Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep.
My 7 a.m. alarm jolted me from sleep. Shaking with nerves and excitement, I sprang out of bed, grabbing my overnight bag. The five-hour drive from my home in Vista, California, to Las Vegas would give me time to think—which could be dangerous.
I was on my way to show in the youth limited class at the 2015 National Reined Cow Horse Association Stallion Stakes, and the unknown is what scared me most. It would be my first time competing in a cow horse event of this size with my Quarter Horse mare, Ka Rona, and my first time showing at Vegas’ fancy South Point venue.
I was only 15 at the time, too. My nerves jangled.
‘Good Luck, Have Fun’
Arriving at South Point—a giant hotel with indoor stalls and arenas—was surreal. My eyes popped as my barn-mates and I settled our horses in and unloaded the tack and feed.
The next day was an adventure. Ka Rona and I had never been in such a crowded warm-up arena. Every minute, it seemed, I was witnessing a near crash. Luckily, I had a good horse to take care of me.
After bathing Ka Rona and riding one last time that night, I went to bed, thanking the Lord for all my blessings and asking for the next day—show day—to be a good one.
The barns and arenas were quiet at four the next morning. Ka Rona worked beautifully. After that, the morning dragged and my nerves mounted. Finally, it was time to show. I gave my mom a hug and she went into the grandstands. My trainer, Brenda Brown, offered me her signature last words: “Good luck, have fun.” The person at the back gate gave me the nod to enter the pen.
“Up next is draw five, Maggie Cincotta on Ka Rona.”
We walked into the arena. My nerves vanished as I focused on the job at hand. Our reining pattern flowed. Then the cow was let into the arena for the boxing. It seemed I’d only begun when the buzzer sounded, ending my 50 seconds of containing the cow at one end.
I drew Ka Rona off the cow, not sure what to think. She’d given me everything, and I’d ridden my best. But what would the judges think?
‘Did I Win?’
I exited the arena, dismounted, and lowered Ka Rona’s bit for the steward to check. Then I continued on into the warm-up arena, where my mom was waiting. She hugged me and we stood chatting nervously until my trainer came up.
“That was your mare’s best performance ever,” she told me. Soon the announcer reported my score—an impressive 285!
In a daze of joy, I walked Ka Rona back to the barn. I wasn’t sure how I would place, but I didn’t even care. My pride in my horse and myself was enough for me.
Later, as I waited in the tunnel to the main arena for the results of the class, the nerves returned. And stress! The world slowed. I got dizzy and my vision blurred. I felt confused.
To calm myself, I sought out a friend and waited with him. I asked him his score; he said 283.5. He thought he would place second. “I marked a 285,” I told him. Did I win?, I wondered to myself. Then the announcer’s voice boomed through the tunnel.
“Winning the NRCHA Stallion Stakes youth limited bronze trophy….” The sound pounded my ear drums.
“And a gift certificate to Platinum Feed, and a check….” My hands felt numb and sweaty; I could hardly grip the reins.
“With a score of 285, the 2015 NRCHA Stallion Stakes youth limited champion is…Ka Rona and Maggie Cincotta.”
Shaking with adrenaline, I walked out of the tunnel and into the arena. It was an unreal, fabulous feeling…and one I know I’ll never, ever forget. n
Maggie Cincotta, 16, lives in Vista, California, and trains at Brenda Brown Performance Horses in Temecula. She competes in reining, reined cow horse, and Quarter Horse events, and hopes one day to ride at the collegiate level. An English honors student, Maggie says she loves the traveling aspect of showing “because it gives me time to write on the road.”