Horses were always a major part of my life on the farm. There are many pictures of my dad and his dad and his dad’s dad with their favorite horses. Somewhere along the way, my dad and brother Chuck got into competition, mostly timed events like stake bends, barrel racing, spear the ring, pickup race, ribbon race—anything that mixed skill and speed. My part of this, at four and five years old, was just watching and maybe getting a chance to ride one of their horses as they led me around after a contest. Dad and Chuck gained quite a reputation as farm boys who had fast horses. They would go to a horse show (as we called them in Ohio) and come home with a box full of ribbons and trophies.
I was probably seven years old when Dad allowed me to take a horse to a show. She was a big buckskin mare that I named Hosana. We would practice every day, loping through the barrels and stakes at break-neck speed. Well, I thought I we were going fast. In reality, we were very slow and must have looked pretty amateurish to others. But Dad and Chuck were cleaning up with Dad’s golden palomino Hollywood Hummer and Chuck’s Missouri State Champion pole bender, Ricochet. I really wanted to be like them. I kept practicing and trying, but in the end, they were very encouraging–really just humoring me. So I worked harder. By the time I was 11, I was really ready to start my horse show career. It seriously began at the Randolph Fair in Portage County, Ohio. The fair held a big horse show on the last day.
First class of the day was Showmanship. Horses led by their handlers walked around the ring, come into the center and line up. The horse needed to have all four feet square, it had to be alert and attentive. The handler needed to never get between the judge and the horse, and there were certain rules about that. There were a large number of horses in the class, and on my first try in 1966, I won first place. I would go on to win first place three more years for the same class at the fair. In 1970, my black quarter horse Wimpy and I had won dozens of trophies during the year, most everywhere we went. But this Showmanship class was special to me because it would be five in a row, a record. There were over 60 horses in the class, three rows of them and it took about two hours to judge. Wimpy kept falling asleep, dropping his head.
Something had to be done. I looked around to see where the judge was and with great risk, I took the end of my leather lead and smacked Wimpy on the neck. To my surprise, the smack echoed throughout the ring. I thought for sure I had lost the class, and more importantly my coveted “record.” The judge spun toward the sound, everybody was looking at me, but I was quick enough to reset and Wimpy now was pretty as a picture, ears up, alert, better than all the other horses. Being black, he had a dusty imprint where I smacked him, which I looked around again to make sure the judge didn’t see me, and I wiped it clean. In the end, my number was called for first place! What a relief. Job 39:19 asks, “Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder?” It sure sounded like it that day.