Oklahoma City is known as one of three horse show capitals of the country. Wellington, Florida and Lexington, Kentucky are the other two. Unlike the scene in the other two locations, shows in Oklahoma City don’t attract many spectators. My horse trainer, Callie, and I were one of a dozen others who watched indoor barrel racing and pole bending last Friday. I learned that it’s all about the pacing.
The six or more round and rectangular barns which make up the show grounds —each as large as a football field— are packed full of modular horse stalls. It was surreal to see so many horses in the barns and warm up areas, yet have our choice of seats in the nearly empty amphitheater.
Despite the lack of spectators, I liked the informal atmosphere. Two men sat at a table in the judges’ corner close to the entrance, calling out the next contestant. From our seats we could see horses being mounted in the waiting area, accompanied occasionally by whinnies and snorts. The air was dry and smelled of peat moss. After five or more races, a tractor raked the ground to erase the deep pockmarks left by scrambling horses’ hooves.
Quarter horses are bred to turn on a dime. When herding cattle they sometimes have to maneuver in very small spaces, followed by mad dashes to turn the errant steers. Their work demands a lot of muscle in the hindquarters, as witnessed in the picture below:
One way quarter horses learn to maneuver in small spaces is by spinning around barrels and galloping full speed to the next. Another way is to practice “pole bending,” the equivalent of doing slalom on skis. I enjoyed the pole bending best because of the rhythm and grace of the few horses and riders who had learned to ride as a team. Take a look at this video:
You can see the “flying changes” on their front feet between each pole; a magnificent display of dexterity, strength and balance. The distance between each pole is carefully measured, as it would be in a ski race, to allow just enough room to change leads safely before rounding the next pole.
When I travel, I need enough space on either end to change my pace or I burn out. Life is sometimes like a series of pole bending races. We can race past obstacles to our goal at breakneck speed, but if we don’t have the internal strength or balance, we take the risk of crashing the course.
How do you pace yourself?