Out of nowhere, it hit me. My heart bounced up into my throat, the tears welled in my eyes, and for a moment, it was hard to breathe. I’d just driven past this very same scene twice the day before, and for whatever reason, hadn’t been effected, but Sunday morning, a flood of emotion and memories, so overwhelming, nearly made me have to sit in my car and get myself together, before going to work.
Anyone in the horse world knows, that October simply IS the All American Quarter Horse Congress. The entire city of Columbus becomes the center of the equine world for the month, and the globe converges to show, shop, and socialize. I’ve spent months of my life at those fairgrounds. I’ve been a spectator and an exhibitor, I’ve worked the trade show as a tack store associate, and now occasionally as a greeter for our dealership. We serve as one of the “anchor” auto retailers during the show, and the numbers alone would astound you. Salesmen who are able to make themselves fit into the landscape, can do enough to support themselves pretty nicely, for several months after.
I’d gotten the call to see if I was available to help out last weekend, because they were anticipating record crowds, and hopefully sales. The sales manager joked that I could “name my price,” so I send a photo of one of our King Ranch Super Duty trucks, and the hip#34 listing from the Super Sale. Our motto is “we’re dealin’” so why not put it to work for me? I earned a good laugh and appreciation from the rest of the team, in addition to a little financial windfall, so I guess it all worked out.
Driving in and out of the back gate to where our temporary location sits, takes you through several make-up pens, full around the clock, of horses being longed, ridden, or just waiting in line for their turn to work. I can’t say why it didn’t bother me Saturday, but Sunday morning, looking through my windshield at everyone, I was struck by such an intense ache in my heart, such longing to go back in time to when Buddy and I were waiting in those same lines, or working quietly among the other exhibitors and trainers, I was truly overwhelmed. All the late nights, the ridiculous early mornings, the hurry up and wait in the freezing cold for your split to work. Scrubbing muddy legs with numb fingers in the wash stalls, and the early twinges of arthritis setting in, as you braid teeny tiny plaits into your horse’s mane. The rush of having a great ride, and the crushing blow of defeat when your number isn’t called back. I couldn’t possibly articulate the full spectrum of emotions you experience at a show like this, only those who’ve done it can understand.
On the other side, there are the trade show workers. They’re on the grounds days, even weeks before the show even opens, and another week or so after, to clean up the carnage. By the time your storefront does open, you’re already worn out from setting up a booth, unpacking countless semi-trailers full of merchandise, and creating an inviting display to lure your customers in with. One year, I narrowly missed a head injury while unpacking, when a steel, galvanized pipe (used as framework for an awning) slid off the back of a trailer it was leaned up against. Luckily someone else saw it first, and called out to me. I turned to look at them, as the pipe whizzed past my face, crashing onto my foot. We managed to come up with some Advil and a bucket of ice to put my foot in, but it didn’t take long to figure out I wasn’t going to be very useful for the rest of that day. I drove home in tears, I knew something was broken, but couldn’t bring myself to take off my shoe and look. Mom finally took me to the emergency room that night, where I was diagnosed with a broken distal phalanx. They gave me a sandal-looking shoe to wear, and that was it. The sandal lasted the rest of the week of set up, but when the show opened, I was left with no choice. Every morning, I would tape the broken toe, stuff it into a boot, and take heroic amounts of Advil, to get through each day. A broken toe is hardly an injury that legends are made of, but when you have to spend 12 hours on your feet every day for a month, it’s also not exactly what a Doctor would have recommended. Despite events like those, the crews we worked with played as hard as we worked. I (mostly) remember many nights spent at the Corral (the main bar at the show, though there are several throughout), after the shops would finally close, unwinding and telling stories of the ghastly or hilarious customers we met during the day.
In the Corral, anything, and everything could happen. For several consecutive years, I was proposed to by a lovely man from ML Leddy’s. He’d ask me to dance, ask me to marry him, and ask me to come home to Texas with him. Every year I’d politely refuse, thank him for the dance, and promise I’d consider it for next year. The last year I worked at the show, was when Kippy belts were just growing in popularity. There are a couple brands that are more expensive, Kippy being one, I forget the others, but they’re leather belts, covered in crystals and other embellishments. Our store had a nice selection, I’d bought myself one, and we all “modeled” them during the store hours for customers to see. There had been a man in the store about an hour or so before we closed, looking at them for his girlfriend, but he never bought one. Later that night, the same man found me at the Corral, and begged for my belt. I asked him why he hadn’t bought one when I’d seen him, not two hours ago now? Apparently, when he met back up with his girlfriend after his shopping excursion, she wasn’t happy that he didn’t return with the belt for her, and he was paying for it! I tried to brush him off, but he was insistent. They were leaving in the morning he said, and if he didn’t have a belt for her by then, he was going home alone. Now honestly, they’re great belts, but I didn’t think enough to break up a relationship over… He tried to strike up a deal with me, I met every counter he made with a higher price. When we reached $500 I finally told him, “look, we’re done. Come back with $500 CASH, or don’t come back at all, but right now, leave me alone.” He wandered off and I thought sure I’d gotten rid of him. An hour later he came back with the money. I was so surprised, I had one of our security guys count it out for me, and handed him my belt. The couple made up, I bought myself a round of drinks for everyone in my group, and a new belt the next day, and a water pump for my car not long after.
Nowadays, I work the occasional weekend, greeting potential truck buyers, helping point them to salespeople, weeding out the “tire kickers,” and sometimes helping drive the trucks to and from the fairgrounds. I never mind that job! Who doesn’t love handling a $60,000 truck? It’s a great way to make a little extra cash, and run into old friends while I’m doing it. I still have several friends showing, so when I’m able, I go up to watch and cheer for them. It fills a little of the void, hanging out at the stalls, waiting for their class. Zipping chaps and greasing hooves. I can’t NOT get involved with the pre-show prep, I’m too fidgety without a rag or brush in my hand. My boyfriend hasn’t experienced me showing before, so he sits back and watches. He knows these are the cobweb-thin threads that hold me together, that give me hope that someday I’ll be the one in the saddle again. He holds my purse while I dive in to straighten and wipe an errant hair or traces of dust. He’s quiet while I watch the classes, rubbing my hand, letting me soak it all in. For the friends who’s ride ends in victory, it’s off to the photo stall. The winners are permitted to go to the head of the line, and it’s become almost a competition in itself, to see how many people you can cram into your official photo. The one I featured here makes me smile because of the memories I have with everyone in it. That adorable little girl, is now a beautiful young woman (we won’t even talk about how much older that makes me!), whom I’m lucky to call a friend. Honestly, all my horse friends are family. You can’t spend as much time as we’ve all spent together, and not be.