‘The day my 6-year-old was pulled by the fastest horse in town’
February 6, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — "She's going all the way to Hayden, folks!"
Normally, I wouldn't pay the announcer much mind at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Winter Carnival Street Events, but tethered to the end of the rope, being pulled by Lightning, the fastest horse in town, was my 6-year-old daughter Casey holding on for dear life. And she was showing no signs of letting go, even a block past the Eighth Street finish line.
I can’t blame her death grip. Legs spread-eagled like a '70s-era freestyle skier — so far apart her butt nearly bounced off the snow-covered street — she was in pure survival mode. I was, too, facing an equally tenuous situation explaining our soon-to-be-missing daughter to my spouse.
Seeing how it was Casey's first time in the event, I probably picked an inopportune time to meander away from her position in the start line to chat with a friend behind the fence. While I was gone — however briefly, I might add — Casey advanced in line and was quickly at the front looking up to the Wyatt Earp organizing things.
"What speed do you want?" he asked, tipping his Stetson. "Slow, medium or fast?"
Bless her heart, tiny Casey answered "fast," as most Steamboat tykes would, without missing a beat.
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"Then you're riding Lightning," Earp enthused, calling over a horse that belonged at Preakness.
With that, before I had time to mumble anything that might get me off the hook, she took off like the space shuttle behind the fastest horse of the day. Pink parka splattered with manure, snow peppering her goggles, and shoulders wrenched out of their sockets, she held on to the finish line and then some, going to infinity and beyond. The crowd roared, and everyone turned their collective heads as she headed to Hayden and the sunset beyond.
She finally let go a block and a half past the finish line, suffering the walk of shame back east to the crowd. But there was no shame at all in her results, as her time topped the next 10 riders, all two to three years older. When all was said and done, she notched a bronze in the event, all thanks to a distracted dad.
All this epitomizes the tradition that is the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival. It's for everyone, the young and the old, the newbie and the pro, the spectator and the participant.
I've attended it in all those capacities, though the "pro" part likely only applied to my dance floor moves at the annual Sorel Soiree bash at the base of Howelsen. I've jostled the family jewels in the Shovel Race and Bike Slalom, loosened my lumbar in the Dad Dash, dodged errant Roman candles launched by the Lighted Man and cringed watching my daughters careen off the Donkey Jump. I even joined the parade once, towing eight kayaks and a canoe behind a Subaru.
And it all benefits the best cause imaginable, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has sent more than 90 athletes to the Winter Olympics, including this year's Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Regrettably for Casey, there's not an Olympic event for ski joring. If there was, and a division for pink parka'd girls whose fathers abandoned them during the crucial equine election, then she'd be a shoo-in.
But like Eddie the Eagle — who, I imagine, would be the first to fly through the Nordic jump's fiery hoop during the Night Extravaganza — at least she was a crowd favorite. Later, as I walked her over to her next harmless activity — skiing with napalm-dripping glow sticks down Howelsen's icy face in the dark (note to self: use an old jacket, so the molten drips don’t ruin a good one) — I overheard two ladies talking.
"There she is," they said behind steaming breath, recognizing Casey's pink, and now brown, coat. "That's the girl from the street events. She had the fastest horse in town."
With that, I swelled with fatherly pride. But I also stayed a bit closer for her descent down Howelsen carrying a torch.