“No, I’m not going to hold your sweater. You have to hold your own stuff. That’s the rule.” So says Lauren, Sammy’s mom, in a sing song voice. Sammy crosses her arms and looks a little teary, but continues to hold on to her pink sweater. Sammy, age seven, is getting tired. The other girls who joined me at the rodeo; Maddie, Tara and Savannah; were all teens. The show started at 7:30, but by now it’s close to ten. First had come the bronc riders, then the steer wrestling followed by more bronc riding (with saddles this time) and then team roping. After the team roping came trick riding with young women galloping around the arena, feet on the withers, hands on the cantle in a full backbend (among other feats).
After the daredevils came tie-down roping, which we all winced our way though as none of us was comfortable watching calfs slammed to the ground, but that was followed by women’s barrel racing, an event not to be missed and in this way it had gotten to be quite late.
Sammy had been sitting peaceably between myself and her mom, but credit goes to fourteen year-old Savannah for her sympathy with the heart of a little girl because half way through the team roping she had leaned over and said, “Does Sammy want to come down here and sit with the big girls?” Sammy popped out of her seat, scooted down the aisle and spent the rest of the show happily seated between Maddie and Savannah.
This particular rodeo, the Grand National, is the highest level of competition in the country. The plan was to spend some of the time also behind the scenes where there are vendors, where the horses are stabled and you can talk to the competitors. But we sat riveted at we watched horses make 360 degree turns at a full gallop in three steps (barrels) and as a team of three riders cut three cows out of a herd then keep the rest of the herd in check while “penning” the select three; all in 45 seconds or less.
Last on the list was bull riding, which, though exciting we felt we could miss. As we headed off in a row up the stairs, right plumb in the middle of the line was Sammy, marching her way, keeping up with Tara, who was one step ahead, two little blond braids bouncing on the back of her neck.
First stop “back stage” were the pens with the competitors horses. It was at this point that Sammy had to be remanded to hold her sweater. Shy as she is, Sammy stuck to the big girls like glue, not saying a word as Tara crooned over and Arabian and as Maddie snuggled the face of a dun quarter horse (which he thoroughly enjoyed) extolling his obvious virtue.
I was starting to lose hope that we’d ever get to leave when down at the end of the aisle, a man in a cowboy hat motioned for Sammy to come his way. He asked her if she would like to meet his horse Lynx and gave her a peppermint to feed him. While all the girls fed peppermints to Lynx, a small, but very talented, chestnut quarter horse with a half white face, Rich Kelly, our new friend, explained that he had a daughter who was eight. He said you just couldn’t do enough to promote horses to kids; people don’t understand how important it is to help encourage the next generation of riders.
When Rich heard Sammy wanted to show in a halter class, he said she could even come use his grooming gear. He was clearly very happy to see a youngster who was being encouraged to pursue horsemanship and was doing what he could to cheer her on, but to shy Sammy, it was a bit much. When he was done talking, and probably ready to go sit down again, he held his knuckles towards Sammy and said, “give me some mojo”, as in they could bump knuckles as a sign of friendship. This about completely undid Sammy.
As we left the horses for the vendors, Sammy at first followed, but then collapsed onto her mom’s leg, pressing her face into Lauren’s thigh. Lauren and I waved and I assumed that was it for the night for one very tired little girl. But I was wrong. She rallied, but her diminished state was not overlooked by Savannah, who obviously has the soul of a saint, insisted on carrying Sammy, first like a babe in arms, then later piggy back, for the remaining, brief time (in which looked at wallets with rhinestone horseshoe clasps) at the vendors and also all the way back to the car.
Tara, Savannah and Maddie, giddy with the excitement from the thrilling competition, did nothing but talk horse all the way back to the car. Sammy, hoisted high on Savannah’s back, in the middle of the pack, at that moment, I swear, was the happiest seven year-old girl on the planet.