by Sheila Varian

1961 — Varian Arabians had 4 or 5 mares. Ronteza was winning, and I had my secret dream to win the Reined Cow Horse class against the finest stock horses in the country at the Cow Palace, to "Win the World" as it was called. Every day after school Ronteza and I practiced in the fields around the ranch. Ronteza, my Ronteza, who had never had another person on her back, had become a first class stock horse. Condition, condition, condition — Ronteza by this point didn’t need education, but it would be a grueling week; to get to the top at the Cow Palace she would have to perform three times. Ronteza had to be able to do whatever dry work pattern was given, and then immediately work a cow. Trot, condition, gallop, condition, day dream enveloped by feelings of a perfect spin, a perfect stop, condition, drive cattle on the area ranches, condition, tension, anxiety — laying in my bed at night and for the millionth time, riding through the stops and spins, and then working that cow.


October, 1961 — San Francisco, damp and cold. Ronteza, Mom and I. My father staying home to take care of the ranch. Lightweight division, Ronteza. Heavyweight division — 50 horses going for the title. Ronteza the only Arab, me the only girl. I never noticed. Never walk by the trophy window, don’t look at the trophy saddle and blankets . . . . .concentrate! ! !

Thousands of people, never saw so many people. . . eliminations . . . remember the pattern Sheila . . . left is the arm you have the burn scar on — nursery rhymes to Ronteza as we saddle, take your time — don’t hurry, waiting at the in gate . . . pattern announced. Riders warm up their horses . . . we stand in the background . . . Ronteza prefers not to warm up — she watches and knows — I feel her heart pounding through the stirrup fenders — I can’t breathe . . . and then it’s over — both of us breathing so hard, but it was good, Ronteza. Announcer calls all Lightweight stock horses back into the ring. The top five horses to compete against each other Friday in the Lightweight class. Ronteza called out first — quickly unsaddle — have to go somewhere and lie down — exhaustion.

Would Friday night ever come??? Mother and I talk very little, nothing about where we are and what we are doing — she understands — it’s cold and miserable — I can’t sleep — concentrate, tension, anxiety — Friday night — our class is scheduled after the bareback broncs — 9:05 — nursery rhymes, brushing — slow saddling, arrive at the gate at 9:13 — in we go, you feel perfect again Ronteza — flawless, it’s floating — we wait for our cow, trying to catch our breath. The cowboy sorting the cattle is looking for a real good one to turn out to this girl and that pretty bay mare.

Down the fence we fly — there isn’t a cow alive that can get by you this evening, Ronteza . . . we begin the circling of our cow, the finish of our work . . . Ronteza is driving hard for the head of the cow — all we have to do is make this cow run a circle to the right and to the left and we’ve made it — concentrate, drive — boom! — Ronteza is down . . . hit a slick spot . . . I am somehow or other standing over her but still on. Rules are: Disqualification if rider goes off horse . . . things are in slow motion, stay on Sheila — Ronteza jumps to her feet, me with her, and continues circling her cow. Concentration — she didn’t know she fell

Winner of the Lightweight class announced — Ronteza — the Cow Palace goes wild — 2 more days until Sunday — Interminable wait — nothing to do — can’t talk to anyone, can’t sleep, shut my eyes and I’m riding Ronteza over and over in my mind — Sunday afternoon finally arrives, too soon. 6 horses to compete for the championship, the top three Lightweight and the top three Heavyweight — It’s a dream now — we go by rote — I can’t feel except I know Ronteza is flawless again — we’re through our dry work, complicated pattern — the cow is a good one, fast and true — Ronteza is not to be denied. WE WIN, thousands, or so it seems, of people flood from the stand to give congratulations and touch Ronteza or me — we are just very, very tired.

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