Unbreakable bonds: Competitors of Routt County Fair’s horse show exhibit close ties
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When it comes to winning a horse show at the Routt County Fair, even the youngest of competitors know it requires a strong bond between horse and rider.
Eleven-year-old Peyton Estes is the same age as her mare, Razzy, with whom she shared a quiet moment after competing Thursday in the showmanship competition. The two grew up together on Saddleback Ranch outside of Steamboat Springs. Through those years, Estes has gotten to know her horse like a best friend from school and is able to gauge her occasionally tumultuous moods.
“She has her good days and her bad days,” Estes said.
As she explained, mares are notoriously sassy, and Razzy is no exception. When her horse gets ornery, Estes knows to walk her in a circle to settle the mare’s mind and get her focused on the task at hand.
When it comes to showmanship, it’s easy for a judge to see how close a rider has become with his or her horse, said Tammie Delaney, a longtime horse lover who was volunteering at the competition. As she explained, showmanship is about how much one has worked with the horse and how well one handles it, getting the animal to trot at a precise moment or stop in a particular spot.
“The horse should go in harmony with the exhibitor,” Delaney said. “It’s all about trust and respect.”
Achieving that harmony requires countless hours of practice, sweat-stained saddles and the occasional terse expletive.
“Quit! What are you even doing?” Alley Kvols said to her horse, Rosie, who was having a tantrum as they prepared to enter the show arena.
Handling a horse is no slight task. While steers tend to be comparatively docile, and lambs, goats and pigs are at least a closer physical match to a child, horses are in a league all their own. Their complex personalities are one reason why some 4-Hers tend to choose a certain horse for different competitions. One might have an attitude better suited for barrel racing than showmanship, for example.
But some horses are more reliable than others. Camryn Dines, 16, was Thursday’s all-around grand champion with her gelding, Kacey. While Dines said the gelding is cranky for an 18-year-old, his talents are broad.
“He’s one of those horses you can do anything with,” Dines said.
The 4-H members who show horses tend to exhibit a deeply rooted dedication to the sport, an interest that often becomes a familial, intergenerational affair. Dines has been showing horses since she was 3, back when her mother had to walk beside her during competitions and other kids her age could barely write their own names.
Such stories are proof of the close relationships people like Camryn develop with their horses. There are “horse people” like there are dog people or car people, a way to describe those who prefer the company of their passion rather than other humans.
The relationship is not one-sided. Horse people understand how a horse trains the rider as profoundly as the rider trains the horse. A bond with a horse, much like a bond with another person, has its joys and its frustrations. Overcoming the challenges is part of what deepens a person’s connection, not just with the horse but with the rest of the world. As the author John Steinbeck said, “A man on a horse is spiritually, as well as physically, bigger than a man on foot.”
Just as some young competitors had to scold stubborn mares on Thursday, others whispered soothing bromides into soft ears or kissed the freshly groomed necks of their hoofed companions. Such are the ups and downs of any relationship.
While this year’s Routt County Fair has restrictions due to COVID-19, people can watch a live stream on social media at facebook.com/ColoradoStateUniversityExtensionRouttCounty4H/live. There also is an online blog for the junior livestock sale, which began Thursday morning, at rcjuniorlivestocksale.weebly.com/blog.
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