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A horse’s tale

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- "And I don't know who is showing the thing!"

It has been 43 years and I can still clearly hear the "I can't believe this guy is in the show ring" tone as the show-barn announcer described me to the packed crowd at the Heart of Illinois horse show. To be honest, I couldn't believe it either.

Just about 30 minutes earlier I had been doing what most 16-year olds showing livestock at the fair did the day after their own show - nothing. I was taking a mid-afternoon nap when a man woke me up.

"Young man, could you help me?"

He was probably in his late seventies, had a cane and was clearly desperate for assistance. His granddaughter was supposed to show his prize filly in less than 15 minutes and she wasn't there yet.

"Son, would you be willing to show my horse for me? The class starts in a few minutes, and I can't show her myself. "

I said sure , I think mostly because I was intrigued at the mention of a granddaughter, but also growing up in the Midwest, when someone asked for help, even a total stranger, you always said yes.

I told him I had never shown a horse before, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. He said, "Don't worry, she does. All you need to do is lead her."

Before I go on with the horse's tale, let me describe the teen with whom he was willing to entrust his chances for a Heart of Illinois ribbon, as prizes go, second only to winning the State Fair.

It was a hot summer day, unusually warm for the Midwest, even for early August. I had close to shoulder length hair and was dressed for comfort in a tank top, cut-off jeans and sandals. Yep, I looked like a hippy, minus the tie-dyed, peace sign T-shirt.

The reason this is important will become readily apparent.

The horse was beautiful. As I led her into the ring I was shocked to see that everyone else was decked out in full western wear from the shaped white hats to the oversized belt buckles and ornate boots.

Not me.

Now for those of you who may not be familiar with the show circuit for livestock I should explain that the method of showing is different . I showed sheep. We take them out into the center of the ring, set them up and the most movement after that is when the judge lines them up to present the ribbons. I always tried to set up at the head of the line so I didn't have to move much. Horses are a lot different, kind of like what you see when you watch the national dog shows. You trot them around before getting them in line and then you pose them for the judge.

I didn't have a clue. I just tried to follow what I saw the other people doing and tried to ignore the snickers and laughs from the amused spectators as I circled the show ring.
When we stopped and formed a long row facing the judge I could see that all of the other horses were stretching, standing with the front and rear legs perfectly squared under the bodies. Mine just sort of stood there.

Then a remarkable thing happened as the judge stepped toward the line, my horse struck a picture-perfect pose. She knew what to do.

A few minutes later the judge pointed to me. I thought he was culling the class but the showman next to me, seeing I was confused, said "He is putting you in first place."

And that is where we stayed. The announcer said the horse's name, the name of the owner, the trainer and when he would have said the name of the showman ... "And I don't know who is showing the thing!"

I believe there is a good lesson from this story. The old man knew it when he said "All you need to do is lead her." The workforce at Tinker is awesome. The Public Affairs staff does amazing things, especially when I point them in the right direction and get out of their way. That's what I did 43 years ago when despite my less-than appropriate show attire, the horse got it done.

I hope that's what I am doing now. Providing a little leadership and letting the staff go for the blue ribbon.