For the first time in a long time I'm watching the All-American Quarter Horse Congress from my trusty computer. While I don't miss the unpredictable weather (it's 70 degrees here in Boulder), or the lack of sleep, there's something about the Congress that I can't help but miss. The thing I miss most about being at this show is seeing the reactions of newly crowned congress champions leaving the arena. It's been 10 years but I still remember every minute of winning my congress championship.
I wish there were step-by-step directions on how to win a big horse show, but the truth is it just takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I practiced roughly six times a week months leading up to that day. And by that time I was homeschooling, so I spent the entire month of October living in my trainers' motorhome on the congress fairgrounds.
The day of the NYATT Showmanship I started my day like any other day. I got up around 4 a.m. to get to the barn and get in a quick longe-line session before a last-minute practice. By the time they set the cones in the show pen I knew my game plan. The pattern was a tough one, it involved backing a half-circle to the left between two cones, which seemed to give people some trouble. Besides not hitting the cones you also had to focus on ending up straight with the judge, because you immediately trotted to him after your backup.
I was the last person to go in the finals. I tried to stay calm but as I watched rider after rider have great patterns, I could feel my nerves kicking in. This was the Congress after all! I finally made my way to the start cone and as I set my horse up all the nerves went away. The pattern itself was great, and as I closed my last turn I felt a sigh of relief--everything went according to plan.
Standing in the lineup I saw riders that had multiple world and congress championships to their name, some that I've admired since I first started showing Quarter Horses. As they started the placing I looked at my trainer but all she could say was "it's up to them now." There were 15 of us in the arena but they would only place 10, so as they placed the Reserve Congress Champion I began to realize I was either going to be a finalist or the winner. It seemed like forever as we waited to hear who won but I'll never forget hearing them announce 'your Congress Champion unanimous under all four judges' followed by mine and my horse's name. I was shaking so much I could hardly accept the bronze trophy from the Congress Queen. I didn't even have a chance to turn around before my barn family had jumped the fence and ran into the arena to celebrate.
This moment was 10 long years ago, and I've competed at the congress a few other times since 2006, but winning a congress championship is a moment I'll never forget!