Melissa Dray and her horse, Buddy, came away winners at the Douglas County Free Fair on Monday.
Melissa Dray affectionately rubbed a spot on the bridge of her horse's nose as the pair stood next to the family's horse trailer.
Beneath their feet, the ground was soft and mushy from the rains the night before.
The mud, however, didn't stop the pair from taking the top purple ribbons in the showmanship and halter classes of the 4-H Horse Show on Monday morning at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. In addition, the pair snagged a top purple ribbon in Western pleasure and trail classes and a blue ribbon in horsemanship.
Grinning, the 14-year-old equestrian attributed the win to her horse, Buddy's Go Man -- affectionately called "Buddy."
A 20-year-old bay Paint, Buddy and Melissa have competed together about six years -- and they've been pretty successful if the trophies scattered around the Dray house and the ribbons that adorn Melissa's walls are any indication.
Monday's win was a nice addition.
"He was pretty much asleep in the ring," Melissa said as Buddy calmly regarded her. "After he's done his work, he'll just be calm for a while. Of course, sometimes he'll get a wild hair and jump all around, but not today."
She smiled at the animal that began gently to suck her gloved hand.
"He loves to suck on my fingers," she said with a laugh. "I have no idea why, either."
Regardless, the emotional connection between the two is evident in their interactions in the arena.
Calmly, Melissa lead Buddy into the sodden arena, stopping briefly to let the judge to look at the horse before leading him to their spot in line. When it was their turn, the pair walked through the specified pattern.
"There's a lot of little technical stuff that goes into it," Melissa said.
She explained her job in the showmanship class as being there to guide Buddy and remind him of what he's supposed to do.
To establish the bond necessary to win events, Melissa rides every day in the summer and on weekends during the school year, drilling Buddy on technical points.
Although they compete at competitions around the state, the Douglas County Free Fair is one of their favorite competitions.
"It will be fun, that's all I know, " Melissa said. "It's always fun."