By Megan Ryden with Alison Foster
The midnight hours at horse shows are never completely silent. The quiet is punctuated by the rustle of shavings disturbed by a sleepy sorrel, the occasional bang from an unsettled bay and the murmuring voices of the devoted showmen and -women who care for these equine athletes even in the wee hours when most of the world lies in slumber.
Despite the lateness and the nearly deserted alleyways, there is someone wrapping legs, someone sweeping an alleyway and someone tacking up for jumping practice. Many of these exhausted, diligent, unwavering people don’t get paid for their long hours of dedication and hard work. On the contrary, they scrape and scrimp, budgeting for the chance to trot into the show pen on the backs of their four-legged partners. Showing horses is their passion, their pleasure, their life. They are Amateurs, and they are the bedrock foundation of the Paint Horse community.
This passion for showing horses requires soft hands, a strong heart and unfailing dedication. Like actors on the stage, Amateurs step into many roles over the course of a single show. We start as long-haul drivers, hauling horses across the country. We become movers, spending long hours in the sweltering sun or blistering cold unloading saddles, tack trunks, metal racks, feed and prickly bales of hay. We step into the role of interior decorator, setting up stalls and stall-fronts and creating our “homes away from home.”
It’s only after we complete these tasks that we step into the prized role of showmen and -women. The moment we’re aboard our painted partners for the first warm-up ride, everything clicks. We take a deep breath, cue our horses to trot and willingly throw ourselves into the emotional and physical rollercoaster of a horse show.
It’s an exhausting few days. For the chance to compete in a few classes, we walk miles back and forth on concrete, stay up too late, get up too early, sweat, freeze, celebrate, cry and “hurry up and wait” more times than we care to remember. We know that horse-show hangovers are real, and getting up for work the first morning after a show is next to impossible. But we do it, because our passion will not be deterred.
For Amateurs like me who have been bitten by the “horse-show bug,” we count down the days until the next show and willingly sacrifice countless hours—not to mention blood, sweat and tears—toward improving ourselves and our horses. When we lose ourselves in the depth of our horses’ eyes or in the cadence of a perfect lope, we realize all our sacrifices are worthwhile.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.