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Baumgarten: Lesson learned but not forgotten

I learned a valuable lesson in my 12 years of showing cattle: If you win, you be happy for yourself and your animal. If you lose, you be happy for your friend and their animal.

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Of course, it wasn’t always easy. There were plenty of days I walk out of the showring with the grand champion ribbon, a smile plastered across my face.

There were also times when I could have showed my little heart out — to the point of being called the best showman in the ring — and it wouldn’t have done me any good. I faced a lot of disappointments as I went to cattle shows.

There were even a few times I felt that a judge couldn’t miss my heifer even if he was blind. Maybe he forgot his glasses or maybe he saw something else in another heifer. But it didn’t matter whether only my family or the entire barn thought my heifer was the best; the only person’s opinion that counted that day was the judge’s, or at least that’s what my cousin used to say.

Even so, in my eyes, my heifer was the best animal in the barn at times. I felt nothing could stop her when she strutted into the ring. Sometimes I had no doubt that she knew she was hot stuff, putting her head in the air and carrying herself with grace. The animals we showed were the cream of our crop, the best of the best. They were treated special — sometimes too special — and they all had a special place in our hearts.

I imagine that is exactly what Steve Coburn, co-owner of the horse California Chrome, felt on June 7. Totalist upset the California Chrome and his chance to seal the Triple Crown title. The $10,000 American Dream that everyone was cheering for to win the Belmont Stakes lost to a horse that didn’t run in neither the Kentucky Derby nor Preakness. We found out later that Chrome was injured out of the gate, ruining any bid for glory.

People were upset and disappointed, but apparently not as much as Coburn. He chose strong words to describe why he would never see a Triple Crown in his lifetime. He blamed the way the bid for the Triple Crown was conducted, and that a fresh horse could come in and ruin it for a Triple Crown contender.

“It’s all or nothing,” Coburn said. “It’s all or nothing, because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people that believe in them … this is a coward’s way out.”

It was obvious he meant these words — he was practically yelling his wife to not interrupt his red-faced rant.

I can sympathize with the man. I’ve been there. I’ve gone an entire show season winning around the state, only to come back to my own county fair and not even get in the champion’s circle. For such an awe-inspiring story to come to an end like this is more than disappointing. It’s a cruel lesson to learn, but what people remember is how you handle the situation.

It was bad enough that Chrome lost, but Coburn was the salt in the wound. I’d imagine that many have lost faith in the horse because of his owner’s outburst. After the weekend he did apologize, and he was very sincere, saying he wanted it so bad and he was very emotional. But no one cares if rage is fueled by hatred or love. People will remember his rant and forget the apology. And so ends the American Dream.

I’m sure there were plenty of people that thought my animal should not have one. If they did, I never knew about it. I would like to think that showing cattle, especially with my friends, made me a better sportsman. Better to be a good loser than a poor winner.

California Chrome and Steve Coburn can teach us a lesson. It doesn’t matter whether you are showing something as little as a rabbit at a show as small as the local county fair, or if you are racing in the biggest event in front of millions of people that are cheering for you. You have to be ready to lose, because you probably will. Be ready to congratulate your friends and enemies when they win. And remember, we may forgive but we never forget.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at abaumgarten@thedickinsonpress.com and read her blog at baumsaway.areavoices.com.

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.   
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