Middletown Days: "Long Live Western Heritage!"

Just two hours from San Francisco - but a world apart!

There is so much to tell about the lifestyle in Lake County. To give you a taste of the culture I'll share this little vignette:

Central Park Middletown, CA. There is no baseball diamond, no soccer field. In Middletown, Central Park is a rodeo arena where most weekends in the summer you will find a rodeo or folks practicing horsemanship for the next rodeo to come.

One of the largest in the County is "Middletown Days," a three-day event with a rodeo, a carnival, a parade and a Rodeo Queen contest.

On Sunday, we were all watching as one of our top local riders - a young lady who happened to be crowned Rodeo Queen - competed in the Barrel Race. The teen girl and her horse executed a perfect pattern with a winning time - a beautiful and exciting thing to witness. The horse and rider race through a clover-leaf pattern of three barrels and then race home to the finish line. A race against the clock - sometimes referred to as "turn and burn!" As this young rider came off the third barrel she put her head down, held her hand forward with a loose rein as the horse pounded down the area toward the finish line (where an automatic timing light is waiting) The footfall of a powerful barrel horse is a stirring drumbeat as it pounds toward home! At the end of this exciting race, the rider must turn her horse in an arc to avoid hitting the fence as she slows her horse to a halt. In this instance, the horse's feet slid out from under her and she fell into the arc - onto her rider.

Fortunately, the arena dirt is carefully maintained as a thick fluffy sand which pads the rider in case of just this sort of accident. The real danger for a rider in a situation like this is if her horse gets up and spooks and takes off while the rider is on the ground with a foot still in the stirrup. As I watched this young rider last Sunday come into the arc time seemed to slow as the horse slid and landed on the rider - then got up with the rider's foot still in the stirrup.Just as quickly, the horse looked back at her rider, who was beginning to dangle with her foot and leg up, the rest of her body on the ground. It was obvious to everyone watching that the girl was in grave danger of being dragged by her foot should her horse spook! But it was soon just as obvious what real love can exist between horse and rider - and the intelligence of a well-bred, well trained horse. As soon as the horse realized her rider was hung up, the horse, ever so gently and with deliberation, slowly collapsed back down to the ground so that her rider could release her foot. Once she did, the horse gently rose and nosed her rider. As the young girl stood, dusting off the arena dirt, the crowd cheered - for both horse and rider! This girl competed in all of the rest of the events of the day with a knee brace - and won her division!

I recently shared this story with a friend. We both cried tears of emotion, realizing the depth of mutual love and caring we can have with our equine friends who are also our athletic partners - and realizing, as mothers of equestrians, the level of trust we give these kind and powerful creatures with our children! Blessings on the Horse! Blessings on the girl who trained it with care and compassion.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards