Written by Berry E. Childers. From our January/February 2015 issue
Appaloosa horses, one of God’s most beautiful creatures, are known famously for two things: Beautiful color, and, often, an almost complete lack of a tail.
It is as a result very popular when showing the Appaloosa breed to intricately weave in a false tail with their real one- a tail that majestically reaches the ground and dances with their every movement. So it was that we found ourselves at the Appaloosa Youth World Show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, my daughter Chloe in the irons on the family horse J.R. (Heza Perfect Zipper) competing in the Hunt Seat Equitation class. My wife, Robin, and our daughters had spent the night prior braiding JRs mane and weaving in the floor length tail. JR looked like a million bucks as we waited for Chloe’s turn at the Equitation pattern.
This Appaloosa show was a truly national event, bringing in competitors from all over the United States as well as Canada with extremely large numbers of entries in every class. In an effort to move the classes along in an efficient fashion, entries were lined up deeply and virtually head-to-tail in the chute heading into the Will Rogers auditorium. Ihad volunteered to stay with Chloe and JR as the line-up approached the entrance to the ring, while my wife took our remaining younger children into the stands to watch and film Chloe’s go. This is where our personal disaster struck.
The tension and excitement of the gathering was too much for the horse and rider combo at the front of the chain of contestants to bear; it bucked and snorted and reared in anticipation. This action moved rearwards in the line of assembled horses like electricity, with each horse reacting to different degrees. Some horses remained relatively calm, others danced or kicked. JR, the consummate professional, took one big unconscious stride backwards out of harm’s way- backwards, right on to his lovely tail, tearing it partially out of its braid and putting it now under foot.
At first, Chloe remained in her zen-like trance atop JR, seemingly unaware of the tail problem, eyes forward visualizing her run. She had seen the commotion before, and knew what to expect from horses. I, on the other hand, didn’t know much about horses at all- but I did know that JR could not go into the ring with his tail partially attached and dragging a foot on the ground. I pulled the real tail hair up to reveal the offending braid, and attacked it with my fingers- I figured that entering the ring with no false appendage would be more successful than entering with an obviously fake one trailing on the ground behind. My fingers were no match for the rope-like braid my wife had created; I was making little headway, and the line-up was getting shorter. We were only four away from the gate! Time was running out!
Chloe and JR were now both aware of my frantic actions, and were beginning to show agitation; JR began to dance from one hind foot to the other as I tugged on his rear, and Chloe had swung around to see just what I was up to. I worked furiously, with no progress. In fact, I was making the tail worse- and I was really losing my cool.
My frenzied activity began to attract attention. A woman in the nearby stands noticed me and called out, “Sir, do you need help?” “Yes- do you see my wife around?, I shouted out, calling for the real horse expert in the family as I was clearly in over my head. “What’s she look like?” she shouted back. In my addled state I could clearly picture my wife and children but my description could have been any one of the horsewomen with children in the stadium. It was no use. I lost sight of the woman…then, in an instant, she was at JR’s side next to us…but we were only three away from the gate!
“What’s the problem?” she asked, and I showed her the tail. She looked at it in dismay, and asked “What have you got?” I held up empty palms. As a true Horse Show Dad, I had nothing…woefully unprepared to do anything but serve as a human hitching post. She shook her head, acknowledging me as the rube I truly was. “Let me see if I have anything…bands, something…” she said as she opened up a cavernous purse that looked like a doctor’s satchel. She rummaged through her purse and then pumped her fist in the air as if she had struck gold.
“I HAVE TAPE!”, she exclaimed! She held a roll of black electrical tape aloft… but we were now on deck! Only one horse ahead!
I held the natural tail up as the helpful woman mated the false tail to JR’s tail bone. Both Chloe and JR settled down now that some real expertise had arrived on the scene, and once again began to visualize their pattern in the few seconds remaining, now seemingly unperturbed by the activity behind them. The woman wrapped the tape around the two tails with the skill of an electrician… as the ring steward opened the gate to let Chloe and JR into the ring for their pattern, she pulled a hairbrush from her bag and “poofed” out the hair around the tape so that it became all but invisible. With a flourish, she finished, and with that, horse and rider went into the ring. I sprinted up the stairs of the arena, leaving the helpful lady in my wake. I ran for my wife and younger children, not daring to look towards the arena floor. By the time I reached my wife, Chloe and JR had finished their pattern. I had missed their entire effort in the arena.
Robin had tears in her eyes. “It was a perfect pattern”, she said, overcome with emotion at the performance her daughter and horse had just accomplished. She had no idea that the tail drama had occurred, or the role that a roll of tape had played in their effort.
In a fairy tale ending, Chloe and JR would have won the event. This is not a fairy tale, but the truth: Chloe and JR finished as Appaloosa Youth World Reserve Champions in Hunt Seat Equitation, with a tail attached by electrical tape at the last second just as they entered the ring, by a helpful stranger who was herself the mother of one of the competitors. Chloe would go on to several ApHC Champion titles but would never nail down Hunt Seat after this narrow miss; JR would win the Hunt Seat title several years later with our middle daughter up. And the helpful lady? We saw her again the following year when her daughter, one of our strongest competitors, won her own ApHC Hunt Seat championship…without the aid of tape.