A major participant in this story is my horse Buddy.
Buddy is a 15 year old registered Paint Quarter Horse that I have owned since he was 5 years old. My sister rode him for a short time before I entered the picture, and at 5 years old, he was very green, needing a lot of training. After 60 days of contract training, he was still very skittish. He would bolt if he saw a lead rope, let alone a halter. I worked many long hours before he would even let me catch him. He was frightened when anyone would touch his face or upper neck area.
Later I discovered Buddy had been subjected to having youngsters chase and rope him, then tie him to a tree and beat him with sticks. I knew that I had a lot of work to undo this fear in Buddy. For 3 months, I worked for hours every day at a very slow pace. Slowly I began to gain his trust. For the next 4 months I worked on his training, having him walk, trot, and lope quietly. Two months after that I started barrel training with him. He loved it. We started going to barrel races in April 2011 and he did amazing. In November 2011, we went to National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) Open Worlds where he ran his heart out for me. Over the past 9 years of working with Buddy he now allows me to touch his face and neck area – I believe because of our very close bond and respect for each other. He has also allowed me to train him specifically to accommodate my disability.
The two of us have been through so much together and he has been such an amazing horse that he will forever be part of my life. He has saved me from falling off several times during barrel runs by slowing down if he senses me slipping off the saddle. After a scare at an earlier race I decided to invest in a magic seat. Since then, my confidence has grown and our connection to push harder has grown stronger. Buddy has taken such good care of me after I gained his trust and love, showing him that I intended to do everything in my power to enable him to enjoy life. I have given all I have to Buddy, and he is spoiled rotten, but I would not trade for anything in the world. He has enabled me to be the rider that I am today. I’m so thankful that I get to travel and compete on such a honest caring horse.
However, the life changing event that is the focus of this story occurred at the NBHA Open Worlds 2018 in Perry, GA. After winning the prescribed number of NBHA district shows I received qualification for a third time at my all-time favorite show. My excitement ran high for the upcoming event and road trip! I began packing what I felt was needed for the week, swapping out summer clothing for warmer clothes needed for the trip north. I couldn’t wait to escape the Florida heat and enjoy some cooler weather.
After presenting my resume and background achievements to a number of potential sponsors, four amazing organizations responded. Heavenly Horse Health, Aquatech Proclean, Snowy Mountain Horse Shop and Winning Streak Equine Therapy Services stepped forward and have become loyal members of my team at these events. Their assistance even extends to the cleaning and sanitizing of my truck and trailer!
My dad has been my travel partner since I started barrel racing at 13 years of age. As with other shows, I invited my dad to join me on this trip as well as he enjoys watching me compete. Retired and living in the Florida Keys he seldom has an opportunity to join me and participate in these events. We visited throughout the week to make sure we packed everything we needed. Dad arrived the evening prior to our departure and packed his luggage in the trailer – including his trike so he had wheels to ride around the showgrounds.
Dad did all the driving before I got my license, but since then I’ve done the driving. Due to my physical limitations I use my left foot on the accelerator, which is positioned on the left floor board. The brake is normal. This pedal arrangement is removable so others can drive the truck. In 2011 I replaced my little trailer with a 27 foot gooseneck trailer. My dad feels uncomfortable with this new setup so since then I do every long drive.
The night before our departure anxiety and excitement had me so wound up I had difficulty sleeping. Preparing for our 5 am departure from Moore Haven FL, hooking up the trailer was job #1. Actually, I don’t struggle putting the trailer on, but taking the trailer off is difficult as it takes a toll on my arm. We are working on getting an electric trailer jack to make it easier. Then we loaded Buddy – actually, he loads himself. I line him up, throw the lead-rope around his neck and he walks into the trailer on his own. Once everything was loaded, I took on the role of being the primary driver for the entire trip, stopping only for fuel and rest breaks.
Arriving in Perry GA at 4pm, we picked up our paperwork. This was quick, as I had pre-registered. We then followed the escort to our hookup. After Buddy was unloaded, we headed for the preassigned stall that he was to use for the week. After spreading fresh shavings we made sure his water bucket was full so he had something to drink – he typically does not like to drink while traveling. Only then did dad and I stop at a restaurant for our dinner.
Throughout the event, dad helped by carrying shavings in his trike, emptying the muck buckets, filling waters, helping at the trailer by cooking, walking my dog, taking pictures and videos throughout the week. I also rode in the basket of dad’s trike leading Buddy in his exercise.
The event consists of two rounds, plus a third round if you qualify. I welcomed the free time between competitions over the seven day event to rest after all the preparation and driving. In addition, it provided an opportunity to ride Buddy regularly to keep his joints and everything feeling good and warm, as it was chilly.
Before Round 1 as I headed to the warm up pen, my dad told me he had an idea. He planned to put a note together outlining my disability, Right Hemiparesis, also known as a mild case of Cerebral Palsy, a disability I’ve had since it was diagnosed at 6 weeks of age. Dad planned to ask the announcer, Jerry Byrd to add it to my event broadcast. Jerry has a son also afflicted with Cerebral Palsy.
I was extremely curious and wondered if there would be any reaction to his note. After Round 2 while I was looking at pictures, Jerry found me and asked if we could discuss my entire story. After a short conversation, he asked if I would consider meeting the NBHA Executive Director Sherry Fulmer. I was shocked but enthusiastically said yes, as I was eager to share details of my journey and the challenges I had overcome. Meeting Sherry was an opportunity I will never forget – she opened a completely new world to me.
After sharing my story with Sherry, she contacted Janie Johnson, who invited me to an interview with her on Ride TV, one of the top rodeo TV shows. In spite of my excitement, I wasn’t at all nervous. Getting to tell my story on national TV was a dream come true and I felt comfortable doing it.
After that interview with Ride TV, Tammy Sronce invited me, with Buddy, to join her for an Official NBHA interview. We met at Buddy’s stall. In our conversation, she asked how I was able to maintain my balance without using a “magic seat”. Only once in 26 years did I come close to having an accident using a regular saddle – and then Buddy, realizing my situation, slowed and shifted his weight, helping me regain my position in the saddle.
I was thrilled to be offered these amazing opportunities! But it wasn’t over. The next day Tammy invited me to an interview with Katie Navarra with the Barrel Horse News Magazine. Of course, I accepted. Katie told me she was interested in assembling an article for the magazine. I felt like I was on top of the world and it was only going to get better.
Relaxing with my dad after all these events, we discussed all that had happened in the past few days. Early the next morning Tammy asked if I would consider doing a photo shoot that same morning. Again, I agreed, and looked forward to some fun, as Buddy loves the camera. After taking many photos, Tammy had to go and take photos of the next round.
Then dad wanted to do our own photoshoot.
I couldn’t believe all that had taken place during this week at NBHA. Remembering all the people I had visited, all the interviews, the podcasts. I realized the amazing opportunities remaining ahead of Buddy and me as we headed home with a huge smile on my face. I’m so glad that my dad shared this time with me and followed up on his idea of passing his note to Jerry. Would all of this have happened without it? Thank you dad, for making a dream come true.