The First Jackpot

December 29, 2009
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“The first jackpot is tomorrow?” I asked, nervously picking at the hem of my dress. I had been mentally preparing myself for the following Saturday for my very first barrel racing jackpot. I had not, however, prepared for the very next day.

“Yep, it’s tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. If you can be at my house by nine, we can leave for South Jordan then,” Karen replied, “You will be fine, don’t worry so much. See you tomorrow!”

“Ok, see you then,” I replied, pushing the end button on my phone. Still playing with the hem of my dress, I watched out the truck window as we raced past buildings and shops. I noticed how beautiful the day was for being the third of March. I glanced over to see my dad giving me a strange look.

“What’s with the nerves, kiddo?” he asked.
I took a deep breath and replied, “The first jackpot is tomorrow, not next week. Is there anyway you can drive me to Karen’s in the morning, please?” He nodded then turned his attention back to the road ahead of him. I continued trying to calm myself down. Honestly, how bad could it be?

The next morning, I was up ready to go before the clock struck 8:30 a.m.. I paced around the house waiting for my parents to wake up and drive me to Karen’s house with my horse, Junie Bug. After pacing around for a lengthy ten minutes, I decided that I would go out to get Junie ready to leave for our first big race together. I grabbed the ice blue and silver halter from the tack room, and I got Junie from the pasture. We made our way to the trailer, and Dad helped me load Junie in and tie her up.
My mom came rushing out of the house with a blue beach bag, filled with snacks, a water bottle, and my cell phone shouting, “Tiff! Tiffany! Don’t forget your stuff! It’s going to be too long of a day to forget food!” I thanked her and hopped into the truck.

On our way to Karen’s house, my dad told me of his and my mom’s plans of meeting us at the South Jordan Equestrian Center around 10:30 a.m.. I kept my hands clenched together in a clammy clasp as I nodded in response.

We pulled into Karen’s driveway and unloaded Junie from our trailer. I swapped her over to Karen’s trailer, and my dad put the handy dandy blue beach bag into Karen’s tack room. I waved to my dad as he drove our truck back to our house, and I got into Karen’s truck. Karen put her horse, Jack, into the trailer then got into the driver’s seat and started her truck. As we pulled out of the driveway, Karen remarked, “Let’s hit the road, Jack!”

On the hour drive to South Jordan, Karen and I chatted about the arena where we were going, my high school classes, and any other topic that we thought about. As soon as we were turning on to the road with the Equestrian Center on it, I felt my stomach go into my toes. I did not think I could survive to make it to the jackpot. I didn’t think I could even make it through the twenty seconds, or less, it takes to complete a barrel pattern.

Karen pulled in and parked her trailer close to the entrance of the arena. Unbuckling her seatbelt, she asked, “So, do you have a check to pay for today?”
With a start, I realized that my parents had not given me any money. To my embarrassment, Karen told me she would pay for me today, and that I’d need to make sure my mom remembered money for the next weekend. I nodded, and we entered the building to pay for our riding.

As we walked through the weighty green door, I glanced around to get a feel for the arena. It smelled like damp dirt, and in the center of the arena there was a standard pole bending pattern set up for the poles class. Actually, being able to see the arena seemed to cement my stomach in my feet. I stuck close to Karen as we filled out our Utah Barrel Racing Association paperwork. Karen laughed along with her fellow UBRA board members as I worried if I could keep my breakfast inside my stomach.

Finished with the paperwork, Karen and I returned outside through the green door to saddle our horses up. I still could not quite saddle Junie by myself, so I had to wait for Karen to saddle Jack up. She helped me cinch Junie and then boosted me up into the saddle. Gripping the reins, I tried to take some calming breaths so Junie wouldn’t feel my nerves. This was easier said than done. After Karen got on Jack, I followed her through the barn door that led into the arena.

Karen began trotting around, and I tried my best to keep up with her. I had some sort of idea what I needed to do because we had been practicing together for about eight months, but I spaced every warm up exercise I had learned with Karen. Around 10:30, the announcer began to clear riders out of the arena so they could start with the poles. I rode Junie to the outside rim of the arena to watch Karen ride the time only poles. Once she completed the pattern, she came racing back for home.

After Karen ran the poles, she proposed that we go to the outdoor arena to practice some more. I agreed, and we turned our horses that direction. I continued trying to shake my nerves while we ran through the barrel pattern in the outdoor arena.

“Don’t lean into the barrel, Tiff, or you’ll end up on the ground!” Karen directed, sitting in the corner of the arena, watching me race around the barrels. I nodded, showing I had heard her, and set Junie up to try again. I began trotting towards the pattern, and Junie began to speed up a little. Not ready for the speed, I pulled back on the reins, and almost put us into a barrel. I though some raucous words towards Junie, but I took yet another deep breath, and we went through a relatively clean pattern.

The PA system blared, “On deck is Karen, ending the Non-pro class. Then we’ll have Whitney, Heather starting our limited class, and then we have a rake. After the rake, we have Tiffany and Kayla.” Back down to my toes, my stomach went. My palms returned to being clenched, cold, and clammy.

Karen smiled and coaxed me back into the indoor arena. I watched her race Jack, running a time of 22.9. I was excited for her, even though that was a relatively slow-to-average time in the world of barrel racing. Another girl that Karen coaches in barrel racing, Whitney, was running next. Whitney walked her horse over to the beginning gate, and loped her through the pattern to the time of 21.2.

After seeing both Karen and Whitney get a relatively slow-to-average speed, my insides sort of calmed down. The torrent of butterflies in my stomach lessened from a million to about 500 thousand. As the tractor went around the arena, raking the ground, I went to the bottom corner with other barrel racers and tried to get Junie to lope in a circle. Unfortunately for me, Junie knew I was nervous. She was hopping around, not loping perfectly at all.

The announcer bellowed, “Okay, if we can get the arena cleared. Next up, Tiffany.” Karen patted me on the back, and I slowly proceeded to my doom: the beginning gate. Making sure I had a good grip on the reins, I leaned forward in the saddle and kissed to Junie. Thinking I meant go mach speed, Junie started to lope towards the first barrel. As I was a very inexperienced rider, I felt like I was going to be whipped off of her back. Pulling back on the reins, I felt myself bouncing up and down, up and down, in the saddle. I awkwardly made it around the first barrel, I cut it really close to the second barrel, and by that time, I had sort of zoned out, and I cannot remember what happened coming around the third barrel.

Bouncing in a trot through the timers, I tilted my head to hear my time. “Tiffany’s time was a 36.239, a three six point two three nine.” I tried to hide my disappointment from Karen and Whitney as Junie and I made our way back to them.

“That was a great first time,” Whitney commented, and Karen nodded her head in agreement. It felt as though I had tears in my eyes, most likely from the leftover adrenaline coursing through my veins. I slowly came down from the high, and I thought about how I had done.

Unhurriedly riding back to Karen’s trailer to unsaddle Junie, I still felt disappointed. I knew that I was not a professional rodeo cowgirl, but I had thought that after eight months of getting to know my horse and the pattern by heart I would have at least been under a thirty for the time. In front of all the barrel racers that had been doing this since they were toddlers, I felt like a failure.

Karen rode up behind me, and proclaimed, “That was a good first run, Tiff. We will just need to get you used to a little more speed on that pony of yours.”
I laughed, “That is a definite truth.” Karen had known how to break the ice, showing that she is a great coach in that aspect; she knows how to teach without making a person feel like a numbskull for not getting it right. We continued to ride towards her trailer, and she helped me understand what I could do better on Junie the next weekend in South Jordan.

My parents came out to the trailer to congratulate me on making it through my first barrel racing jackpot, and Dad helped me unsaddle Junie. After having so much adrenaline all day long, I was dead exhausted, but unfortunately, Karen and I had to stay until the jackpot was finished in case anyone needed help. I said goodbye to my parents and returned to the inside arena.

As I helped for the rest of the day, I observed other riders making mistakes and observed their good habits that I could remember at my next practice. I was excited to get back on Junie the next weekend to better my time so I could consider myself a true rodeo cowgirl.

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