The Trainer's Challenge was held Saturday at the Shawnee Expo Center. We are all so grateful to everyone who came out to support Abby and Sherrod on Saturday, who mentored them both along the way, who supported their dream, and who continue to love, support, and pray for them. You all are amazing!
I've been trying to think about where to start. There are so many aspects of this year's Challenge. So many things were learned...about horses, about self, about others. I guess I'll start with placing, although that certainly is not the most important aspect. Abby placed 1st in the adult division. A very sweet young lady named Kaidyn placed 1st in the youth division. Sherrod placed 5th in the youth, which actually put her in last place and we all know that is a hard thing for anyone.
So, on to the rest. I am unbelievably proud of both of my girls. I'm going to start with Abby, since she's older. :)
Last year, Abby got the last pick, which really made her nervous as she watched all her top picks get taken. She ended up with Prancer, who was actually on her list, but not a top pick. Providentially, that was supposed to be her horse. Prancer taught her so much! And Abby didn't have to struggle her way through training. Prancer was a great first run! I'm so thankful that Abby had that experience to build her confidence and really help her step outside of herself. She needed that so much in her life at that time. However, there was this one horse that caught Abby's eye last year. His name was Hooey. He was labeled for an adult trainer only, so she couldn't have picked him anyway, and, to be frank, he was too much horse for her last year. But all year long, she's thought about him. She felt drawn to him. She knew going into this year that if she had the opportunity to pick him, she would...no matter what else there was to choose from. The day of the pick, she was surprised to learn that because she was last year's youth winner, she got to pick 2nd. So she got her horse. When she got home, she cried. She said she felt like she abandoned him last year and that wasn't going to happen to him again. It nearly broke my heart that day, but also as the days went by and I watched her struggle to get through to him. It seemed nothing she tried worked. There were a lot of down days as she watched trainer after trainer begin to ride their horse, but she couldn't get on him yet. But she was determined to learn to speak his language and connect with him. She sought advice from mentors, she took more lessons, she studied, she experimented. And little by little it worked. At some point along the 4mo training, she began calling him Obi (for Obi Wan). She said she felt he needed a name to live up to. And the funny thing is, I think that's about when he started to make his turn around. They formed a bond and he became willing to do anything for her.
Of course she hit me with the, "Momma, I LOVE him and I want to adopt him." Naturally, I gave her the lecture about not being able to adopt every horse she trains. 😏 And she replied, "Only him. It's only him." Then came the conversation about needing to justify why in the world we would need another horse. Which she did. So after the competition came the bidding. She had a limit and a lot of people knew she wanted him but there were others bidding on him, too. He very quickly jumped outside of her original limit. But before that happened, she had people coming up to her, offering to help her buy him! I was absolutely floored. Old friends, family, very new friends, and complete strangers...all trying to help her. Before the auction was over, she had enough pledges that I don't think anyone would have topped her, but fortunately she did not have to call in all the pledges. And she brought her guy home. The whole day was such a humbling experience for her.
And Sherrod...what can I say? I'm so incredibly proud of her! This girl is a no-nonsense, no-excuses kind of girl and I love it! She has done a great job with Sassafras over the past 4 months and even though she had a bit of a hiccup just before she entered the arena for her performance, she gathered her composure, altered her plan slightly, and pulled off a great routine. I love how she handled 5th place, with grace and beauty because that's who she is. I'm so pleased with her attitude. She understands that she's really only competing against herself, always trying to be better than she was the ride before. And she was genuinely happy for the other trainers. I know quite a few adults in my life who could really take a lesson in character from this girl. What a blessing she is!
Sassafras did not get adopted and that was the most disappointing part of the entire day for Sherrod. It just broke my heart to see how personally she took that. Sass is a great little horse and there were several people looking at her for a kid's (note: beginner) horse. Sherrod said she wasn't quite ready for little children to be turned loose on her but with a little bit of work, one day she'll be a PERFECT kid's horse. Unfortunately, that didn't help and she's still up for adoption at Blaze's. That was probably the hardest part of the competition for Sherrod because she so wanted Sass to get adopted, with every fiber of her, but she also wants to be honest and not have someone get something they aren't expecting and someone end up hurt. I'm really proud of her and I just know that Sass will get adopted soon and someone is going to love her forever!
Last, but certainly not least, that brings me to Blaze's Tribute Equine Rescue, itself. The more I am involved with this rescue, the more impressed I am...from the owner's to Board Members to volunteers to trainers. I am so thankful for the way they've taken my girls in and just made them part of the family. I love how the trainers all cheer each other on and help each other out and give tips when needed. Of course everyone wants to win, but the goal first and foremost is to help the horse and I think that's super cool! There are a few trainers that we've just come to love. It's funny, I think the trainers understand something that a lot of bystanders might not and that is...it's all subjective. Awesome trainers have awesome days but they also have off days. The same is true of horses. And if you replace only one judge, you might have a totally different outcome. So, yes, winning is fun, but it isn't the ultimate. It's more about seeing how far you can bring the horse. And here's where I'm going to add a little side note that might upset someone. Please, please, please don't tell Sherrod she should have placed higher. Tell her she did an awesome job and tell her you're proud of her, but when people squabble about how the judges scored a participant, they really negate the whole process and invalidate the other trainers who have also worked incredibly hard. All of the trainers had to overcome some wacky and difficult obstacles. They all did amazingly well with their horses and I think they all have something to be proud of. Sherrod is a determined young lady and she's already talking about next year. This experience will definitely make her stronger.
For those who missed the competition, Selah was able to get decent video:
I couldn't be more proud of both girls (and horses)!