After completing his showmanship pattern Saturday at the Delta County Fair Horse Show, Jayden Braslin led his horse, Malibu, out of the arena. He was carrying a red ribbon, but that's not what he was hoping for.
"I messed up my pattern," he said with resignation. "I broke with my horse on her gate. She walked when we were supposed to be jogging, so we ended up second." The four points he earned put him out of contention for a repeat win of the high points award and a final chance at winning a custom senior champion belt buckle.
This is the last year of 4-H Horse Show participation for Braslin. The son of Heather and stepdad Andy Braslin, he started riding at age 6 and entered his first 4-H horse show at the minimum age of 8. Over the last 12 years he's competed in a lot of horse shows and in every Delta County Fair.
He grew up on the family's 129-acre High Eagle Ranch near Delta, which offers world champion stud services. They also raise sheep, goats and pigs. His younger siblings, Colbi, 13, and Taneal, 10, also participate in 4-H horse shows. All three also show pigs and sheep, and Taneal shows rabbits and goats.
They have a good teacher in Andy, who serves on the fair board and is the sheep superintendent.
Braslin, 19, is a 2015 graduate of Delta High School. Out of all the kids in Delta County who started competing in horse shows when he did, he's the only one who stuck with 4-H through high school. Not many kids do, he said. Once they start playing sports, "They kind of get weeded out of 4-H."
Participation in 4-H requires dedication and a huge time commitment. Braslin loves playing sports, but when he got to high school, Braslin traded spring and fall sports and summer baseball (Andy is also a baseball coach) for 4-H projects. Because winter is relatively slow on the ranch, he was able to compete in his favorite sport, wrestling, under Clayton Curtis, whom he describes as "an excellent coach."
He was involved with Future Farmers of America for two years and served his senior year as club treasurer. He believes FFA is an important program that helps unite high schools and provides education and increased participation in agricultural programs for kids who don't live on a ranch or farm. It gives them a chance to find out if they're interested in agriculture, he said.
Braslin said he'll miss the competition, but he's also, in a way, relieved that he doesn't have to put all the time into caring for the animals, especially since he's working full-time for H.H. Huff Excavating. "It gets complicated. I don't have a lot of time," he said.
While he can work cows and rope and do all the things required for ranch living, Braslin said he never had much interest in rodeo. His favorite events involve cow work and reigning. "That's really where I excel. I enjoy it," he said. He competes in the English division just for the all-around points.
His love for showmanship, he said, comes from Heather, who grew up competing in horse shows and competed at the World Championship level. She's a great teacher and really knows horses, he said.
Braslin will make his second trip to the Colorado State Fair & Rodeo in Pueblo at the end of August. This year he'll forego English competition and focus just on ranch competition.
While he's relieved that he won't have to put in all the time, "I'm sad it's over," he said. While he's disappointed that he didn't win in showmanship, he'll put all he's got into showing sheep and swine.
While he doesn't plan to go into ranching, he will continue to be involved with horses, and will support his siblings through their 4-H careers. He's also leaving them his breeding stock. "It's definitely a family bonding activity," he said.
Braslin said he's created some strong bonds and friendships along the way. Looking back, he said, the most fun thing about the county fair is being able to hang out with friends in the evenings after all the work is done and the competition has ended.
He also knows he didn't get where he is by himself. "I've had tremendous support," he said, some of it from friends from Montrose County. "They definitely help you out, and you help them out. We're always there for each other."