An Unexpected Friendship
The Quarter Horse Congress is a tradition for many. The largest single-breed horse show in the world brings together people from all over the country, from many different backgrounds and walks of life. New friends are made and old ones reunite and catch up on the past year. Most of the time, these friends are fellow exhibitors and horse-show enthusiasts.
For Carolyn Berry and Polly Vandall of Berry Fit Company, one of these friends is actually a local that they met 17 years ago. It was the Congress that brought them together, but he is not an exhibitor or a trainer or even one of the many spectators that come to see the elite competition take to the arena. His name is Ron.
“I first saw him 17 years ago, sleeping on a bench outside the entrance of the Congress. His white beard was full of frost, and his thin body curled up tight trying to keep warm in his worn clothes and a thin coat. Through the years, we have taken the time to get to know Ron. That first year Carolyn bought him a goose down coat, Ariat boots, and food. We even got him a red western shirt and added crystals (which he loved)!” Polly explains.
It is people like Ron who often walk among us, invisible because it seems easier to turn the other way and sweep such despair under the wrong. Or maybe the stereotypes and misconceptions take hold after a glance at their appearance. After all, in a world filled with such negative news on a daily basis, one can never be too careful. But Polly and Carolyn chose not to look away and in showing compassion, they learned more about Ron and that friendship continues to this day.
“To this day, he stops by the booth, talks a bit and walks on. I have had many lengthy conversations with him and found he is a very interesting person with a unique story,” she says. “He has led a rough life, not one anyone of us would choose. He lost his parents early and has been shuffled here and there. He has no family left, has survived cancer, his house burned down, he’s been homeless, beat up, stabbed seven times, and shot – all for no reason. On the outside, he looks rather sketchy, very worn down, and unkept, but on the inside, he is a good person with a kind spirit. Every year he stays to help us tear down the booth at the end of the show, then gets on a bus in the dark and finds his way home.”
It’s a lesson that many of us can take away and be inspired by. It’s a lesson that Polly is working to instill in her daughter as well, not to judge a book by its cover, and you never know what someone else has gone through.
“This year he met my daughter, and they laughed and teased and had a good day! I hope to teach her to look beyond the surface and find the good in everyone and be generous, just as my mom and dad have taught me!” says Polly. ”Ron and Sidney had a great time together. It was more than just them pulling the wagon and loading the trailer, it was watching them interact, innocent, uninhibited, and carefree. Turning around to see her pulling him on the wagon like a child and the smile on his face.”
“Ron is like the guy in the crowd on the Today Show. He is always there. Every single year! He has many stops he likes to make, mostly to say hello and ask for a pen or a business card. He loves being a part of the Congress and makes great efforts to be there year after year. He mostly rides the bus, and he keeps the bus schedule in his pocket so he is sure not to miss his pick up time. One year he had an old scooter. One year he brought his dog. I love to tease Ron, and he always tells me ‘you know, blondes have more fun.’ He enjoys the conversation and picks on me right back!”
The Congress is something that Ron likes to feel a part of, and it has become one of their traditions to see their friend every year as he makes his way back to the Ohio Expo Center.
“He spends a considerable amount of time walking around and around, deciding on what he will purchase that year, and he is always very proud to show me what he has purchased. This year it was a cowboy boot lamp. We had to wrap it up extra good so it would make the trip home. To most of us, it something very small, but to him it is the most important thing! A few years ago, he brought me a painting of a girl and her horse. He wanted me to have it because it was special. We framed it and it hangs in the office.” she recalls.
Ron never begs or asks for anything in return; he just wants to feel a part of the event. This year, he was given a Congress jacket that he was over the moon for. He enjoys admiring all of the glitter and glitz of the show clothes. For someone whose life has been anything but easy, it’s a chance to escape from the painful memories of his past, even if just for a little while.
“I asked him once ‘Ron, do people pick on you much?’ He responded and looked down at himself, ‘no, not when you look the way I do. They don’t bother me.’ Then, he went on to tell me about being beat up by 13 guys. Shot and stabbed seven times and left to die until a nice lady found him and took him to the hospital. He went on to tell me how bad he felt because he bled all over her blanket, and he even offered to buy her a new one. He didn’t know why anyone would be so mean that they would do that to him,” explains Polly.
It’s a stark reminder of the cruelness that is in the world today, but fortunately, there are people like Polly and Carolyn who took the time to get to know and help someone despite his ragged appearance. While Ron is certainly grateful for the kindness he has been shown by these wonderful ladies, they are the ones who feel thankful for his friendship as well. Even through everything he has been through, he still has a kindness and almost childlike, carefree nature about him that Polly says has truly humbled her, and she is doing everything she can to instill the lesson to her children. Appearance is much more than skin deep, and you never know what is lying just below the surface if you only take time to look.
Polly is proud to call him her friend.
“I never would have guessed that 17 yrs ago, the sketchy homeless guy on the bench with frost in his beard would be my friend, Ron!”