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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
A young 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 horse.
Suddenly, though, 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 already.
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 treacherous cows.