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A young Tyler Conrad runs with his horse at a competition. Courtesy | Tyler Conrad
A young Tyler Conrad runs with his horse at a com­pe­tition.
Courtesy | Tyler Conrad

As children, some kids missed school for doctor’s appoint­ments; others, to make it to an away game for their sports team. Tyler Conrad did it to go to horse showing competitions.

Junior Tyler Conrad is now a star on the men’s tennis team. He played in the number one spot during his sophomore spring season and posted an impressive 13 – 5 record against the toughest com­pe­tition in the con­ference. Even before his love for tennis began, however, he was working on his family farm, taking care of dozens of horses and dogs, and com­peting with them in com­pe­ti­tions around the country.

“I grew up going to horse shows, not like at the fair or any­thing, but at actual reg­is­tered horse shows,” Conrad said. “We’d go some­where with six or seven of the horses and there’s various classes, like halter, where you just bring them in with a halter and lead, and just show them to the judges. There’s driving, where you hook them up to a cart, kind of a bench on wheels, and drive them around the arena.”

Growing up, Conrad and his parents, Greg and Shelley Conrad, owned seven dogs, five cats, and 20 horses. Nearly all of their horses were Miniature Shet­lands, which Conrad described as a normal horse shrunk down to two-thirds size. 

Conrad’s parents began by showing their dogs at com­pe­ti­tions, and took up caring for horses after they had their only son.

“We showed dogs many years before Tyler was born. In fact Tyler’s dad and I met through dog shows,” Shelley Conrad said. “We started taking him along to dog shows when he was six weeks old, he loves the dogs but never got involved in showing.”

Though COVID made travel and showing dif­ficult, Conrad’s parents still take their dogs to shows today, a process that he described as a massive tour­nament-style bracket of com­pe­ti­tions to determine the winner.

At these shows, Conrad’s parents would show their Salukis, 

“They’re very slender medium dogs, they look really skinny but that’s just what their breed looks like, and they’re very, very fast,” Conrad said. “They’re extremely intel­ligent, but not in the way of obe­dience and going to fetch a ball, but more in the way that they have a lot of faculty in their own deci­sions. They’ll make deci­sions on their own based on whether they want to do some­thing or not.”

Conrad said that having such an intel­ligent breed some­times meant having to find workarounds to get the dogs to do some­thing you want them to do.

“You have to con­vince them it’s their idea. It’s like reverse psy­chology on a toddler. It’s so fun,” Conrad said. “We have one who’s three, he’s a puppy we had a few years ago. He won’t want to come inside, so we’ll trade him for his freedom outside; we have to give him a treat, then he’ll run right inside.”

Though he enjoys his family’s dogs, Conrad only ever showed their horses at com­pe­ti­tions. Going to horse shows was a family activity when he was growing up.

“Every year, we would take the motor home and horse trailer and spend two weeks at the national show in Tulsa in Sep­tember, so I got to take a couple weeks off of school at the beginning of every year,” Conrad said.

As Conrad grew up, he put horse shows aside for his tennis career.

“We thought it would be dif­ficult to miss two weeks of school once he started high school, so we dis­con­tinued showing horses and have been slowly decreasing the number of horses we have,” Greg Conrad said. “As Tyler got older, tennis lessons and tour­na­ments started to out­number the dog and horse shows, it was important for us to put Tyler’s dreams ahead of ours.”

On top of his growing interest in tennis, Conrad said that the time com­mitment and financial burden of owning so many horses also began to take a toll.

“I think I took it for granted, but now that we’re cutting back on the horses, I think it’s a good thing because they are very, very dif­ficult to take care of,” Conrad said. “Now that they’re getting older too, they’re not show horses anymore. They’re retirement horses.”

Due to the death and sale of their animals, the Conrads are now down to three cats, five dogs, and nine horses. Looking back on his time as a horse owner, Conrad said he’s happy for the lessons that he’s learned.

“Taking care of animals, it’s some­thing that has to be done every single day. They’re dependent on you,” Conrad said. “It def­i­nitely helped me build some char­acter, and taught me that there’s some work that has to be done, regardless of if you’re not feeling well or don’t want to do it.”