We recently asked our readers to write about a moment or realization they had where they truly felt horses were where they belonged. We’ll be bringing you their entries over the coming weeks.
By Cami LaLone
Backstory: If you have ever competed on the Arabian circuit, I can almost guarantee that you have one goal and that is to win a national champion rose garland. As a teenager there was nothing more that I could dream of and obsess over. Someday the ring would just belong to my horse and I. We would strut down the long rail for our victory pass wearing those coveted roses.
Eventually, I did get to show at nationals as a youth but they never quite turned out like I had spent all that time dreaming about. Sport Horse Nationals in 2010, I took my pinto gelding and we couldn’t even make a cut. In 2012 we went to Youth Nationals where we earned two national top ten ribbons in dressage which I was very proud of but also made me see that my horse was not going to get me where I had dreamt of being.
The search for a new horse began! I had a limited budget but I wanted something that was going to stand out and get us noticed. This left me looking mostly at prospects. I came across a 16.3 hand half Arabian/Hackney Horse that was tall, dark, and handsome. He had been mostly showing saddleseat and had done some light dressage work. The moment I laid eyes on this beast and watched him trot I just knew roses were going to be in our future. As it turns out, the transition from saddleseat to sport horse was difficult. Any rail class we went in the “ghost of saddleseat past” would come out and bite him on the reverse. Riding in a smooth snaffle was near impossible as he was used to a double bridle or leverage bit. This meant I rushed him up to third level and prayed through the second level tests. I knew it would be a challenge but I believed in him with all my heart.
With countless hours and many riding lessons I was able to get him to my last youth nationals where I could feel it, it was going to be my moment! In 2013 we came home with two reserve champions and a top ten. So close, but just missed it. I will admit now I was a little disappointed back then. I felt it was going to be harder to achieve my goal moving up to adult amateur classes and that was all I had left to compete in. The following year, we started trail riding more and building a better relationship together. I also worked harder than ever to get him ready for Sport Horse Nationals which would practically be in our backyard for 2014. We would be competing third level, fourth level, and show hack classes as that is what we had the most success in throughout the qualifying season. In September we headed off to nationals feeling like we had put the work in and we were ready for our moment.
AHA Sport Horse National Championships were in full swing. After a respectable third level test and another top ten ribbon it was time to get ready for my favorite class. The Half Arabian Sport Horse Show Hack Amateur to Ride was what I felt was our best chance of finally winning. The gate was open and we were in on the rail at a trot. My horse was starting to test if I had my head in the game and I responded confidently. He stayed under control on the reverse and showed off all his gaits brilliantly! By the end of the class I was so excited I could hardly breathe. Once the top ten started to be called I felt like I could pass out. What if we didn’t even make that? Finally our number was called and off we went to join the rest of the top ten. We still had a chance! Reserve was being called and I was just hoping it wasn’t me. Instead, it was the one horse I knew could easily beat us that had won it numerous times before. He was reserve! We still had a chance! Champion was next. The announcer, who is a family friend, started on the list of previous winners. I could not breathe and my heart was pounding so hard. He continued with, “… this year, I’m pleased to announce the winner, and this is a young lady that I know fairly well…” (Insert my heart stopping here, it could be me!) “… congratulations to your national champion ES You Gotta Be Kiddin!”
The moment: I was in complete shock. He had called us! I petted my horse and trotted off to receive our roses while my friends and family cheered for us. Kid stood like the champion he was as the blanket of red roses was draped on his neck in front of me and the champion ribbon placed on his bridle. The remaining top ten had exited and the arena was left to us. I was on the brink of tears as we headed down the long wall for that victory pass I always dreamt of. The ribbons and roses were flying in the wind and I could hear the cheers coming from the stands. Years of actual blood, sweat and tears had paid off. We were national champions. We made it!! The days following I received congratulations from people I had never met and even a big hug from someone who I had grown up watching them win many national championships. Each encounter I would get choked up a little and had to try not let a tear escape. Even now just writing this all those emotions have come flooding back. It was truly my “I made it” moment and the reason I work hard at this every day to experience that feeling again someday.