After one last lesson at the Katonas’ on a horse named Bogey, I felt pretty confident about Semi-Finals. Tim Katona and I went over several different reining patterns, broke them down, and rode them. He was impressed by my ability to remember them and had a lot of fun making up introductions for me as I practiced walking into the arena and starting my patterns. Before I left, he gave me one last piece of advice: “Reining is left, right, whoa, go.” In other words, every pattern consists of four basic things: going to the left, going to the right, stopping, and going. I had never heard it put that way but it made a lot of sense to me.
During the rest of the week before we left, I spent a few hours riding every day at Denise’s and spent the rest of my time in class or studying for the two tests I had to take. When my last class ended on Thursday, I was relieved to have everything done and was ready to go home and pack. Our plane left early Friday morning and everything went smoothly on our flight to Houston. As soon as we disembarked there, we had to book it across the airport to our next plane, which was scheduled to depart within the hour of our arrival. (For those of you who have been in the Houston airport, you know just how big that place is! With three different terminals and a tramway system connecting them, things can get confusing when you are trying to find your gate.) Denise was a little nervous about our second flight because it was on a relatively small plane and she’s not a fan of flying, but with the exception of a little turbulence, everything went smoothly again and we were in Amarillo by one in the afternoon.
From there, we picked up our car, grabbed a map, and headed toward Canyon, which is where our hotel was actually located. Since I had forgotten to print directions, we sort of had to wing it, but after a pit stop at Subway because we were all starving, we made it. Once we checked in, we then headed to the equestrian center – which again lead us on a bit of a wild goose chase. The lady at the hotel desk had drawn us a map to where the center was but she had mislabeled a right turn for a left, so we ended up driving a few miles out of Canyon before we realized the mistake; however, we didn’t mind too much since we got to do a little sightseeing.
Sadly, we missed seeing the reining horses being worked at the center, but we checked in, walked around the facilities, and grabbed our information packet. From there, we hit up the closest tack store and then headed out to see the Palo Duro Canyon. Since I had never been to Texas before (I’ve never been west of the Mississippi River for that matter), I was excited to go. We spent quite a few hours walking around the rim, as well as driving down into the canyon – and we even got to see foxes, some mule deer, and a lone cowboy riding down the side of the road. The canyon was absolutely beautiful, and I wish we had had more time to explore, but it was starting to get dark so we headed back to Amarillo.
Hungry for dinner, we went to the Big Texan, which is a must-visit tourist attraction in Amarillo. The huge restaurant is famous for its 72 ounce steak that, when eaten in an hour, is free. None of us were brave enough to take on the challenge, but we all enjoyed some good Texas cooking. We also checked out the gift shop, where I bought a couple of souvenirs for my family (as well as myself) and I even got to see the live rattle snake that they keep in the shop. By the time we were done, it was nearly ten so we headed back to the hotel so I could get some sleep before the big show the next day.
Since were told to arrive at 8 am, we woke up early. Promptly at 7:50 was when things first started to go wrong. Apparently, the reining horses were warmed up at seven, so I missed my opportunity to see them go. It turned out I was missing a sheet in my information packet, which is why we didn’t know about it, but I shook it off and got dressed as Denise attended the coaches’ meeting. Reining was first up and, after studying the pattern for a few minutes, I had it down.
Regular blog readers won’t be surprised to learn that my next mistake was that I drew my horse myself.
I thought that, since it was semi-finals and I didn’t have my lucky draw-er with me, I should take matters in to my own hands, but I soon discovered that was a big mistake. My horse, Epic (who was not so epic), was described as a youth horse, so I figured he would probably be a pretty easy-going horse that would just need a little encouragement. Wrong!!
I was fourth to go and, as I entered the ring, I had some butterflies but quickly calmed myself. I started the pattern nicely – two large and fast circles to the left, followed by a small and slow one to the left. Next, the pattern called for a stop in the center of the arena followed by four spins to the left. As I cued Epic to turn, he locked up on me and nearly bolted forward rather than going into his turn. I had been warned that he didn’t spin nearly as fast as most reiners, but I was not told that he would jam up that way. After a couple of frustrating minutes, I managed to complete the four turns – though it wasn’t pretty.
From there we did our three circles to the right – the first two large and fast and the last small and slow, and then we stopped back in the center to do four spins to the right. This time, instead of trying to go forward, Epic started to back up, which is a disqualification if you take more than four steps, but I managed to send him forward a step, and then coaxed him to turn. The next maneuver was a figure eight with flying lead changes, which also proved to be a problem because Epic seemed to have a bit of a sore hock and missed changing his lead in the back for a few strides. The rest of our pattern went all right, except that he wanted to take off in the run downs rather than gradually increase speed like you are supposed to.
I walked out of the pen rather disappointed in my draw. I knew that I could have performed much better had I drawn a less stubborn horse, but it was over, and now I had to wait and see what the judges thought. Though it wasn’t much of a surprise given my draw, I did not qualify for Nationals; however, I did get the satisfaction of placing ninth out of 14 riders – which means that, despite being the only rider to have a somewhat unruly horse, I still beat five other riders because the rest of my maneuvers were so good. Now that I’ve had a taste of semis and I know what to expect, I’m more than ready to get next season started so I can qualify again. I am disappointed that I didn’t make it to Nationals this year, but at least I didn’t do something stupid (like go off pattern). I just didn’t have a lucky draw.
To make me feel better, we spent the rest of the day shopping at some of the biggest tack and boot stores I have ever been in and visited the American Quarter Horse Museum and Headquarters. Although I own a Paint horse, her mother was a Quarter Horse, and I have traced her bloodlines to Wimpy, one of the foundation sires of the breed, who was featured in several of the museums exhibits. In addition, I got a great deal on a leather headstall to use for team penning this summer.
Since we hadn’t eaten a full meal all day, we hit up a restaurant called Salt Grass, which was a steakhouse. Although the four of us had been enjoying ourselves all weekend, I think that dinner that night was the most fun. We told stories, laughed, and had a wonderful meal. Karen, Denise’s friend, order the steak special that night and, when they brought our food out, her meal turned out to be a huge steak. None of us had any idea how big it would be, but I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!
I spent the rest of the night relaxing and watching movies with James while Denise and Karen attempted to go to the pool, but the water was far too cold so they ended up spending the night in their room as well. After sleeping in a little, we checked out of our hotel, drove to the airport, and spent the rest of our day traveling back to Michigan. Although I enjoyed my trip to Texas, it’s nice to be home. I wish I could have done better, but the good news is I have two more years to get to Nationals!
Watch out IHSA, I plan to take Semi Finals by storm next year!!