Stepping Away from Showing Horses – Part 2: Staying Involved
Winston Churchill wisely said, “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.”
As a little girl, Paige Wacker used to tell her parents how she couldn’t wait to grow up. However, after graduating college and adjusting to the “real world,” Paige realized she didn’t want to grow up.
Self-reflection while building her career as a veterinarian has forced her to step back and look at the bigger picture outside of competing with her horse.
This 2-part series discusses “real life” outside of showing horses. Part 1 highlighted career and family obligations that have led her peers and former competitors to press pause on showing.
Part 2 of this article series highlights members of the equine industry that took a step away from showing horses, but continued involvement in other aspects such as public policy, youth leadership, scribing, and stewarding at horse shows.
To start, former AQHYA President Austin Halvorson grew up showing halter horses with his parents, Wayne and Rebecca Halvorson. During his youth career, Austin won multiple AQHYA World and Reserve World Titles and Grand Champion at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
Additionally, he showed in roping events. Halvorson has taken a break from showing roping and halter horses to focus on his political career and now as a lawyer. He will be starting law school this fall.
Even though he’s not currently in the show pen, Austin has continued his involvement with horses on the public policy side of AQHA. Doing so keeps him in contact with friends and mentors in the industry. Austin says he “spends a lot more time monitoring politics and government actions to be a better asset to the industry in that manner.”
Keeping up with horse skills has been difficult for Austin with prioritizing his career. However, he built a roping dummy while living in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston to help prevent his roping from getting “too rusty.”
As of now, Austin doesn’t have any concrete plans to get back into the show pen, but instead describes it as a “dream” to one day show with his wife and future children. Austin says, “I definitely have lost some of my general horsemanship skills and would probably have a hard time getting my dally if I hopped on a rope horse tomorrow. However, I think I have convinced my wife that we need a rope horse at the very least.”
Brock Murphy’s experience as AQHYA President also ignited his passion with his involvement in public policy. After his presidency and as a member of the AQHA Public Policy Committee, Brock said it influenced him to join the Trump campaign in January of 2016 and intern at Capitol Hill.
After graduating, Brock worked at the White House in the Office of Management and Budget. After that, he went to SpaceX, where he worked on the Starship program of Elon Musk’s in Brownsville, Texas. Now, Brock is leading the Business Development and Government Affairs teams at Interstellar Lab and travels back and forth to France.
From Brock’s time away from showing horses, he says he’s lost some muscle in his legs. However, the skills he gained outside the arena apply to his everyday life. Growing up in the equine industry taught him to look at things “more technically and to plan things strategically.”
For instance, Brock says he’s grateful for Jon Barry always telling him “look up” when he shows. That simple reminder is something Brock reminds himself of every day in the workplace when speaking with his clients. Furthermore, Brock’s time and heavy involvement in public policy through AQHA have allowed him to “give back [his] time and [his] Rolodex to protect the American Quarter Horse and the western lifestyle people often take for granted.”
Although Brock doesn’t have a horse, he plans to return to the pen sometime soon.
Abigail Pait NeSmith
Abigail Pait NeSmith is another former AQHYA President and multiple AQHYA World and Congress Champion exhibitor. Like Austin, she grew up showing halter horses with her parents, Jeffrey and Bronwyn Pait. She also showed in the all-around events during her youth career. In addition, Abigail studied Public Relations at the University of South Carolina while competing on their Equestrian Team. There, she met her husband, Matt NeSmith, and she’s been heavily involved in his career as a professional golfer.
From juggling work and adjusting to married life, her passion for the horses and the leadership opportunities pushed her towards involvement within AQHA as part of the Youth Activities Committee. Abigail says being involved with the committee has allowed her to “reconnect, give back, and be involved once again.”
Abigail says, “it’s funny how your love for it [showing horses] never changes, but I do find how much I enjoy and appreciate it even more than I thought possible.”
Abigail keeps up her riding skills as time allows and plans to show shortly. She recently purchased a four-year-old gelding by Lazy Loper and out of One Hot Drama Mama named The Peach Pit. She’s looking forward to working with her horse and growing together as a team. She says, “it is a lot of fun, and it’s gratifying to see everyone’s hard work come together. So many people are involved in our journey to show, and it’s cool to watch it all come together.”
Laska Anderson is another highly awarded competitor in the AQHA circuit and in NCEA, where she competed on Texas Christian University’s Equestrian Team. Although very successful, Laska’s reason for stepping away from showing and riding horses was strictly because of an autonomic disorder. She was diagnosed with it when she turned 20 as a sophomore on TCU’s Equestrian Team.
Anderson said this made performing everyday activities extremely difficult for her. As a result, she’s had to step away from riding and showing to prioritize her health. Instead of focusing on what she couldn’t do, Laska decided to re-evaluate what she could do. For example, she transitioned to a role as a student coach. Laska said this brought her joy to “help support the team in other areas.”
Since graduating from TCU, she’s been focusing on her health, career, and continuing her education. Laska’s finished a Master’s degree in Education and will be working in the classroom again for the second year this fall.
To continue involvement in the show industry, she’s been ring stewarding during the summer. Anderson says this “has been a fantastic way to return to the shows and be part of the community again. I’ve been very fortunate to learn so much from sitting on ‘the other side’ as a ring steward, watching the exhibitors alongside our industry’s judges.”
Luckily, Laska’s health has improved, and she looks forward to showing her prospect in the upcoming years. However, Laska said she’s been missing “the feeling of progress that showing gives when you’re working with a horse because you’re not just competing against others, you’re competing with your last performance to improve each time.”
CLICK HERE to read part 1 of this series, “Stepping Away from Showing Horses – Part 1: Career and Family”