We are used to long winters here in the Colorado mountains, but subzero temps in March are enough already! Last month, we loaded the big rig and traveled 150 miles to Denver between snow storms, lucking out on the road conditions. One thing I won’t do is haul horses through the mountains on snow covered roads. So we lucked out on the weather and arrived in a timely fashion at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, the last weekend of February.
Rich and his great horse, Casper, joined Annie and me for the first road trip with horses in a couple years and the first time I’ve done live presentations in front of an in-person audience since before-times. I’ll admit there was a lot of remembering how we do this, but the trip came off without a hitch. We stayed on-grounds in our living quarters trailer and it was cozy and warm, in spite of single-digit temps.
It was great fun for me to be the first human in the barn at the event center, well before the gates opened on Saturday. As I slowly cracked open the barn door, I was instantly greeted by the steamy warmth of equine body heat and the earthy smells of horses and alfalfa. I was shocked by how quiet it was with about 200 horses, mostly asleep.
The horse in the stall closest to the door nickered softly, hoping I was there to attend to him and as I quietly padded by dozens of rows of stalls the sounds of horses awakening, shifting around and growing increasingly impatient for their butlers to arrive. When I got all the way to the end of the 1200 stall barn, where Casper and Annie were temporarily housed, they were still asleep, standing nose-to-nose.
Because it wasn’t my first rodeo, and because Annie had not performed in a huge coliseum or in front of an audience in a couple years, I saddled her early and led both Casper and Annie over to the big arena, getting there just after the tractor finished the footing. While people were arriving, I was warming up my horses in the arena we would later perform in.
As I led the horses through the barn, down the long corridors, and into the tunnel leading to the main arena, I could feel their tension growing. Several times we stopped, looked, took a deep breath, and I praised the horses for their bravery and reminded them that they were pros. In hindsight, I think that long, calm walk gave Annie time to remind herself that she knew how to do this.
Huge black drapes hung in the entrance tunnel, pulled halfway back and dusty. (They sort of had the appearance of horse-swallowing aliens.) As we left the relative warmth and safety of the barn with all the horses in it and approached the main arena, completely empty of horses or people, the ugly drapes gave Annie pause for thought. I felt her suck her breath in and hold it and I wondered if she was going to have an emotional meltdown. Instead, she exhaled, put her head down and marched right into the arena as if to say, “Bring it on!”
Instead of “working the fresh off her,” we calmly walked lap after lap on a loose rein, stopping occasionally to watch as the vacuous building slowly populated with people that were preparing for the day’s events. Later that morning, when it was time for my presentation, Annie marched into the arena like a champion, almost as if she looked forward to the show. She was absolutely perfect for my presentations—one about being a proactive rider in challenging situations, the other about managing emotional meltdowns in horses.
I had some great riders and horses in my presentations and I especially enjoyed working with the young drill team riders. Their horses perform regularly in intense situations, riding close together and at high speed. Like a lot of intense horse sports, the horses sometimes carry extra anxiety and/or develop undesirable behaviors like fidgeting, and not standing still when asked (anticipating an exciting run).
I showed them some training techniques, and I was so impressed with the way they rode and applied my suggestions. I was further blown away with the astute and pertinent questions they asked afterwards. It left me with the feeling that they were all exceptional athletes, up and coming success stories, and wonderful representatives of their organization.
I was grateful for the tremendous help from my husband, Rich, and also from my dear friend, Mary Ann Page. Between saddling horses, feeding, cleaning stalls, schlepping my helmet and water bottle, and dragging me to the next venue—without them I would have flailed. It was also fabulous to see the hundreds dedicated horse enthusiasts who braved the cold and the germs to attend the horse expo. The crowds may not be as big as they once were, but the love of horses and the hunger for information was bigger than ever!
It was great to be back in the saddle, literally, with my sweet little mare, performing at a real-life, non-virtual horse expo. I really enjoyed giving my presentations and I was energized by the crowds. At the end of the day, my voice was shot, my feet were killing me (from wearing boots all day), and I wolfed down a cold cheeseburger and fell into bed before it was completely dark outside. It’s been a while and I’ve grown soft, but with a few more expos under my belt coming up soon, I’ll be back in expo shape in no time!