Congress Memories 2010: A Triumphant Return
Mar 20, 2019
In 2009 while driving away from Columbus Ohio, I was ranting; “We are never coming back to this place in this piece of s--- again”! If you have read my last blog Congress Memories 2009: A Heartbreaking Defeat then you know that I had vowed never to return to The All- American Quarter Horse Congress again. In this blog you will learn that “We are never coming back to this place in this piece of s--- again” has a very different meaning for me, my wife, and my daughter.
To me it was simple we were never going back to The All-American Quarter Horse Congress again and quite frankly I didn’t care to ever return to Columbus Ohio again. To my daughter Morgan, it was simple as well, “never coming back” meant that we would just try again next year. My wife, Susan, heard the last part of the sentence; “in this piece of s--- again”. So, to her the solution was simple, she went out and bought a better RV.
Our current RV is nice. It is much bigger, it has two slides and stabilization so you can move around. It is equipped with satellite television. Most importantly the heating and cooling systems work. Even with a nicer RV, I had to but my foot down: My family was NOT returning to THAT show again!
So, October 2010 there we were in Columbus Ohio back at the largest single breed horse show in the world; The All-American Quarter Horse Congress.
Our first class was western riding. Western Riding is a pattern class that involves several lead changes. The idea to compete in this class started in the early spring. Susan, Morgan and our trainer started to form a plan. Our horse Zippin Hot Harley (Harley) has an incredible flying lead change. Few horses can perform a flying lead change as effortlessly and beautifully. Sometimes it seems like his lead changes magically, it happens so smoothly that the casual observer doesn’t even realize that he has changed leads. The plan was natural, take advantage of Harley’s athletic ability and win the Western Riding class at the biggest horse show in the world.
Unfortunately, the conspirators had a plan but did not follow thru with the hard work and practice needed to compete at the highest level. Harleys natural ability would carry him to victory at small shows but when competing against one hundred of the best horses in the nation, talent alone would prove to be inadequate.
Morgan did not have her usual swagger before the class. Her lack of confidence transferred to Harley and he was nervous. The entrance to the arena was a tent. When the wind blew the opening flap against the side of the canvas with a loud clap, Morgan momentarily lost control of Harley. He side stepped onto a directional cone which is an immediate disqualification and the grand plan to win Western Riding was over.
Just like in 2009 the Koontz’s were not prepared.
The National Youth Association Team Tournament (NYATT) is held in conjunction with The All-American Quarter Horse Congress each year. Youth teams from all 50 states and a few other countries compete in several Quarter Horse disciplines. Morgan had again earned her spot on the Indiana team by being one of the two best Hunter Under Saddle riders in Indiana.
The NYATT competition is not considered as prestigious as the age group competition, but it still features some of the best riders in the country. It is an all age youth competition so while Morgan was only thirteen years old, she would be competing against mostly eighteen and nineteen-year-old riders. Morgan badly wanted to show well. She felt like she let the team down in 2009 when Harley was to lame to compete.
As Morgan’s split trotted into the arena, I immediately knew we were back. Morgan was confident, almost cocky. Harley was moving smoothly and aggressively. They were the best horse and rider in the split. To be honest, I didn’t actually look at any other horse. She easily made it thru the split, coasted thru the semi-finals, and found herself in the finals.
In the finals she was again riding with aggressive determination. Harley looked great. Then it happened. Harley broke gait in front of one of the three judges. That means he started to speed from a trot to a canter before being asked. He only took two premature steps but at this level the judges are looking for any reason to separate the competitors.
At the end of the class the horses and riders lined up in the middle of the arena to hear the placings. Each horse stepped forward as their named was called over the loud speaker and their place in the Class was announced. I felt the old sense of dread, had the Koontz’s blown it again? Maybe the other judges did not see our blunder. Maybe the corner judge would see breaking gait as a small deduction. Or maybe we just didn’t belong.
Then I heard the loud speaker crackle “eleventh place, riding Zippin Hot Harley, Morgan Koontz”. I felt a sudden sense relief. Morgan had placed eleventh at the biggest horse show in the world! When we looked at the scores Morgan was officially eleventh due to tie breakers but she had actually tied for ninth. Even with the bobble she was clearly ninth place not eleventh place, you can ask any Koontz in attendance that day.
This was a big victory for all of us. We knew we belonged. Morgan and Harley had earned a top ten placing. We now knew that she could compete. The 12 to 14 Hunter Under Saddle class with one hundred and fifty participants was tomorrow. The most important class of Morgan’s young life was tomorrow and she had a real chance.
The next day tension was high, but Morgan was handling it well. When it comes to competition, I have never met anyone as mentally tough as Morgan. The higher the stakes the better she performs. But she had never competed in this atmosphere nor had the stakes ever been this high. She was only thirteen, how could she hold up?
So, when no one was watching I went to Harley’s stall. I put my arms around his neck and whispered; “she is going to be nervous today.” “I know you are not used to this, but you have to remain calm.” Then I started to cry. With my head buried in his neck and shoulder I sobbed; “she is going to need you today.” I pleaded, “Please, take care of my little girl.”
As a veterinarian I am taught that horses don’t communicate like we do, at best they can sense our emotions. I was taught that we should not assign human characteristics to horses. But after my little speech I swear that Harley projected an inner calm. I truly believe he understood me. He was trying to tell me that he would take care of our little girl.
Morgan and Harley strutted into the arena with perfect form. Horse and rider moved as one. Morgan was confident, Harley was calm. Morgan breezed thru her split. They were by far the best team in the semi-finals. In the finals we could certainly see that Morgan and Harley belonged in that class. As Harley matched the best horse’s in the world stride for stride I started to realize; “she could win!” There were no bobbles, no breaks in gait.
In the large arena I sat by myself rocking back and forth. I found myself chanting quietly; “you can do it little girl, please do it… You can do it little girl, please do it” over and over again. When the class ended the participants lined up in the center as the judges adjusted their score cards to make the final placings. From fifty yards away I looked at each judge with an intense stare. I projected Morgan’s numbers: one, four, three from my mind to theirs. Surely a little Jedi mind trick couldn’t hurt.
Still rocking back and forth from by perch high above the arena I realized I was crying as they started to call the results over the load speaker. They started with fifteenth place and worked up to number one. In a booming voice the announcer calls out: “congratulations, placing fifteenth at The All-American Quarter Horse Congress riding” then he announces the horse and rider. From the time the last place was called to the name of the next horse I would quietly chant; “not Morgan, not Morgan” over and over. Each time a name other than Morgan was called I would pump my fist, more tears would stream down my face and I would take up my chant anew, “not Morgan, not Morgan”.
“Congratulations, placing third at The All-American Quarter Horse Congress”, the voice boomed over the
load speaker, “riding Zippin Hot Harley, Morgan Koontz”. I shot out of my seat wildly cheering, unabashedly crying. I looked down at my family. They were all cheering and crying as well. Other spectators in the coliseum surely thought we were crazy. Many must have thought; “do those people think they won?” What the other spectators couldn’t know is that we did win.
Officially Morgan and Harley had placed third. Clearly, they deserved to be first, you can ask any Koontz in attendance that day. In all honesty, once again, I had forgotten to watch any other horse in the competition. But it didn’t matter, Morgan had performed like a champion and Harley had kept his promise to me. He did indeed take care of our little girl.
Over the years when people want me to look at a good horse, they will often say something like “he moves like Harley” or “she is just as good as Harley”. When people want me to notice a good rider sometimes, they will say; “she reminds me of Morgan at that age”. I politely look, but I smile inwardly. There will never be a horse as good as Harley nor a rider as good as Morgan. Not on that day.