By: Julia Fisher
My story begins growing up in a “non-horse” family in a small Amish town in Indiana. Independence and fire have always run through my veins naturally, which I believe I inherited from my parents. They were self-employed business owners, and my upbringing seemed to follow their ideals. The picture of never settling down if you were not happy, and not being afraid to pull up roots and move on from what was familiar was painted in my head.
Agriculture was my passion prior to owning horses. I was a 4 year member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and active in 4-H. Throughout high school my career goal was to be a large animal veterinarian. The turning point in my life that directed my attention specifically to horses was my activity in the FFA, an interest that surrounded me with people who grew up with horses and livestock. Struggling to find myself in those years, I finally felt like I had found my place within the field of agriculture.
When my heart turned suddenly onto horses, everything made sense. I wanted my own horse badly and was determined. I turned to Craigslist where I found a post describing a $500, grade, green broke mare that had previously come from an auction. I wanted that challenge. I grew impatient trying to find a logical way to purchase that mare, even selling my high school car to scrape up the $500.00 to buy her. Phantom was the first horse I looked at! I didn’t even consider any other horse listed for sale. I think I decided on the way to look at her that I would be taking her home! At the time I had no truck or trailer to make that drive, so the next day I borrowed a truck and trailer from one of my father’s employees to pick her up. I remember it was an old Chevy truck and a small, rusty, two horse stock trailer.
I arranged horse boarding with Kim Magnuson at “Heritage Farm Michiana”, located in Elkhart Indiana. To date, it has probably been the nicest barn I have been to, when evaluating the kind people and services. I chose the self-care option, where I was responsible for all the feeding, plus providing my own hay/grain.
Phantom is a naturally high strung and anxious mare, requiring an experienced rider. Gaining confidence and trust in Phantom was a learning process that drove me to tears and caused bruises nearly every day. At the time, I was uncertain how to saddle a horse and had previously never ridden one without supervision. So we began our journey together. Honestly, it sounds crazy but when Phantom pulled back while tied, I fell in love with her. She was crazy at that time and I am convinced she will always be. That is why I fell in love with her. She isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, she is quirky, opinionated, and I couldn’t relate to her more.
The relationship between Phantom and me started with the fight for respect. Often she would try her best to chase me off, rear and bite. Weeks of battling went by and I grew tired of her harassment. This culminated in a Come-To-Jesus moment that was very past due. From that point, she and I began basic groundwork, moving on to time spent under saddle. I resorted to YouTube and reference books when we ran into problems. We formed a bond when I stepped up to become the rider she needed me to be. I bought a 1997 vehicle to take me back and forth to work, school and the barn that was capable of pulling a horse trailer. I used my $600 savings to buy a small two horse stock trailer, which to me was a huge accomplishment. It was old, rusty and needed work. I remember it not even having a VIN number so I considered it was homemade. My Uncle Eugene is a smart man and made the trailer safe for me.
About this time, my family had bigger dreams than what our small Indiana town could provide for them. When they packed up and moved to their dream home in Bradenton Florida, I followed suit. I knew Florida provided great opportunities for horses, but life changing events took place and God called me elsewhere. I followed a barrel racing page on Facebook authored by an individual living in North Carolina. The page exposed a very active barrel racing community with respectful competition. Still unsure, I knew God had bigger plans for me, so I followed.
Just after graduating high school, and only 18 years old, I packed my truck and trailer with everything I owned and left home by myself. Phantom and I were NC bound in about 14 hours, ready to chase our dream. Waiting for us at our destination was a small rental house and a barn to board Phantom. Watching YouTube videos, reading books, and practicing daily, Phantom and I came together nicely. I quickly learned that the fire inside of me also burned inside of Phantom. She and I continued to explore new challenges – and together found barrel racing to be the perfect outlet! Reverting to my training books and YouTube, Phantom and I became educated in the basics of barrel racing.
It was 2 years after moving to North Carolina that I first entered any competitions. During that time, I worked on barrel pattern fundamentals and my riding skills. I sold my 1997 truck and upgraded to a newer model. I also upgraded from my old bumper pull trailer to a larger unit with a dressing room up front. Since leaving Indiana, everything now revolves around rodeo. I have a 5 year plan for myself to be a dental hygienist with a goal of providing a sufficient income and the flexible work hours to enable me to chase my rodeo dream as far as I can.
Working at a number of jobs since I was 15 I have always been able to support myself. Though currently, Phantom earns a few checks that pay the rent, or help buy our groceries. My first season of barrel racing in North Carolina began in April 2017 and it came with struggle, embarrassment and little financial return. Though I remember racing almost every weekend, I did give Phantom time off in between, but the first year was my busiest for sure. I struggled with my confidence. I joined the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) and a few local associations with my head held high. I quickly was “knocked off my high horse” so to speak, and struggled to get back up.
I’ve never questioned my horse’s abilities to go as far as I wanted her to. I believe my confidence dwindled most when I started to compete against horses and riders that had been winning long before I arrived on the scene. I had to take a step back and break down exactly how I was going to reach my goals. Piece by piece I developed a plan that I felt was both progressive and realistic. I learned that for Phantom to be in the top division, I needed to ride in a consistent manner. I also learned that it takes years and years to be in the 1D/2D (saying your horse is already physically capable.) Still today, I struggle with the last two things I mentioned. Pursuing my goal of being at the top, knowing my horse is capable of it, I’ve forgotten to enjoy being where I currently am.
In our first year of barrel racing, we consistently won the 4D almost everywhere we went. This season, Phantom and I have consistently been all over the top and middle 3D. Remembering it takes years and years to create that solid 1D/2D horse, I am reminded to feel grateful when I make mistakes because that means I have room for improvement. Recently I read an on-line article detailing the topic of rider abilities. This particular article mentioned that you couldn’t expect to be clocking in the 1D/2D while riding at a 3D/4D skill level.
My goal for the 2020 season is exactly that; to out ride myself and letting my horse work. Aside from confidence, my other struggle has been finances. Even though my parents have been financially able, they believe if I wanted something I needed to work for it. At one time I was upset over that thought, but have now grown to understand it. I believe that was one of the best things they’ve done for me.
November 1st, 2019, was our most recent competition to date. Phantom and I have been running for a couple of years now, placed within the top 10 riders in our division for our NBHA district. This made us eligible to compete at the 2019 NBHA World Championships in Perry GA. While showing in Perry, all 700 riders had an equal opportunity to run and qualify for the Finals. For our first attempt, Phantom and I ran a time of 16.225, automatically securing our spot in the Finals. I was in complete disbelief! Not that long ago, I couldn’t even cinch my own horse, so to be in Perry, becoming eligible for the Finals, had me emotional. Feeling humble, when my Craigslist horse and I returned to North Carolina, we were carrying with us two new belt buckles, prize money and unforgettable memories.
My family has been as supportive as they can. However, at the end of the day, they are not horse people, meaning I often have to be my own support. All my friends have been very, very supportive and have become my biggest fans. I enjoy a loyal and supportive following of my horse journey on my Facebook account.
After participating at the World Finals, my interview with the Official NBHA and my live run from RideTV, my page filled with shares and comments. People have told me they have been inspired by my story, which makes me feel great! Knowing I may be able to encourage the next girl who has to fight every step of the way to find success is the best feeling in the world.
As in most everything, with the positives, come the negatives. I discovered the more successful I became, the more negative others became. I came to the realization that others want you to do well, but not any better than themselves.
If there was any piece of advice I would pass along, it would be to ask yourself, “Why not me?”