Californian, Phil Rapp, riding a horse he had trained, won the first go-round
with a run that suggested he and his horse could go the entire distance. A
curious thing happens in cutting; if your start is wobbly, you begin to shift
your attention to horses and riders who seem more deserving of success. A hope
of virtue being rewarded is part of the atmosphere.
In the second
go-round, on Nov. 29, Laurie had another nice run. Her horse was so intense, so
locked down in her stops, that people cheered. Laurie was headed for the semis.
With a better-than-average run, I could join her there, and we could compete in
an atmosphere of good sportsmanship, our $1,600 entry fees won back and our
earlier scores erased, a clean slate. As I rode Sugar around, warming up amid a
stream of galloping horses, I listened to the announcer and began to feel
comfortable. A little positive thinking was coming into my consciousness.
I was walking
toward the herd. It was now or never. Heather Stiles had been eliminated when
she was nearly run over by a black cow with a red ear tag, and I was trying to
follow the cow's progress in the herd to be sure I didn't cut her. As I watched
the cattle melt away in front of me until one was isolated, I dropped my hand.
I waited for that decisive move that mirrors the first break of the cow, but it
never came. Sugar jumped sharply to my right, toward the wrong cow.
It was over.
I walked across
the warmup pen. Another cutter was already working. At least at an event this
big you get to have your defeat to yourself. When I climbed into the bleachers,
I looked back at Sugar tied to the rail, one back foot tipped up, asleep. She
had her whole life ahead of her. I knew, absolutely, that she was a good
I was a pedestrian, a cheerleader. By the time the semifinals rolled around the
next night, I was accustomed to my new role, even looking forward to it. But
Laurie overrode her horse trying to hold a tough cow and went off the end—the
horse never stopped, and the cow cut back to the herd behind her. Laurie was
eliminated, and soon we would be homeward bound.
I sat for a while
in the bleachers. Time was certainly not flying. I ran into Ian Tyson, a
singer-songwriter friend from Alberta, Canada. The previous year he had reached
the Futurity finals, before, as he put it, being hammered by gum-chewing
California girls with ice water in their veins. It was nice to hear a lighter
view of something you have spent so long trying to do and failed to do.
"Well, Ian, what are you working on?" I asked.
Ian thought for a
moment and, seeming to focus on something in a faraway but pleasant place,
smiled and said, "I'm working on a reggae about magpies."
I felt better
Laurie, Annie and
I stayed to watch the finals the next night. Sheila Welch and a number of other
people we knew were among the 20 remaining riders. Phil Rapp did not make the
finals on his great young mare. Heather Stiles looked depressed. We saw a
couple of real heartbreakers as good horses and riders got beaten by