Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2024

Inspiration Abounds At Pine Top

It’s that time of year again—March Madness—when for three weeks this month we’re inundated with basketball while the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament takes center stage on TV and in the newspapers. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I do enjoy watching the tournament progress, and my favorite years are when the underdogs, such as George Mason (Va.) last year, make the Final Four.
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It’s that time of year again—March Madness—when for three weeks this month we’re inundated with basketball while the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament takes center stage on TV and in the newspapers. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I do enjoy watching the tournament progress, and my favorite years are when the underdogs, such as George Mason (Va.) last year, make the Final Four.

While I admire the great performances of the powerhouse teams such as Duke (N.C.) and Kansas, when you discover that similar cohesiveness and chemistry in a team of relative unknowns, it’s exciting and inspiring. And that’s the beauty of competition—whether a school’s budget for recruitment and coaching is off the charts or minimal, what often matters in the end is the heart and soul of the players, their ability to improve their skills through commitment to the game and the desire they have to win.

And these traits are also why some riders and horses, the underdogs of their chosen sports, rise to the top. This week’s report on the Pine Top Horse Trials (Ga.) by Beth Rasin, “Rowland Rides Away With Double Pine Top Wins,” (p. 32), offers two such stories. One of Penny Rowland’s victories in the advanced divisions came aboard Roundabout, a horse of unknown breeding, whose former career was as a Mennonite carriage horse.

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This story was particularly moving for me because as a child I spent a great deal of time at my grandmother’s house in rural Indiana in the heart of Amish country. As a young horse-crazy girl, I loved to see the carriage horses driving all around the area, accompanying their families to market or to church. While at the grocery store with my grandmother, I often walked up to them tied in rows at the hitching post and snuck the friendliest ones a carrot or sugar cube. As I grew older and learned more about horses, I’d watch for the best-moving trotters and imagine discovering a talented show horse under that harness.
 
Part of what makes horse sports so intriguing is that element of chance that still exists in discovering a talented horse. Jessica Ruppel, also featured in the Pine Top article, will no doubt inspire many other riders who aspire to ascend to the top levels but who have limited means. Jessica met her diminutive spotted mount, Naughty By Nature, a Morgan-Arab-Appaloosa, as an unbroken youngster and discovered the horse of her dreams. With years of training and dedication between them, they’ve developed a partnership that exceeds all expectations.

In today’s modern culture with the emphasis on instant gratification and where spending the almighty dollar is many times an easier and faster pathway to a goal, it’s especially refreshing to read about riders who’ve accomplished their achievements the old-fashioned way. Who would have ever guessed that a domestically bred, mixed breed horse without a drop of Irish or English blood, who tops the stick at 15 hands, could jump around and win over a prestigious advanced course? It’s the classic Cinderella story.

So, this month as I watch the NCAA tournament unfold, I’ll be rooting for Butler University, seeded fifth in the Midwest, my mother’s alma mater in Indiana and one of this year’s underdogs. After all, you just never know where the next great team will be found. Oh, and that horse down the road in the farmer’s field?  You might just keep your eye on him the next time you drive by—perhaps one day you’ll see that beneath all of that long hair there’s a horse with an extraordinary extended trot.

Tricia Booker

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