The Farm Chronicles: Bareback

The Finnegan’s had a horse show business. Every year they held several horse shows at their complex. I say complex because it was a mixture of their own horse barn and farm with a small arena and some parking availability in the hay fields. Mr. and Mrs. Finnegan ran a good and honest show. Classes cost about a dollar a class or sometimes you could “ride all day” for five or seven dollars. It was a good place to compete. We started going there in the 1960s and many of my friends who showed horses frequented the place. As we progressed through the show ranks, we used Finnegan’s as kind of a tune up for bigger shows. But there was this one particular show that was most challenging.

Each year, the Finnegan’s had what they called the Bareback Show. It consisted of all timed events or elimination events, such as the fanny race or the egg and spoon race. Never heard of them? The Fanny race started when someone riding bareback (without a saddle) challenged another person to see how long they could ride with a dollar bill half way tucked under their thigh. You had to walk, trot, and canter until one person remained with the dollar bill. Somewhere along the line, the dollar bill was replaced with regular paper—I guess too much money was flying through the air. Egg and spoon race was similar, but you put an egg on a spoon and did the walk, trot, and canter when the egg fell, you were out. Fun, but challenging. In 1969, the Bareback Show had a high point trophy. Points went with the horse, irrespective of the rider.

I convinced Dad that we should win that trophy. It started out that we were going to use Hollywood, Dad’s golden palomino stallion. Now Hollywood was a tall, strong, very muscular horse who loved to compete at anything. Dad told me to practice with Hollywood during the week. Well, I learned a few things. One was that Hollywood was so fast and powerful on the start that he was most impossible to stay on. Every time we tried to run the barrels, he would take off and I would slide off and fly through the air, and did a face-plant landing. Hollywood just circled around the first barrel and come back to me, putting his head down, nose against my face, as if he was saying, “C’mon man, you’re messing up my game.” This was not going to work. After talking to Dad about it, we decided to take my horse, Holly.

Holly was AA track rated and she loved to run, She was smaller and not quite so powerful on the first step. And she had a long mane that we could hold on to. Dad always shaved Hollywood’s mane—Dad liked crew cuts—another story another day. On show day, Dad and I divided up the classes to ride. Dad rode the barrels and stake bends. Holly was so fast that she fell with Dad going around the end stake, got up quickly and still won the event. It came down to the last contest. We were in the running for the trophy, but we had to win the final class of the day—the obstacle course. You wove through five stakes, did a figure eight around the barrels placed at opposite ends of the arena, then raced to the finish after going over a 24-inch jump. Holly was not a good jumper. She jumped like a jackrabbit, straight up in the air.

In fact, the first year I had her she jumped so high over a trail class jump that I broke my hand when it slammed into the saddle coming down. But that trophy was at stake. Putting all fear aside, we sped through the stakes and the barrels and we were all out when we hit that jump. She did her jack rabbit and I flew up in the air about three feet and somehow grabbed the last tiny bit of her mane when I came down stretched over her rump and hung on till we crossed the finish line. After much discussion, the judges decided that I had stayed on the horse and I had the fastest time. We won the trophy. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7,” I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” We finished for sure, on a whole lot of faith and a handful of mane along the way.

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Bill Wilson