By Jamie Walters
I’d like to tell you a story ….
About a month ago, I decided to show my former reiner, a very hairy, fledgling rope horse, Flash (Sail On Vintage) in the Ranch Riding class at the Sun Circuit AQHA Horse Show in Scottsdale, Arizona. He had never done any of the maneuvers in Ranch Riding, but I knew he was a good horse, as he had served me well during his reining career. So I begged my husband to pull him out of rope horse training where he had been for a year, and I began doing Ranch Riding on him as best as I knew how.
I took one riding lesson with Debbie Cooper at her place (I rode in from a nearby rope barn), and she rode Flash twice. I paid close attention to everything she did to get him to trot fast and trot slow. I watched how she moved his hips and how she moved his shoulders. I watched her gentle, guiding hands in those two short lessons, and I learned a lot.
My husband and I went for long trail rides in the desert. We went through the sandy washes with bushes scraping us, we went over some trail courses that some horse-loving stranger had set up, and Flash took it all in stride. We worked on our fast and slow trotting, and our downward transitions combined with some rusty lead changes.
After a few weeks, Debbie said we were good enough and encouraged us to try to get a stall at the Sun Circuit, and we settled in as sort of an interloper at the end of her shed row for the next 10 days at the Sun Circuit.
Then the fun began … we hauled into the show grounds, Mark and I working out of the back of the truck … stacking the saddle, pads, bridle, and brushes on the bed of the truck. Flash was a good sport being tied to flatbed while Mark and I tacked him up, and off I went to practice the patterns.
We entered six different classes. And from the beginning, if I did my job, Flash did his job. In fact, truth being told, I think Flash found his dream job. There was one pattern where you go from a fast gallop to a long trot, and Flash did this without missing a beat. When he was a reiner, this move was deeply frowned upon garnering a two-point penalty and perhaps worse, but in Ranch Riding it’s plus points! Instead of being beaten up, Flash was being hugged and applauded at the back gate, with trainers asking who trained him, what was his breeding, and where did he come from. Flash probably thought he had died and gone to heaven!
By the week’s end, against all odds, we ended up Reserve Circuit Champion in the L1 Ranch Riding in class of over 60 horses! Our scores of 233, 227 and 222, were respectable for the prior three weeks of training and the first time in the pen, not to mention Flash’s rusty left lead changes, rarely practiced during his year as a rope horse (a rope horse thing). To say I am proud of my hairy little Flash would be an understatement – I am OVER THE MOON! ❤️❤️❤️
Nostalgically, I was reminded of when I was a little girl and I used to ride my 20-year-old Saddlebred, Emmy, to our local shows. I didn’t have much money for trailering, and if I did save up my allowance for the five dollar trip, there were many occasions where, Emmy would not load, wasting my hard earned five dollars. So instead, I would ride Emmy 10 miles across the back trails, carrying my brush bag, to the world renowned Flintridge Stables where the shows were scheduled, and where I would be competing against young Olympic hopefuls on the fanciest horses in the country. By the time I got there, Emmy would be covered in dirt and often diarrhea because it was a stressful trip for her. I would clean her up with a hose as best as I could, often entering the show pen slightly waterlogged, and despite the odds, I would more often than not, place in the top five in the equitation classes. Those moments inspired me more than anything else in my life. To be the underdog, and still place was my goal and my great joy.
This past week, Mark reminded me more than once that here I was again, being that little girl, and placing again in the Ranch Riding against all odds at one of the biggest horse shows in the country. He reminded me that I could do this just like I did it before… that I could work out of the back of the truck, that I could do my show grooming tied to the flat bed, that saddling up without cross ties and hopping on can lead to success. (By the way, thank God for the best and most supportive husband on Earth who knows how to speak to my inner child and remind me of the strength I’m made of. ❤️❤️❤️)
And can I tell you about the Ranch Riding classes themselves? In these delightful classes, I met and reunited with all sorts of new and old friends, including people and horses that I had known for years from the reining pen. It was a wonderful, exciting, relaxing experience, and it was a little tough. There are 14 different maneuvers on average in the Ranch Riding, while they’re only eight in reining. So mentally you have to remember quite a bit. But don’t let that scare you off. Everything flows and makes sense, and if you can just remember walk, trot, walk, trot fast, lope, you can get through the pattern with no problems at all.
It was wonderful to see some of the older reining horses that I had admired in the height of their reining career now shining in the Ranch Riding pen, serving their riders to the best of their ability. It was encouraging to see riders of all ages and abilities competing in the Ranch Riding classes and having a great time. And if you know me, it was “cherry on top” to see all the fashion. This is one place where fashion can flourish, even on a budget. There were many vintage items that I marveled at – some of my friends even dug through to the back of their closet and pulled things out from the 1970’s including buckles, vests, chinks, wild rags, and belts – they were the VERY BEST!
Ranch Riding – finding new life in older horses, older riders, older clothes, and showing that “VINTAGE” in all its glory is the NEW COOL!
I encourage everyone to look into Ranch Riding. Its great place to start or end. It’s just difficult enough to be challenging and just innocent enough to be encouraging. It doesn’t cost a lot of money, you can wear your old clothes (which will be celebrated), bring your older horse (he’ll shine), and be your slow and steady self (which will win the day)!
Here’s to trying new things and LIVING YOUR BEST NEW LIFE!