Congress Memories 2009: A Heartbreaking Defeat
Sep 15, 2014
In 2009 we made our first trip to the All American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus Ohio. It is the largest single breed horseshow in the world. We had a good horse and a good rider but we were not prepared to compete or to cope with what "being at Congress" really meant.
We had purchased a 20-year-old RV that we not so affectionately called "The Turd". We stole the name from the movie RV starring Robin Williams, but our "Turd" really earned its name. It was cramped, there was almost no insulation, the furnace did not work well, it was decorated with 70's blue floral pattern, and the generator did not work.
The Turd was so narrow that two people could not walk at once. There was no stabilization so when people did move around, The Turd swayed back and forth. My kids still remember me snapping at them; "sit down, I'm trying to walk!"
The weather was terrible, cold and rainy. When we were not showing or preparing to show; my whole family was huddled up in The Turd. Now, a 20-year-old RV worked fine for weekend shows in the summer. But the limitations of The Turd really hit home when we were staying in Columbus for almost two weeks in the cold and rain. Imagine a family of five huddled around a space heater fifteen hours a day.
I made almost any excuse to get out of The Turd, so I volunteered for any errand that needed done. One day I drove to Walmart to buy warmer winter clothes and wool hats. I came back with a flat screen television so we would have something to break the monotony as we huddled together for warmth. We could only get two channels over the air but it really did help my mental attitude.
At Congress you cannot practice in the arenas during the day so you had to practice at night during assigned times. Our assigned time was 3:00 AM. We soon fell into a routine. My daughter Morgan and I would get up around 2:30 AM, saddle our horse; Zippin' Hot Harley (Harley for short) and trudge to the arena. There Morgan would ride Harley for about an hour, we would trudge back to the stall. The word stall was really too grand a description, in reality the Congress Housing Committee had assigned us a tent. Literally we kept our horse in a tent.
Morgan and I would get to bed around 4:30 AM. My wife Susan would get up around 6:00 AM to feed Harley and start getting him prepared for that day's events. My family was exhausted. I noticed that other people had trainers that shared much of the work. We had a trainer as well, but like us, she was unprepared for the rigors of Congress and would only show up around show time.
Morgan and Harley competed in some events and acquitted themselves well but never actually placed, nor were they ever in serious contention to win a class. That was ok, the thing that kept us going thru the cold and exhaustion was the fact the Morgan and Harley's best event was soon to come. They were one of the best youth Hunter Under Saddle (HUS) teams in the country. Morgan was in contention for the National Justin Rookie Award largely because she was very hard to beat in HUS.
The morning started like any other morning. Morgan and Harley were preparing for showmanship, an in hand class. They were working on the pattern when Harley suddenly pulled up dead lame on his hind leg. I was standing there watching it happen or more precisely watching nothing happen. He didn't fall, he didn't step on anything, he wasn't running, Morgan wasn't even on his back, but the fact remained that Harley was dead lame. I had limited resources with me in Columbus Ohio but I tried to diagnose the problem and failed. We took Harley to the Pfizer semi. The Pfizer semi is a traveling equine hospital out of Colorado that goes to many of the large horse shows. Harley was looked at by one the top lameness veterinarians in the country. He thought Harley's lameness was either in the fetlock or the stifle and treated both. Harley was no better. Back home, with more resources at my disposable I would isolate the lameness to the lower hock joints and MRI would confirm that he had injured one of the many ligaments within that joint. He would get better.
At that point however, standing in a parking lot in Columbus Ohio at the largest horse show in the world I didn't know what was wrong with my horse. I knew that my horse was lame. I knew that we had withdrawn from HUS. I knew that my daughter was devastated, why wouldn't she be? She had worked so hard only to see her dreams crushed. Worse yet, I was her veterinarian, it was my job to keep her horse sound. I had failed.
We drove home in The Turd, thru the cold and rain, pulling our lame horse in a trailer behind. We drove in near silence with our private thoughts of disappointment. Someone called and said that Hey Mon had won Morgan's HUS class. Hey Mon was a horse that Morgan and Harley had beaten only a few months ago. Some might have taken solace in a moral victory, but it only made me feel worse. In my mind, if I could have fixed Harley, Morgan would have won Congress. This is not a good thought for a veterinarian or a father.
I looked around The Turd. I saw my silent family. I saw my devastated little girl. I thought of the best horse I had ever seen, lame, being pulled home in defeat. I shouted to nobody in particular; "We are never coming back to this place in this piece of s--- again"!
If you read my next installment, Congress Memories 2010: A Triumphant Return you will see that "we are never coming back to this place, in this piece of s--- again" had different meanings for me, my wife, and my daughter.
Robert H Koontz DVM
Conley and Koontz Equine Hospital
2249 South 500 East
Columbia City In 46764