I love horses; I am horse crazy. It is what I talk about, it is what I do for a living, and it is what I do in my spare time. I have been fortunate to have some wonderful horses in my barn, most of which I genuinely liked. There were a few that were not so fun, but the lion share of them were a treat to ride. I think all horse lovers have had that “special” horse in their life. Mine was a horse named Quioxte Light, aptly barn named, The Don.
Back in 2005 I was fairly new to the show horse industry in relative terms. I had not been training for the public all my life, and my show pen experience was somewhat limited when it came to anything other than the local show circuit. I had started making some headway in the show pen and felt like I was beginning to get noticed for my abilities.
I started getting a few clients that were willing to spend the kind of money that it took to buy the kind of horses that had the talent to win bigger events. You have to understand that most good trainers do not come to an understanding of how to train to a higher level without the help of a few great horses. You see, I was made a better trainer every time I had the opportunity to get on a horse that had more talent than anything that I had ridden before. Before The Don, I had ridden some pretty nice horses. I had some success in the show pen, and had made the finals of a couple of events. However, I had not ridden one with “big talent”. Then, I had a client that decided that he wanted to move to the next level of competition and buy a horse that could win at the big shows. Needless to say I was game.
That client sent me out with the instructions to find a “big time” horse. I had spent several days looking all over the country trying to find a really good one. But you have to remember, I had never ridden and shown a “big time” horse. You would think that it would be an obvious decision, but let me tell you, it is not. When people find out that you have quite a bit of money to spend on a horse, then suddenly all the horses turn into big time horses. So, I sat my client down after my first search and I explained to him, that I had some concerns. I had one of the biggest opportunities of my career to that point, and to be honest I wanted to make sure I did not screw this up. I explained to him that I had never ridden a horse that was worth $60,000, much less one that was worth $100,000. In fact, I furthered explained, this is more money than I spent on my first house! I was not shying away from the task, I just wanted him to know this was not as easy a job as I thought it would be, and the last thing I wanted to do was over pay for a horse.
His response baffled me, he said that he really appreciated my honesty and that if it was gonna break him then he would be concerned. He then told me to find the best horse possible, and he would decide if the price tag was too much. Long story short, I chose Quixote Light. The Don was the prettiest horse that I think I have ever seen. He had a hair coat like most sons of Gray Starlight. It was like a shiny copper penny, and when the sunlight hit him it was a brilliant color. He was purchased just a week out from the NRHA Derby, which is held in Oklahoma City, and his entries had already been paid for by the previous owner so we figured what the heck, let’s go for it.
Let me tell you, it may seem like it was be a big thing to sell a horse for that kind of money, something that would be really hard to pull off and get done. What I soon found out was, that was not the hard part. The hard part starts after the sale, when you have to perform. The part when your Chihuahua butt has to back up your alligator mouth. That my friend is where the boys are separated from the men. My first time in the show pen with Quixote Light was an absolute bomb. I could blame it on several things, but the fact was that I had let the show nerves get to me and got myself completely worked up. I didn’t even score high enough to get a second run.
Much to my fortune, this client let me take the time needed to get to know The Don at a couple more shows. So I spent the next six months or so learning how to show him. The following year, The Don and I ran to every show possible in the state of Texas. The Don taught me how to show hard, and how to fix the things I was messing up by running hard in the show pen. He also taught me how to work with a horse in the show pen instead of forcing them or over riding them. He paid for a lot of my mistakes in the show pen and also made up for a lot of them too with his talent. He was one of those horses that truly made me a better horseman. The Don and I went on to win several regional and national titles along with several derby wins.
As the years went by The Don got older and aged out of all of the large money events. The breeding industry died off with the economy, and it did not make sense to breed him to the three broodmares the owner had, so he decided to put him up for sale. It was a heart breaking day when he sold and went to a new owner who was looking at using him as a breeding stud for his small new breeding program. He was still going to be ridden just not going to be shown. He was retired from showing, deservedly so. I learned a lot from that too and all of the horses that I train now also benefit from the mistakes that I made and learned from The Don.
Several years later, I meet a lady at a horse show. She was just getting into reining, and had purchased a reining horse that she would like for me to help her with. Well, low and behold the horse she wanted help on was The Don! She now owned him and was interested in using him to show. I could not have been more thrilled to have this horse enter back into my life. When she brought him over, he was just as beautiful as the day he left. However, he did have more years and a lot of miles on him. After much deliberation and time, we decided that he really needed a slower pace of life and really would not hold up to the rigors of full time training and showing. So, he was retired again, and guess what? I own him!
He is now a gelding and spends most of his time being pampered and loved on by me and my students. He is my star lesson horse and he loves his new role of making a lot of my new students much better reiners. It is a great privilege to get to have him as a part of my program. He has continued to give a ton to me, my family and my business. I owe him, and will be eternally grateful for the lessons he taught me in the show pen, the places he took my career, and the friendship he has given me over the years. I truly believe that the horses I train and show now, benefit from all this great horse taught me.
For those of you that have not heard of the NRHA Derby held in Oklahoma City, it is one of the premiere events put on by the National Reining Horse Association. It is a derby that four, five and six year old horses are eligible to compete in, of which last year there were 450 entries in the derby alone. The event is held in conjunction with a full slate of classes and there are usually a little over 1,000 head of horses there to compete. The added money last year was $650,000, so no one is coming to this show just to practice or get your horse out for a weekend. They are here to run and win. Fans of the sport and spectators are here to watch, not just in the stands but with the internet, they are watching around the globe.
I have had the privilege over the years to compete at this event quite a few times and have done well. I have been the Reserve Derby Champion in the Limited Open, I have also fallen flat on my face. No quite literally flat on my face, skidding through the center of the arena like I was sliding into home plate while still in the saddle. My horse lost his footing, went down and the rest is history. It was quite a wreck, we were running fast circles and my horse, got a little out of control when it came to running his fast circles. My thought was, well I am here to show, and if I pull him up we are not going to get scored anything. Maybe I will just go with it and smile like it is something that I asked for and the judges will give me the benefit of the doubt. All doubt was removed when we both hit the dirt in the middle of the arena. Insult to injury came when my horse got up without me, and ran a lap around the arena with his tail in the air. One of my friends had to jump down out of the stands to catch my horse.
It was horrible. I was horrified, humiliated, defeated and a whole bunch of other things. To make matters worse I had to shake that off and go show another horse in the same pen, in front of the same audience, the same judges and the same peers. Then to top it all off I had to call my client and tell him not only did we not win, we wiped out and received a zero score. Not one of my shining moments.
I have had some tough times on horses; tough lessons learned and tough relationships lost. So you might ask, why in the world do you show and train horses for a living? Because, What I have learned and gained from horses, this sport and the people that surround me are priceless. Horses have sent me on a life journey that I will be forever grateful for, and I am a better man because of the horses I ride and show.
Horses have taught me about perseverance and grit. As the great Babe Ruth once said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” You have to fail to succeed and sometimes a lofty goal or ambition is worth failing for a few times. I have literally fallen off the horse and had to get back on (more times than I care to share). However, being able to persevere and actually succeed has been very rewarding. It has taught me that “I can” and I have been able to coach many others through to the same mindset of setting goals and achieving them.
Horses have taught me about grace. Not the kind of grace it takes to fall off of one, but the kind that is free and unmerited. They have been kind and forgiving of my mistakes and have tried in spite of them. Horses have given me perspective and taught me humility. The Bible says God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. I thank God that he taught me this and so many lessons through something I love so much.