Paula and I were in the same class in high school. We were, still are, good friends. During the week, we were on the same team—The Southeast Pirates. Whether it was girls basketball (she was one of the best players in the state of Ohio) or boys track or football, we were rooting for each other. But from about mid-April to the end of September, we were fierce competitors on the weekends. We showed horses and it was good friends in the paddock, but game on in the arena. We were both very good at what we did, and very serious in the ring. But that never affected—at least I don’t think it did—our friendship and our parents’ close relationship. As our horse show reputation grew, so did opportunity, not all of them great.
Portage County was big on 4-H. In fact, our county fair was bigger than many state fairs because of 4-H. And horse 4-H was the anchor. About the time when Paula and I were seniors, I imagine that there were over 300 horse 4-H projects. This meant that there were many 4-H horse clubs springing up. There were about three elite clubs, which of course, Paula and I belonged to one each. Then there were many smaller clubs whose riders may of only competed at the Fair. The 4-H motto is “To make the best better.” It’s a motto that Paula and I have taken very seriously all of our lives. And many a kid who didn’t have the resources we did, also tried to live by that motto. They were always trying to do better.
These clubs would have what they call “mock” horse shows. They were horse shows just among club members to both have fun and to improve their skills. These shows usually were held in a makeshift practice ring at the 4-H advisor’s or a parent’s farm and they would ask an experienced rider or an adult to “judge” them. It was an honor, mostly. Paula and I were excited to judge a mock horse show for a small club just down the road from her parents’ farm. It rained all night before the morning of the show. It continued raining until just before the show was to start. Paula and I walked down to the show ring and our excitement dried up when we saw the ring was mostly under water. We really just wanted to cancel, but the kids and parents insisted we have the show. So out we waded into the water and mud to the middle of the ring.
Our good cowboy boots leaked around the seams at first, then were filling with water. Our socks were soggy then sloshing. Every time a horse would pass by, it splashed mud on us. It was mid-April Ohio damp and cold. And we were miserable. We would look at each other and just shake our heads. It was a Psalm 69:14 day, “Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.” Not too far from the truth because when judging horse shows, some love you (the winners) and many hate you (the non-winners). Finally, it was finished. The kids and parents were happy. We sloshed over to Paula’s house, shaking off the shivers, and Paula’s mom made us some soup to warm our bones. We vowed never again—that is, until the next time. And we had a good laugh.