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Reflections from a Select Amateur’s 2020 All-American Road Trip out West – Part 2: Vegas

Part 2

Things I Learned While Showing at the Silver Dollar Circuit in Vegas…

Do NOT pet your horse while waiting at the gate for your trail class to begin.

(Fun Fact: This is NOT just a grumpy trainer rule…it’s actually in the AQHA handbook. Don’t ask.)

A surprisingly high number of people live full time in RV parks.

While Clara stayed in the lap of luxury at the South Point Hotel and Casino during the Silver Dollar, being waited on hand and hoof by our trainer, Jess Bergantzel, Christie, Cosmo, and I stayed at the Las Vegas Oasis RV Park just a few miles down the road.

Given the hotel’s no dog policy, even a dog as famous as Miss Christie (she did play Toto in the Wizard of Oz in an excellent high school production, after all) the Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort was just the ticket. The wedding chapel, fitness center, and outdoor pool sealed the deal for me. Because, Vegas…

ALWAYS enter your corresponding halter class. Clara and I won $500 for coming in 10th place in AM Performance Mares.

Blue Ribbon Custom Tack generously sponsored the mare halter classes, adding incentive and excitement. Leaving a halter class with no points and five crisp C-notes is what I call an excellent day in the show pen.

Do NOT walk out onto a live trail course to offer your trainer some good luck gum.

WAIT…I can explain. A funny thing happened on the way to the show pen last Friday night. I was walking with Jess and Clara to the Trail Stakes Class, and he asked if I had a stick of gum. I did not. But I made a mental note.

Many athletes have their quirky superstitions and game-day rituals. Baseball players have sunflower seeds in the dugout. That night, I learned my trainer likes a stick of gum before he hits the trail show pen. Duly noted.

When Clara and I showed trail in the Priefert pen, the arena was split into two separate areas. Trail classes were shown in the pen nearest the entrance. Trail warmups were going on in the pen farther back. This made perfect sense to me.

Fast forward to Saturday, after our showmanship class, and before our lucky halter win. I’d slipped back to the RV park, making great use of the Show Tracker to stay on top of the trail schedule and to watch a few great runs (trust me, watching trail while sipping an Americano in Cosmo is much better than walking miles of concrete.) Jess and Clara were draw seventy. When draw forty-seven came into view, I left Cosmo and headed for the Casino, with a quick stop at a convenience store to pick up some good luck gum for Jess.

Upon my arrival at the trail pen, I noticed several things at once:

A. The customary line up of competitors was waiting for their turn to show on the left.  Jess was not in that line-up. Nor was he in any of the warmup areas I walked through on my way to the trail pen.

B. A warmup pen stood in the back of the arena. At least I thought it was a warmup pen. Now, I did find it curious that no trainers were out there practicing…except for mine. I remember thinking to myself, “it’s day whathaveyou at the horse show, everybody else is OVER IT with the practicing, except my awesome trainer.” God Bless, Jess.

I headed on back to the warmup pen, intent on giving my trainer a piece of good luck gum before he competed. He was working the gate when I made it to what I was still certain was a nearly empty warmup pen. Jess handled the gate so elegantly, and I decided to wait to approach him until he finished a set of walk poles and a side pass.

Lazer-focused on his performance, he didn’t notice me. Just like Jess. Riding every pole like he’s in the show pen. (SIDENOTE: My trainer is NOT a big fan of NOT riding every obstacle like you’re in the show pen, even when your practicing).

Also, he’s NOT a big fan of what he calls my “jolly ranchering around” and what I call letting my mare relax over the poles in the warmup pen. Turns out, that’s NOT a thing.

I waited a bit, while Jess rode over to chat with one of his buddies in a corner area of the pen. While I waited, a man in a red shirt started walking toward me. “Ma’am, do you need something?”

“No,” I replied. “I just want to chat with Jess.”

The man’s face paled, growing unnaturally long. “WHAT?”

I pointed to Jess, now walking toward us, still astride his trail horse. “I just want to chat with Jess for a sec.”

The man’s color returned. Lots of color, in fact. “Ma’am. You are in the middle of the show pen. This is an active trail course. You need to leave. NOW.”

White noise filled my ears. Blood rushed to my face as I mumbled. “Oh, my gosh…I’m so sorry…I thought it was a warmup pen…” I stumbled away, looking for a hole to fall into (there weren’t any).

Jess rode up beside me, speaking in hushed tones. “Honey, I think they would prefer you to watch this class from the stands.”

I kept walking. Head down, heart pounding. Still looking for that hole to crawl into…. apologizing to Jess…wondering what I should change first. Hobbies? Hair color? Back number?

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

I can only hope.

Stay tuned for the last part of Catherine’s three-part series when she ventures on to the Sun Circuit in Scottsdale, Arizona.


Part 1

The Four C’s: Catherine, Cosmo, Christie, and Miss Clara Head Out West

Greetings, GoHorseShow friends and family! My name is Catherine Finger, and I am delighted to share Reflections from the Road with you as I recently made my way from Wisconsin to Oklahoma City for the Prairie Classic. Now, I’m headed on to Las Vegas for the Silver Dollar Circuit. Then, on to Scottsdale for the Arizona Sun Circuit.

Recently retired from the world of work, and an AQHA Select Amateur enthusiast, I find myself with the luxury of time. My retirement prompted a personal move from Illinois to my home state of Wisconsin, which meant my awesome nine-year-old mare and I also moved to a new barn and trainer, Jess Bergantzel. All of these changes resulted in prepping, practicing, and praying for success on a brand-new show circuit this year.

Willie Nelson’s lyrics rang through my mind as I packed up Cosmo, my 2016 RV built by Pleasure-Way, a Canadian company making great use of the Mercedes Sprinter to create a small, but mighty road warrior. With nearly 4,000 miles and six weeks to cover together, every aspect of packing was carefully considered. Mostly. Until that critical 24-hour window where a few things may have slipped past me. And definitely around that ten hours mark when I may have accidentally thrown in two coffee makers but not one pair of spurs. Oops.

The first leg of my journey took Christie, my six-pound, eleven-year-old Yorkipoo, and me from my home in Wisconsin to Oklahoma City for the Prairie Classic, February 5-9. This was my first horse show with my new trainer, Jess, and barn mates.

In preparation, my friends and family lit candles for the poor guy and wished him all the best from afar. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mare and everything about the showing process. And I appreciate and respect my trainer, but he hadn’t yet experienced me at a horse show. And by that, I mean he hadn’t seen me after too many late nights and early mornings in a row, jacked up on extra-strength Excedrin and French Roast coffee, limping around the show pen (me, not my horse) waiting for my next event.

Show veterans reading this know what I’m talking about. I’m that older amateur trying my best to remember patterns and decipher critical trainer cues while horseback in a packed arena in the middle of scores of other trainers trying to coach, soothe, and cajole their weekend warriors. He didn’t know yet that I usually pick up somewhere around 40-50% of instructions when in practice and warm-up pens due to my less than excellent hearing. Thank God for context clues and a trainer with patience.

Lucky for me, I’m showing the great Miss Clara, aka Gotta Knapp For That, my nine-year-old Quarter Horse mare sired by Zippos Mr Good Bar and out of Susan Knapp’s great mare Cool Krymsun Lady. Miss Clara came into my life in January of 2017, and it was love at first sight. I had put showing on hold in favor of more lucrative pursuits, like work, and hadn’t been on a horse for a good five years before that fateful test ride. All of that to say that between my trainer and my horse, I’m already in excellent hands for the 2020 All-American road trip.

After OKC, Cosmo, Christie, and I hit the road for Albuquerque, where we headed to a resort tucked in between a gorgeous mountain range and the Rio Grande to prepare for Vegas. My daily prep includes an early morning swim, followed by a few hours of working on my latest novel, followed by lunch and a walk down to the resort’s stable to chat with ranch hands and tourists. Yesterday’s activities included an active calf roping lesson, which Christie thoroughly enjoyed.

From what I can gather from the occasional text exchange with my trainer, Jess, his daily prep involves lots of poles, packing, and polishing rides to get Clara prepared for Sin City. I feel like my time in the resort’s prayer lodge may be equally useful, but I’m keeping this observation to myself for the time being.

We are days away from the Silver Dollar Circuit and I’m already getting nervous and excited in equal measure. So many questions roll through me. Will I get a little distracted by that alluring sound of the slot machines playing my song, or the occasional dinging and ringing of a million-dollar jackpot winner? Sure. Will I get caught up at the blackjack table on a lucky bender and miss the occasional class or warm-up? Maybe. Will I have a rip-roaring great time in Vegas showing my mare at the Silver Dollar Circuit? Absolutely.

And I can’t wait to see everyone there!

Stay tuned for more musings from Catherine while in Vegas and Arizona!

About the Author – Catherine Finger loves to dream, write, and tell stories. Recently retired from an incredible career in public education, she celebrates the ability to choose how to spend her time in a new way during the second half of life. So far, she chooses to write books, ride and show Quarter Horses, serve others, and generally find her way into and out of trouble, both on the road and at home. She lives in the Midwest with a warm and wonderful combination of family and friends.