. All covered in pricier clothes than I had ever been able to afford for myself, much less consider putting on Sonita. AQHA shows come with beautiful horses, and beautiful people. I was so intimidated by the wealth around me I could barely speak.
Except to yell, "Whoa Dammit!" as Sonita drug me, bucking and plunging down the aisle.
I managed to stuff her in her stall by backing her into a corner, and running for the door. I slammed it shut on her nose.
She spun in circles, squealed at the horse next to her, and bit the bars dividing them. The fact that the neighboring horse was her trailer buddy meant nothing, she was out of her mind. Her water buckets flew, and she ground her hay into her bedding.
I stood and watched, mouth open, looking every bit the Gomer I imagined myself to be, as Sonita raged for the next half hour.
She finally settled to a nervous pacing, her white rolling eyes glaring every time she passed me.
"What are you going to do?" My trailer partner asked.
"I guess I'll go ride her in the arenas. You want to come?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world."
There were only a few riders in the arena. For the most part, reining trainers, tuning their young horses. The majority of horses would arrive the next day. Sonita blew in at a high trot. Her head slung back and forth, as she tried to absorb the world I had plunged her in. A high ceiling decorated with hanging, streaming, glittery, banners arched over us. The stands on either side of us gaped empty, tier after tier. She slammed herself to a spraddle legged stop and stared, mesmerized by a lone janitor, mopping the upper level floors, high above her head.
I tried to keep my reins loose. I wanted to give her time to see, and file away, every bit of information she needed. I sat quiet as she looked around her, her eyes getting buggier with every passing second.
The other riders quietly loped by, eyes politely averted, faces expressionless. One thing I've learned to love about cowboys, they wait to mock you until they're out of the arena. Once they get to know you, they'll tease you to your face. Oddly enough, their mannerly colts all had the same look in their eyes.
Sonita eventually calmed enough to begin to lope some circles. Her circles were smaller than everybody else's, as she was too terrified of the white arena walls to come within fifty feet of
them. This was going to make our big, fast circles interesting on show day.
She loped with her head high, and her nose constantly pointed to the upper tiers. She had to keep watching for that scary janitor. But we were loping.
Sonita and I worked into the night. We loped big circles, and small. We aired up in the middle and I let her look around. We loped some more.
Finally, two hours in, she stood with her head level. She cocked a hip, and relaxed a little. Still alert, but she stood quiet.
I stepped down, loosened her cinch and took her back to her stall.
Sonita stood still at the wash rack, and enjoyed her late night bath. When I put her in the stall, she only lunged at the horse next to her once, before she settled into her hay.
As I walked down the aisle, towards my own hot shower and bed, I heard her kick the wall, once, twice, then silence.
I figured if the place was still standing in the morning I might be able to show her after all.