Winning at Routt County Fair is big but giving back is bigger for Routt County teen
HAYDEN — Cosette McLaughlin still remembers the first time she showed a horse at the Routt County Fair in Hayden nine years ago.
“There were seven people in every class and six ribbons, and I lost every single class,” McLaughlin, a 2019 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, recalls. “I was hysterical. I’m sure that 7-year-old me was like this is the worst thing that ever happened.”
But as she worked to wipe away the tears from her eyes, a 16-year-old boy approached her and handed her his fifth-place ribbon as a consolation prize. The gesture left a lasting impression on the young girl.
“My first year was like a disaster, so it’s been a big learning curve,” McLaughlin said. “But the cool thing about horses is, it takes a while to get good at this because it’s not just you.”
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On Monday, her childhood memory long behind her, McLaughlin looked at ease as she guided Peeps, her American Quarter Horse, around the inside of the arena in Hayden as the 4-H Western Horse Show took center stage at the Routt County Fair. By the end of the day, she had collected first-place ribbons in senior showmanship and horsemanship.
She credits much of her success to the older 4-H members who mentored her and also Routt County’s tight-knit horse riding community.
“Some of it’s just learning the rules that apply to riding and showing your horse,” McLaughlin said. “The cool thing about 4-H is that older members get to help younger members. I think I learned mostly from older members who were like, ‘Hey, you should do this instead of that,’ or, ‘Hey, you need this, instead of that.’”
McLaughlin appreciated the lessons especially since she didn’t grow up on a ranch and her parents were not “horse” people.
HAYDEN — Ninety-six competitors saddled up for Routt County Fair’s Open Horse Show making it one of the best showings for the event in recent memory.
“We are trying to make it a very safe but fun show,” said Bethany Aurin, who serves as the show’s superintendent along with Tina Decker. “I would say our numbers were probably the highest that they have been — I don’t know if they were the highest ever — but for a very long time.”
The show managers, which also include Aurin’s daughter Aleigh, took over running the Open Horse Show two years ago and have been able to make a few changes that have been well received by the county’s horse riding community. The show, which opened Friday and ran through Sunday, is the main event on the opening weekend of the fair.
“We’ve just been listening to people new to horses and trying to cater to beginners as well as really experienced people who compete in a wide variety of disciplines,” Aurin said. “Whether you like to jump jumps or cut cattle or team pen or do reining or western pleasure — or anything that people like — we tried to facilitate those preferences with the classes that we offer. It’s been very well received, and we are thankful.”
This year’s show drew 35 more riders than last year.
“On Friday, we had a class for freestyle reigning and dressage,” Aurin said. “People rode their horses to music in patterns. It is an Olympic sport, and it was pretty cool.”
In the past, the class has drawn three to four riders, but this year, there were 11 competitors.
“The horse population in Routt County is growing almost as rapidly as the human population,” Aurin said. “We had competitors in their upper 60s, and we had kids that were 5. It has been a nice reflection of the community to see that there have been more people involved in the horse show part.”
The horse shows on Monday and Tuesday were limited to younger riders who are part of 4-H programs.
“We literally showed up with a horse and said, ‘Hey, we are here,’” McLaughlin said of herself and her two younger siblings.
Tammie Eggers, Routt County 4-H and youth development extension agent, said older participants are encouraged to mentor in 4-H programs.
“It’s about 50/50 right now in our 4-H group,” Eggers said. “There are a lot of kids raised on ranches, and they have horses on the ranch … but we also have kids from town. The programs are available to anybody who wants to take part.”
For McLaughlin’s family, who boarded her horses, the 4-H program opened doors for McLaughlin to take on leadership roles. She is currently president of the 4-H Council and vice president of the High Point 4-H Club. But she has never forgotten her first experience in the Open Horse Show at the fair, the kindness of a young man or the importance of giving back.
“It was tough to not do well and not succeed, but that’s what makes winning so much better,” McLaughlin said. “It’s cool to see the little kids. There is always a kid that reminded me of who I was, who doesn’t know what they are doing and loses every class. It’s like you can be there, and you can get better.”
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