Amber Booge and her horse Gus have worked for years to earn their numerous Championships! Here is their inspirational story, one that I hope many of you will relate to and love 🙂
Never. Won’t. Impossible. Quit. Give up. Can’t. Those words are not in my vocabulary. The horse showing world is not for the weak. It has the glam and glitz of a beauty pageant and adrenaline and athleticism of competitive sports; two very different types of competition combined into one sport. Many say that equestrians are crazy horse people. It’s true. We have the ability to connect with a thousand pound animal, as if we were born that way. The competiveness of the sport is cutthroat and the judging is subjective. Placing in a class is based on someone’s opinion of you on that particular day. This makes the difference of making the cut or not. Hard work, perseverance and dedication is simply a shortened definition of equestrians.
I am very fortunate to have grown up with horses. Owning a horse is something that most people can only dream about. I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I can thank my mom for spending those countless hours in the saddle before I was even born. I think my heart learned to beat to the same rhythm of that of a horse.
I got my very first horse when I was three years old. She was a black miniature horse named Winks with just the sweetest personality. You could do absolutely anything with her. We even brought her inside our house, without my dad knowing of course. I would spend almost every day outside with her, brushing her until her coat shined, cleaning out her hooves, and begging my mom to let me ride. I even knew how to put the saddle on! I was officially horse crazy.
In third grade, my parents bought me my very first “big” horse. Chester was a fifteen year old sorrel Quarter Horse; the “been there done that” kind of horse. This was also the first year that I would be showing in 4-H by myself. I had been loping for about 2 weeks before I went to my very first horse show in Bemidji, MN. We showed up in our grey two horse bumper pull horse trailer pulled by our older red F150. Boy did we sure get some looks! I successfully competed in all of my classes without falling off. That was the goal for the day! We had no expectations of placing, but sure enough we came home with some ribbons! Chester and I continued to show in many horse shows across the state, each time placing a little higher and higher. I didn’t care about winning those ribbons, I was just happy that I got to ride my horse ALL DAY LONG!
Sixth grade came around, and my parents decided that I needed a step up horse, something that was going to challenge me and push me to become a better rider. I insisted that they buy me a Quarter Horse because I had always imagined myself showing at the Quarter Horse shows, and eventually the AQHA World Show. I have had that dream ever since I could remember. My mom spent hours and hours of time on the phone, asking all of those “horse buying” questions and hours on the road, searching for “the one.” There was a local lady that had an ad out for a cute little sorrel Quarter Horse mare. She had met all of the criteria, so we decided to give her a try. We drove out to the farm, and I saw her tied up to the fence along with a bay and white tobiano paint gelding. I had absolutely no interest in paints. I didn’t want anything that wasn’t a Quarter Horse, so I looked right past him. The sorrel mare was very fidgety and was pretty high strung. I saw the look on my mom’s face, and I knew that she wasn’t the one. The paint was standing so quiet, and relaxed. I gave him a gentle pat on his neck and accidently woke him up. Gus was his name, which fit him well. My mom told me to walk him around, so that we could see him move. He followed me like a puppy dog. He reminded me a lot of Chester, but I kept on telling myself that I just wanted a Quarter horse, nothing else.
I can’t tell you how many times my mom asked me if I wanted to give him a try. The answer was always the same. No. I want a Quarter horse. We visited Gus multiple times, and he was the same horse each time. The more I rode him, the more I started to like him. He was just like Chester was, and that helped me feel a little more at ease with him. It was about a month later, that I finally decided that I wanted him. My mom and dad said that I needed to help pay for him, so I used all of my birthday and Christmas money to help buy him. I officially had one-ninth ownership! We picked him up the next day and brought him home. He fit in so well with our horses and instantly became part of the family.
My parents wanted me to have a challenge while riding horse because I had picked up on the basics so quickly. Gus was that challenge. He was green broke and had been shown only once. He was previously sent to Colorado to work cattle on a dude ranch but was sent back because the cowboy said, “This horse is a ticking time bomb. He’s going to kill someone someday.” Those words still remain in my head. I could never imagine my beloved horse EVER having thoughts like that. He was too much of a pretty boy.
Since Gus was only green broke when we got him, YouTube and books became my best friends. After dinner I would stream the web and YouTube hundreds of videos, including many World Show videos, just to study and watch how those riders were riding and handling their horses. The key to my learning was observation. I learned by watching and had to do things myself. I needed to learn the mechanics of things; otherwise I didn’t get it. I also didn’t want a trainer to train a pushbutton horse that I could just get on and show. That just didn’t seem fair to me. I wanted the satisfaction of doing most, if not all, of the work myself. I believed that the hard work would pay off in the end.
I spent countless hours in the saddle, training and practicing, even in those dreaded Minnesota winters. Injuries occurred to the both of us, from sciatica in my left leg for almost 2 years to Gus almost cutting into the tendon in his fetlock requiring stitches and 3 months of stall rest. When giving up would have been so easy and probably the most reasonable thing to do, I pushed through those lows. Giving up was like a swear word in my family. I learned from Gus just as much as he learned from me. His willingness and patience while I was trying something new was what made him different from all of the rest. I loved that feeling of accomplishment, even if it was something small like a correct lead, or sticking that perfect pivot. “Perfect practice makes perfect”.
Gus and I have been showing in 4-H and open shows for over 8 years, and competing very successfully. We have received many Grand Champion trophies and belt buckles and lots of blues. There was one time that I heard someone at a show say “Oh great, that Booge girl is here”. I chuckled to myself, knowing that I was the one to beat. My mom always told me, “There is always someone better than you out there, don’t settle.” This made me set my goals higher and higher, giving me something more to strive for.
I always envied those riders who had the hundred thousand horse trailers and the saddles that cost more than my horse did. How cool it would be to show up in one of those fancy rigs with the sparkling outfits and the expensive horse. I would feel like then everyone has high expectations for you. They expect you to be extremely good and blow everyone away. I didn’t want that kind of pressure. I show up in my three horse slant-load stock trailer with a built-in tack room made by my dad. We were much understated. I never had all of the bling and the glam. It was never a necessity to me. The expensive clothes and the expensive saddle don’t help you ride better, hard work and practice makes you ride better. My mom used to hand-make my show shirts or buy button downs and blazers from Walmart. The small details were the key to success. Nice pressed jeans, a nicely clipped horse and a clean shaped cowboy hat made all the difference in the world. I took very good care of my tack, even if it was only a thirty dollar bridle and a two hundred dollar saddle. That was all that I had to use, so I wanted to make it last. I would cringe if I saw someone set their saddle in the dirt, or drag their reins on the ground. I learned to make do with what I had and took extra care of it. I couldn’t help but be a little pleased coming out of that arena with a higher placing than the girl with the fancy horse, and the fancy saddle and trailer, while yelling at her mom and trainer for her bad ride. That was exactly who I didn’t want to be.
I will never forget after winning a showmanship class, one of my competitors came over to me and sneered, “I’m gunna kick your butt in the next class.” That really got me thinking about how important it is to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser. What wonderful a feeling it is to win, but not winning motivates me to try harder the next time. There is always something that could be done better or differently, whether it be a cleaner transition or a bigger smile. I wasn’t showing to beat a certain person, or have the glory, I was showing because I love to compete. I am driven by the challenge of improving and perfecting my skills and that of my horse. I didn’t blame anyone for my mistakes, because I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself. After each show, my mom would ask me what my best class was, regardless of how I placed. More often than not, I would pick the class with the lowest placing, because maybe Gus picked up the correct lead, or he didn’t knock any logs. Those little encouraging thoughts are what kept me going.
I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that Gus will never be a Hunt Seat or a Western Pleasure horse. “He’s too choppy; His legs are white; He has too much knee action” were some of the many discouraging comments that people said. The word “never” was like a challenge to me. After months and months of getting Gus to lengthen his stride and teaching him to really extend his trot, all of our hard work paid off! We won both our Hunt Seat Pleasure class and our Hunt Seat Equitation class along with our Western Pleasure class at the State horse show this year. I could not have been more excited in my entire life knowing how many people that I had just proved wrong. It was so rewarding to know that I had done it all myself. Reaching these goals don’t just happen, they take years of hard work and commitment. There are truly no words to describe how being successful feels.
I am now a sophomore in college and I have recently become a volunteer for our 4-H club. I love teaching kids about horses, especially the ones who really want to learn and work hard, and understand that it won’t be easy. I really want to set a good example, and show them that you don’t need the most expensive equipment to be successful. I have always set my goals high and my dreams big. People say that dreams are just dreams and that’s all that they will ever be. Setting goals and working through challenges gives me the motivation and inspiration to continue to prove the “impossible.” I never really understood the quote, “Don’t be afraid to go after what you want to do, and what you want to be. But don’t be afraid to be willing to pay the price.” (Lane Frost), until I looked back at how far I have come and all of the lessons that I have learned along the way. They never said that it would be easy, but they did promise that it would be worth it.
My mom wrote me a poem for Christmas titled “The Will to Succeed”, which I read every time I’ve hit a plateau and those awful words “I can’t” and “Not good enough” pop into my head. It always gives me that spark to try hard, and believe that anything is possible. I still dream about the day that I am able to compete at the Pinto World Show and Color Breed Congress. I hope to someday make that dream a reality. Despite growing up, I will continue to save money, work hard and train hard with Gus, pushing through all of those “can’t’s” and changing them to “will’s”. I will never give up on my dreams. If I want to succeed as much as I breathe, then I will be successful.
Written By: Amber Booge