Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Steamboat Springs Success in gymkhana events is a measure of how much a rider trusts his or her horse.
"No matter what happens, you're always supposed to trust your horse," Justine Ager of Phippsburg said Wednesday. "That's all he needs from me. You can't ever show fear to the animal you're riding."
Ager was mounted up on a gelding named Dancer who has shown a tendency to do a little crow-hopping now and then. She was waiting to take her turn at the Routt County Fair in Hayden.
The fact that her horse has tried to unseat her in the past didn't deter Ager as she cantered into the arena to take her turn at pole bending, one of 5 events that make up a gymkhana competition.
The other events include barrel racing, a flag race, an egg and spoon competition and finally, the dollar bill event,. The latter requires riders to mount up bareback and keep a dollar bill pinned between their leg and the horse, without letting it slip.
Kylie Hawes had a great run going in pole bending until she and her mare, Delta, knocked a pole over and took a 5-second penalty.
"She likes to cut the poles really close," Hawes said of her horse. "If I don't give her a signal to move off the pole early enough, she might knock one down."
The signal is increased pressure from her inside leg. Despite absorbing a penalty in the arena on Wednesday, don't look for Kylie and Delta to back off any time soon.
Michelle Crawford of Oak Creek and Will Baird of Steamboat discussed varying approaches to the flag race. The event requires riders to cross the starting line with a red flag in one hand. When they reach the first of two sand-filled barrels in the arena they must plant the flag, pivot their horse quickly and sprint for the second barrel. When they arrive, they must pluck a second flag out of the sand and head for the finish line. Any mistakes with the flags result in the familiar 5-second penalty.
Baird said conservative riders trot to the first barrel to make sure they don't take a penalty. However Crawford advocated "flying" to the first barrel and then reining her mare, Bighorn Cat, back to a quick trot just in front of the flag.
Ring announcer Medora Fralick displayed a dry sense of humor during the egg and spoon event. All of the contestants enter the arena at one time and walk, jog or trot their mounts at Fralick's command, all while balancing an egg on a flimsy plastic spoon held in one hand.
Fralick was quick to point out from her position in the announcer's loft any riders who might be taking unfair advantage by using their thumbs to keep the egg on the spoon.
"This is a really important skill here in farm and ranch country," Fralick announced over the public address system. "You've got to be able to take your neighbor an egg on horseback, in an emergency."
The Routt County Fair continues today with livestock judging for goats, sheep and swine during the day, as well as juggling performances by We're Not Clowns and music from the Celtic group Shenanigans beginning at 7:30 p.m.