The Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Futurity presented by Wrangler (say that five times fast please) is currently taking over down town Calgary. It's the last stop on the Canadian small futurity circuit, and if you don't know what I mean by "small futurity", you are a few posts behind and need to refresh yo'self here.
Me, to everyone brave enough to walk into an aged event show pen.
I know my American friends like to call Canada the land of moose, maple syrup and bone-chilling cold, and ya know... some of that is actually true. Our futurity season gets jam packed into late August to early October due to scheduling with the American futurities, as well as ill-tempered weather. When you walk into the Agrium at Calgary Stampede tomorrow you will probably note many a bleary eye and grimaced brow. You see, if you haven't done well these last few futurities, they are so back-to-back that it can be a long and arduous trail of... well... losing. Some people are unicorns and handle it, but, depending on the type of person you are, you may just be loathing yourself, your horse, your draws, your cows, your help, the ground, the venue, the time frame, your loper, your friends and family, the judges, the announcer, the concession guy that screwed up your hamburger, the way that baldy looked at you when it came into the pen. Futurities, more often than not, are the great equalizer. Some years you will have the same horses and the same trainers win across the board, but more often than not, you will see some rise to the occasion, and then plummet at the next show. Then rise, then fall. Like a ill-thought out loaf of bread in an Alberta oven.
I'm a long ways away from showing a futurity horse, but man do I love watching aged events. I know I'm not the only one. I see ya'll religiously keeping track of horses, even if you have no connection to them whatsoever, watching live feeds, following results and intently watching horses in the show pen. It's so addicting. When the Fort Worth Futurity comes around I have to force myself away from the live feed because you can start to live your life in this gross cycle of only-doing-things-during-settles. Not good for productivity ya'll.
First up is the three-year-olds: the cutest, tiniest, little baby unicorns. I have such a soft spot for three-year-old futurity horses, they just always seem to be so dang cute - even the mule-eared roman nosed ones! There is so much hope and expectation and training stuffed into their little three-year-old bodies that you can't help but want them all to do well. Okay, maybe that's just me? But I honestly do. It's usually late winter when you start to hear rumblings from trainers and non-pro's about their futurity prospects... "Oh, I got a good one this year." "I'll admit it, I'm exciting, he/she is looking good." Sometimes you'll have seen them go through the sale ring as long yearlings and two year-olds, you'll know their sale price and you'll be curious if they matched up to expectation. Without fail, I remember those conversations, and those sale prices, and when I watch the go-rounds and see those horses struggle, when they lose a cow, when I see them miss, when I see them quit, god knows some of them will run off... I don't care if the rider on top is my mortal enemy, I still wince because ya just want those little big-eyed baby unicorns to all do well. Then there are the stand-outs, the ones that when their names get announced, people stop gossiping in the stands and pay a little bit more attention. Those are the sparkliest of all, and they are so cool to watch. A futurity horse that loves it's job, and is consistently good, if not great at it, that's an amazing thing to see. It get's me every time.
Then there's the four-year-olds. The derby horses. Some of them are, how would you say... old enough to know better, but not quite ready to give a damn. I've seen my fair share of hell demon four-year-olds that think they're trained already, and think they have this whole showing thing down pat, and then get out in the show pen and fall apart. They seem to slink back to their lopers/owners/trainers with that look in their eye like, "oh yeah, I'm still a baby, and you're right dad, I did get way too fast out there and started wheeling through my turns like I was a dirt bike and not a cutting horse, I'm sorry."
The five and sixes, man sometimes they are so cool and it's just plain fun to follow their careers. Sometimes you watch them evolve with the same trainer and same rider and think, wow, that horse has really come to play. I love that. All of a sudden you have these horses that were kind of hit or miss when they were younger, and now they've figured themselves out and they show up like "hey, remember me, let's go mark a 222. I'm a unicorn now." Sometimes you see them get sold, switch trainers, and you see the similarities and differences - whether good, bad, or indifferent - when they switch programs. That's always intriguing to watch too. But then, there's the downside because once you see a six year old walk to the finals herd in Calgary, you know that their aged event career is over.
Then there's the trainers, the breeders, the owners, the riders, the lopers... it's a long haul. Some of these barns are bringing 20-30 horses at a time, it's a lot, I don't care who you are... it's a lot. You all deserve a pat on the back for supporting the industry, for showing up with horses, for walking to the herd, for cleaning all those stalls, and loping all those circles, and for giving those ponies their scratches, and cookies, and kisses. You deserve some recognition for all those dreams you've dreamt before they entered the show pen - of seeing their name on the top of the leaderboard, for seeing your own name on the top of the leaderboard. For writing those entry cheques, for continuing to show after the bad shows, for entering over and over again, and for waiting for it to all come together - for the stars, the cows, your help, you and your horse to come together and mark one of those big whopping scores that leaves you hungry for more. Maybe i'm the sappiest one of all the sappy ones (I know I am), but I think a lot of you stoic trainers, and overly tired and cash-strapped owners/riders, are pretty sappy too. I just can't tell, because ya'll... you need to go and sleep for about a week.
& then, the craziest part about it all? With the final herd, whether at Calgary, or Fort Worth, or wherever you are, comes a whole new cycle of aged event horses coming up the ranks, shifting and changing and jostling for cutting horse supremacy. It's manic, it truly is. Let's start talking about everyone's coming three year olds now... heard so-and-so's got a good one.