In honor of National Day of the Horse on December 13, we gathered your favorite adventures with your horse.

Elle Douglas — Nevada

We breed and show world champion Gypsy Vanner horses. This is our granddaughter, Valentina, showing BB A Diva.

Photo courtesy Elle Douglas.

Eddie Lou Burlison — Oklahoma

On Memorial Day of 1965, the highway patrol came to the ranch with the news that my dad, Hall of Fame cowboy Eddie Curtis, was killed in a car wreck on his way home from a rodeo. I was 16 years old, and my daddy was my world. It was about 4 a.m. and pitch dark outside. My first instinct was to just run.

I came out of the house. Out in the pasture, by the fence, I saw my best friend, Dusty, waiting to console me. I had no idea he would be there. He wasn’t normally up by the house in the morning. I threw my arms around him buried my face in his neck. He reached his head around and pulled me close to him. Comfort came in his love.

We had raised Dusty from a colt. My daddy and I broke him to ride when I was 9 years old. He just knew. I know God put him there that morning just for me. Many days before and since that horrible morning, we rode the pastures together trying to figure life out. Dusty went on to give us many joys: teaching my children how to ride and learning the love that only a horse can give.

Photo courtesy Eddie Lou Burlison

Lauren Clark — Texas

Lena came into my life after having a horse that had depleted me of all my confidence. I remember the first time I saw her. She had just come up for sale, and I was in the market for a new horse. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in May of 2017. The barn owners weren’t home yet, but they told me I could go ahead catch her and start saddling. With my halter and lead line in hand, she immediately saw me walking towards her. She lifted her head from grazing the green lush grass and our eyes met.

For a brief moment, I thought she might walk away after seeing the halter in hand. Instead, she walked right toward me. Right then, I knew in my heart this was going to be my horse. When her eyes met mine, it was as if she picked me just as I had picked her. We needed each other.

She was not the smoothest horse. She was not in the best athletic shape. It was obvious she had not been ridden in a long time; however, something connected between us. She didn’t get all the cues right that first ride, but she did give it her all. What she lacked in training she made up for in heart. No matter what I asked of her, she tried and tried again. She wanted to please. Very quickly, this horse was giving me my confidence back.

Over the years, Lena has done everything I have asked of her. We know each other inside and out. We have ridden miles and miles of trails together. We have done team sorting and spent weekends at playdays. We have done it all, yet my favorite is always when it is just her and I on a trail. Two best friends who just get each other. No words are needed. Just quality time together. I am forever grateful for my Lena girl! She has made me a better horsewoman.

Photo courtesy Lauren Clark

Andra Beatty — Texas

A few years ago, I competed in bull riding, bareback riding, bronc riding and rodeo queen contests.

The Chisholm Trail Days Rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, was always the best and the most memorable.

It was a typical 100-plus degree day in June. I lived in Burleson, Texas, and stepped outside to load my favorite horse, Ginger. My first event of the day was an afternoon horsemanship competition for the rodeo queen contest. Makeup on, hair curled and all dressed up for the day, I stepped outside to quickly load my horse and drive into town. Ginger was not having it. She must have felt my sense of urgency, and she refused to step into the horse trailer.

I pulled, I pushed, I put feed in the trailer, but my mare Ginger would have none of it.

Next, she backed up, pulled the lead rope from my hands and ran off down the street. Hands still stinging from the lead rope burns, I took off in a full run after her in my women’s Panhandle Slim suit. Sweating fully, makeup melting, I finally cornered her at the end of the street. I loaded her in the trailer and was finally on my way. Navigating the country roads, off the freeway and down to the Fort Worth Stockyards, I parked quickly and unloaded my horse, who is also now covered with sweat.

Everyone else was now casually headed to the arena, and I just had minutes to get ready and catch up. I brush the horse, saddle the horse, put the bridle on and then, she lifts her head up and sneezes. The biggest horse snot sneeze ever, all over me. Apparently, horses have a sense of humor, and she had the last laugh. I just wanted to cry and go home. Instead, I gathered my reins, rode across the street and into the arena to compete.

Despite the horse snot specks all over my suit, it was a lesson learned and my win for the weekend was the title of Miss Congeniality.

Photo courtesy Andra Beatty.

Haley Ruffner — Colorado

We ride out from camp long before sunrise each morning, and at the back of the string on a black horse, my vision is relegated to flashes of the dim red beam of the guide’s headlamp far ahead. Cisco walks carefully beneath me, leaving enough distance around trees that he never scrapes my leg against bark. The hunters, riding ahead of me, catch branches on their outstretched forearms or hat brims, and I listen for the scrape of pine needles on fabric to avoid them when I ride past. Although I can’t see Cisco’s expression, I know his ears are perked forward. I can feel his neck shift left and right, and he hesitates when the horse in front of him slows to step over a fallen tree or navigate a rocky section of trail. Sparks burst up underfoot when metal horseshoes slip against rock. It’s Cisco’s first hunting season and my second in the Colorado backcountry, and so far I’m thrilled with how the anxious, green gelding is flourishing in the mountains.

We have several hunters with us this morning – one fully guided hunter, plus two unguided ones we’ll drop off on the ridge to let them hunt and hike their way back to camp. As the wrangler, it’s my responsibility to take care of the horses and make sure they and their riders make it back to camp in one piece. I often ride out on our greener horses or ones that might need schooling and make trips back to camp to pick up pack horses as needed, which means I get to spend a lot of time alone in the backcountry with just horses for company.

We drop two of the hunters off along the ridge shortly before sunrise, and the guide and third hunter ride on. I turn around to take the extra horses back to camp when the sky has lightened just enough to see the tops of the pine trees. I have nowhere to be in a hurry, so I drape in my reins and let Cisco pick his way back along the ridge trail toward camp. He’s never been on this mountain before, and never navigated this terrain, except on the ride out this morning at the back of the herd. The two extra horses – both steady veterans of our outfitting group – trudge behind me, keeping slack in their lead ropes. Cisco follows the faint trail on a slight downward slope, then chooses a different track through a copse of small pines. I leave my hand on his neck and let him decide, curious to see where he’ll take us. Back under the cover of the trees, it’s still dark enough to obscure the trail and leave a glow of stars above. I leave my headlamp off – dawn is coming soon enough, and I figure I have my bearings enough to be able to find our way back to camp eventually, even if Cisco takes us exploring.

The trees grow thicker, and I stop Cisco a few times to let the two horses behind navigate tighter gaps between saplings. He catches on to this pattern almost immediately and slows his gait for a few strides when he has to wind through close-growing trees. As the sun crests over Trinchera Peak, Cisco breaks out of the tree line again and stops in a clearing. The valley sprawls out below us, sunrise casting long shadows off the edges of rocks and downed trees. Snow-capped Trinchera gleams in the sunrise, and, for a minute, all three horses and I stand and watch the gold morning light inch its way into the valley below. A small woodpile at the edge of the clearing catches my attention – Cisco has brought us to our old camp spot from years past, which he has never seen before. Did I subconsciously steer him this way? Did something else draw him to this spot? Did the other horses somehow communicate knowledge of our old camp to Cisco? Aside from the leftover wood, there’s no sign we were ever here, nor is there a real trail from this direction into our old camp. I nudge Cisco forward again, and, without hesitation, he finds the way back to camp, leaving me to wonder what goes on in horses’ minds. I hear distant gunshots once we’re back on the main trail, and my phone buzzes with a text that one of the hunters has dropped a big bull at the far end of the ridge. I water the horses, load the two pack horses with game bags and panniers, and head back up the way we came. In total, we rode over 20 miles that day, and Cisco earned his place in the hunting string.

Photo courtesy Haley Ruffner

Sarah Rieg — New York

My permit year with the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association was 2018. I threw my horse, Suede ( his registered name is Up Up Up), to the wolves when I decided to go for it. He was coming off a year break due to me being pregnant and on bed rest. Prior to that, he had just finished his (extremely short) racing career. When I entered him in his first rodeo, it was a pro rodeo. He’d been to a handful of barrel races and that was it. He shocked the pants off me when he clicked with the rodeo ground and atmosphere. Soon, we were pulling checks. As our season here in the Northeast wrapped up, I was $36 short of filling my $1,000 permit. We headed to New Jersey for a permit race to go for our last shot at filling it and to attend the award ceremony.

The morning of the divisional circuit finals and permit race, I saddled Suede up and went back to my trailer to get ready myself. As I was walking, I had a seizure (I’m epileptic). I was rendered unconscious and cracked my jaw and face on the pavement. When I came to, another girl had seen it happen and I asked her to get me back to my trailer so nobody would see me. I was incredibly shaken up and in a ton of pain. Apparently, after she left me in my trailer, she went to the arena and got some of my fellow competitors. These women rushed to my trailer, got me cleaned up and finished getting Suede ready. I was determined to make my run and I trusted Suede to get me through the run safe, sound and fast.

Sure enough, I got on him — tunnel vision, nauseated and just a little out of it. He was antsy as usual and wanting to go, so my friend, Wendy, was leading us around. I had to keep my head down because my face was a bloody wreck, and if anyone told my circuit director, she would’ve made me scratch. When my name was called for being in the hole, she looked at me and asked if I was sure I wanted to do it. I told her yes and she replied, “If you’re going to do it, ride like hell,” and she flung Suede down the alley. I only remember that run because of videos. We ended up placing second and finished third out of all the permit girls. He’s given me so much and I trust him completely.

Photo by Colleen McIntyre and courtesy of Sarah Rieg

James Lockhart — Oklahoma

No Benchwarmers Here.

When I was 5 years old, I had my sixth ear surgery. My left ear kind of grew back half-cockeyed from all the times it was basically cut off when they did surgery on the ear. I wasn’t supposed to go swimming or take any hard knocks to the head because of my bad ear. That was a hard pill to swallow for a boy growing up in the hills and hollers of southeast Oklahoma. I played little league baseball, but I was kind of a benchwarmer. I would get a little dizzy sometimes, and I think my coach was afraid I’d get hurt. I hated it when my buddies got to play and I sat on the bench. I can remember being given a trophy one time and telling dad I didn’t deserve it — I never played an inning.

My great uncle, Clarence Haynes, had a small ranch that joined the Ouachita National Forest. I began spending time with him during the summer months when school was out. He had horses and he let me ride them. He also hosted trail rides during the spring and summer. Before long, I was helping him clear the trails and make new ones. For whatever reason, the horseback riding helped with my dizziness. I still had dizzy spells, but they became less and less intense. Uncle Clarence taught me how to swing a rope on those long days clearing trails. I’d rope the brush and drag it out of the way. My first roping dummy was made from scrap lumber and a crooked stick of firewood. One summer, after a few years of clearing trails with him, Uncle Clarence put on a junior rodeo at his house. I entered all the roping events. I won the ribbon roping. From that day on, I was hooked.

I won second in the breakaway at the first indoor arena I ever roped in. My mom and dad didn’t have a tractor, so when I built a practice arena behind the house, I had to disc my roping arena with an old rototiller my grandpa gave me. I went to college on rodeo scholarships and was the vice president of the Oklahoma State University rodeo team.

I met my wife in college when I was called to shoe her horses. We’ve been married over 20 years and our kids have grown up on the back of a horse as well. Both of our children love horses. They were kind of like me — not quite starters on the ball teams, and, like me, they didn’t like being benchwarmers. They, too, chose the way of the horse. We’ve been fortunate — my daughter’s barrel horse and my son’s calf roping horse were both ridden at the National Finals Rodeo before we got them. Both horses were well past their prime, but they’ve been great coaches for my kids. Both kids have had a lot of success in the arena. There’s no benchwarmers at a rodeo, playday or even a trail ride.

This evening, as I was brushing my horse, I realized everything I have is because of a horse — my wife and kids, my college degree, even my job. There’s something about a the smell of a horse, the creak of a good saddle and knowing you can trust your horse to do its job completely. The National Day of the Horse is December 13, 2022. Let’s not ever forget what these magical creatures do for us.

Photo courtesy James Lockhart

Kye Rieff — Missouri

We called her Diamond. She was a royally-bred mare who foundered a few years before we got her. Miss Alberta, who we went to church with, had raised Diamond. Her husband had been successful raising and showing cutting horses, but had unfortunately died when Diamond was just a weanling. Miss Alberta took care of Diamond — the last physical piece she had of her husband — for 12 long years.

Somewhere in those 12 years, Diamond had a bout with laminitis. Miss Alberta did everything in her power to give Diamond the best care possible, but eventually the time, energy and finances required to care for a foundered mare took its toll. Knowing we had horses, and dreams of raising some nice colts, Miss Alberta offered us the mare.

Diamond was never a mean mare, but she wasn’t used to anyone but Miss Alberta when she first came to live with us. She was hesitant to load in the trailer and very watchful of our daughter when she was running around her, playing. My daughter, Lizzy, who was 3 years old at the time, took it upon herself to make Diamond like people.

Every day at chore time, Lizzy would dump Diamond’s feed, with me standing right behind her, then turn the bucket over and sit on it while Diamond ate. In a matter of weeks, Lizzy moved the bucket closer and closer until she could sit on her bucket and scratch Diamond on the head while she ate. Diamond had never been ridden before we got her. Her feet still bothered her a little, even with constant care, but we felt she needed to get out of the stall and stretch her legs. We would throw Lizzy up on her back and go for walks out in the pasture. Lizzy and Diamond were buddies.

We tried breeding Diamond the first year to a Shining Spark son, but unfortunately she didn’t settle. So, we had a year of Diamond just being part of the family. When our son, Tryan, was born, Diamond was even in the family pictures. The next year, we tried breeding her again, this time to Spots Heff. We were very excited about breeding and waited anxiously for the colt to make his appearance.

April 11, 2001, I was checking mares around midnight and found Diamond laying down in full labor. I ran inside and got my wife, Kasey, and the kids, and we all ran back to the barn. The kids watched with excitement as one more push brought a little sorrel colt into the world. Diamond was exhausted and took a few minutes to get to her feet. Lizzy helped me rub the colt down with a towel while Tryan kissed his nose and told him how cute he was. When Diamond got to her feet, she was everything a momma should be. As the colt nursed, we all stood in silence and soaked in the beauty and magic of the moment. Diamond weaned a big, healthy horse colt that we registered as Alberta’s Blessing. As the months went on, however, her feet got bad again.

Through sleepless nights, prayers and vet appointments, we fought back against founder. Unfortunately, we lost. Diamond had not tasted fresh green grass in years. The day we had to put her down, tears crept into my eyes as I let her graze the lush, green grass she had been denied so long. Alberta’s Blessing is still here. We hope he is everything his momma was, and will grow into our future sire. Cow horse training and ranch work loom in his future as he approaches two years old. For now, though, it’s enough that he’s just here, and a little piece of Diamond is still with us.

Photo courtesy Kye Rieff

Cynthia Frederick — New Mexico

As I led Splash to the mounting block, I tried to be prepared for anything without getting myself so wound up that he would feed off my nervousness. As smoothly as I could, I put my foot in the stirrup, stepped up and swung over the saddle, settling down gently. No reaction. Splash stood there, calmly, for a second. Then, he stepped out, and I did my best to remind him that I hadn’t asked him to go anywhere. Reluctantly, he listened, and when I felt settled, I nudged him with my heels and away we went down our long gravel drive. Head high, ears forward, he was alert to everything around us — the green junipers, the greener spring grass, the breeze, the birds — taking it all in.

He’d only been at our place for a couple of weeks, and on this first ride since he arrived, he was still getting used to a new home with new humans, a new climate and no herd. When we got to the road, he politely followed my cue to turn right, and we walked down the dirt road, past the neighbor’s house and past the next vacant lot. All the while, his head bobbed, ears forward, framing my view of the road like I’d never seen it before. Splash stepped along like he’d been there before. He stopped when I asked and turned as I asked, and I started to relax and enjoy the ride. With a brilliant, blue New Mexico sky over me, and a handsome paint horse under me, the day was approaching perfect.

We came to the end of the road to a wide-open gate with a posted “No Trespassing” sign. I know this sign is mostly just a suggestion, since there are several more neighbors living past the gate. The gate is always open, and beyond it, their road dips in and out of the arroyo several times before reaching their homes. Splash was dubious, but after a moment’s hesitation, we passed through the gate and turned back toward our own property by way of the dry river bed. Splash walked down the arroyo, passing from deep sand to rocky banks, keeping a steady pace, until we reached the first of many rusted out Detroit sandbars.

Over the years, locals have abandoned one car after another in arroyos up and down the state. Some have rested, undisturbed, for decades, sinking into the riverbed until only a taillight or part of a roof is exposed. Others have been used for target practice until they were more holes than steel. All lie at rest, submerged in sand, waiting to devour unsuspecting horses.

Splash is no fool — he saw the first car and immediately planted his feet, snorting and staring. After giving him a chance to out-stare the dead car, I urged him to pass it from a safe distance. His previous owner described him as “too smart” for his job as a dude-ranch trail horse, and he showed his smarts by keeping his head in the face of this clear and present danger. We got safely by without getting eaten, and both of us breathed a deep sigh of relief.

As the arroyo reached a straight point, I wanted to see what else we could do. Dredging up a long-past lesson, I settled myself and shifted my hands and seat, gave him a leg cue. After some consideration, Splash executed a respectable side-pass! It might not have scored points in an arena, but I felt like like we’d won a blue ribbon. Whether or not he’d ever done it before, he was willing to give it a try for me, and who could ask for anything more? As we meandered back home, Splash showed me what we could do together. His confidence, curiosity and self-control got us past the rocks, scrub and rusting wrecks, back to the road and home with no drama. It was as if this was our thousandth time out, on this very first ride.

I woke up that Saturday like a kid on Christmas. After months of texts, emails and phone calls, Splash was coming to our house! The weeks before had been a blur of preparation. I dug out and organized tack and gear I’d collected over untold years.Each piece was a reminder of how long I had hoped and dreamed this day would come — a saddle purchased sight-unseen from an Ebay seller that turned out to be a perfect fit for me (and, I hoped, for the horse I did not even dream of owning at the time), a water trough and feeder scored for free on Craigslist and Freecycle, a used halter and lead from a dusty bin at a resale shop, a collection of snaffle bits I found at an estate sale and, best of all, corral panels loaned by a neighbor two lots away when my dream of owning a horse, once so impossible, came miraculously true. Trying to keep myself under control, I checked and rechecked to make sure that all was ready. My ever-patient husband helped. Bales of hay? Check. Water in the trough? Check. Carrots and treats? Of course! Lastly, I posted a hand-lettered sign at our gate, pointing the way to our house so the delivery driver would not miss our turn.

Finally, right on time, a truck pulling a stock trailer turned down our drive. I heard Splash winnie as the truck pulled to a stop — he’d just rolled through our neighbor’s property with about 20 resident horses, and I’m sure he was convinced his driver had gone too far and gotten lost. When he stepped out of the trailer, I couldn’t help but wonder — was he looking for his old herd-mates? Was he wondering about those horses on the other side of the hill, that he could smell but not see? In his new life at our house, he’s an only horse, for now. I hope he’ll be ok with that. I’ll do everything I can to make sure he’s ok with that. I’ve taken to trolling Craigslist for entertainment, shopping remotely through other people’s random items for sale. I especially like looking at the “Farm and Garden” listings. Tractors, pigs, rusty yard art, free-range eggs, this city girl has learned an awful lot about how other folks live by seeing what they find useful and what they no longer have use for.

Of course, along with kittens for free and puppies for sale, there are listings of horses to fuel my dreams. Knowing that we don’t have the budget for a horse, I would read the ads and play “what if.” What if: mare or gelding, young or old, priced too high or suspiciously low, free to good home, but not rideable — each ad was a tantalizing possibility, but ultimately just daydreams.

Then, I scrolled to an ad for a “gorgeous horse, free to exceptional home,” with a photo of a brown and white paint horse with gentle eyes and perked ears. I had to remind myself to keep breathing, as I read the rest of the post. I passed my phone to my husband, showing him the ad without speaking. He read it, passed the phone back to me and said, “The price is right.” After a lifetime dream that seemed impossible, came a flicker of possibility. I sent my email response to the poster, and anxiously waited. The reply was what I expected — I was too late. Someone else slated to pick up the horse that weekend. I put the excitement back in a box and moved on. Two weeks later, an email came: “Are you still interested?” Am I? Am I! After a quick consultation with my husband, I responded, and the dream I’d denied for years burst into reality like fireworks.

Driving home from his daughter’s wedding, our conversation wandered aimlessly. Out of the blue, John declared, “I’d like to be able to say I can sit a horse,“ and by the time we got home, I had googled lessons in our area, found a community college riding class that was close and affordable, and we agreed we would both take lessons. I had never considered riding lessons before; riding regularly was the same to me as learning to fly, or sailing around the world — a nice idea, but not within my grasp. Now, suddenly, my horizon expanded. Each horse gave me its best lesson. Sinatra, who bit me hard. Wicked, who looked at me like I was crazy, picking myself up off the ground when all she did was give a little bounce to her canter. Clyde, who gave me respect sometimes, when he wasn’t being crabby. Reggie, who kept me on my toes, jigging all the way back to the barn. Chaser, the polished everything-horse, who responded willingly to cues the first time, every time, helping me be consistent. All the lessons, all the hours, all the challenges — I was closer to my heart’s desire, but never to the center or to the connection. Lessons are like speed-dating — full of possibility, but, with no relationship, ultimately unsatisfying.

High school was a time of glorious freedom — my friends and I all had good grades, part-time jobs and parents who knew we could be trusted. Weekends were full of adventure — trips to the mountains, the beach and, during one magic summer, we rode at a rental stable nearly every weekend. We asked for the same horses each weekend as though they were our own. Linda had ridden for years and loved to spook her horse with weird sounds. She would laugh as he jumped and ran, not really scared. Tina and I did our best to keep up with Linda, hanging on and eating her dust. In the turn toward the stables, the tables were turned as well. My horse, Smokey, who was pokey heading out, would take the lead and not let the other horses pass. The three of us careened down the trail, slowing just before the stable, so we wouldn’t get in trouble. A flashback of a sign posted: “No Galloping.”

I was my mom’s sidekick. As the youngest of four daughters she raised by herself, I was the one who went along on all errands, while my older sisters were out doing their own things. I would sit, gazing out the car window, as we headed from the grocery, to the car wash, to the library, to wherever our business took us. I’m sure my mom saw my head swivel as we passed the pony ride that had been there forever along the highway in our town. One day, we didn’t pass. Without a word, my mom turned the car into their dirt parking lot, and I’m sure I floated through as I followed the attendant to a very fuzzy pony. As he lifted me into the saddle, I was in a daze. As the pony walked around the circle, I was amazed he knew where to go without anyone telling him. He followed the pony ahead of him, making a lazy circuit around the ring. This little pony knew his job — having made it around the fenced ring, he headed right back to his station, stopped and waited for the attendant to lift me down. I think I was a little stunned — it had been a moment beyond my wildest dreams, and over so quickly. Then, the impossible happened. My little pony turned around and started off again. I had the best pony ever! He knew I didn’t want to stop, and he turned around and took me for a second trip around the ring! It took me years to realize. I didn’t see my mom pay the attendant to send me around again. I didn’t see her. Maybe it didn’t happen? Maybe I really did have the best pony ever — one who wanted what I wanted, and went where I wanted to go at just 4 years old.

We had a clay project in preschool — what will I make? There’s only one thing — a horse! A blue horse. A squished lump of clay with two stumps — no, four muscular legs — to stand on, and two pointy bits — no, two perky ears — on a lumpy extension — no, a shapely head with a delicate muzzle. I could see it clearly, and my mother and grandmother could see it, too. At 2 years old, riding my “wonder pony” in a party dress and patent-leather shoes (no chaps and boots). Springs squeaking as my horse gallops, suspended in a metal frame he could race away from, if he chose to. Clutching his neck as I sit, grinning. Some girls go through their horsey-phase and move on. For some of us, it’s not a phase; it’s part of us. Whether or not we ride, there is a horse in our soul.

Splash has lived with us for 6 months now. At 58, I am still 2 years old, hanging onto my horse’s neck as he races through the living room. I am still 4 years old, wanting to make a lump of clay into that magical partner I know a horse will be. I am 6 years old, riding a pony that knows my thoughts and agrees our ride is not over. I am 16 years old, almost grown, riding with my posse as we race toward the barn. I am 30-something years old, realizing I have met a man who shares my dream of being able to sit a horse. I am now standing in our corral at midnight, with Splash breathing in my ear, as I see my first ever shooting star. My whole life has been an adventure in the saddle. Giddy up.

Photo courtesy Cynthia Frederick

Beverly Henry — Texas

My horse was my high school graduation gift. She was a buckskin mare named Cricket. One winter day, we went out riding. Some melted snow had frozen with more snow falling on top of that, so we were walking along on a dirt road. About a mile into the woods, suddenly, she swapped ends and headed for home at full-speed. To get home, there was a 90 degree turn coming up, and I just knew we would go down as fast as she was going. Well, she made the turn, scrambling to stay on her feet. The barn was straight ahead. My dad had the tractor sitting in the doorway, with the barn doors closed on either side of it. The snow had melted on short uphill grade into the barn and I could feel her trying to decide which side of the tractor she was going to go. She chose the left side. As soon as her front feet hit the bare ground, she planted them and came to a very abrupt stop. I rolled right onto the ground over her left shoulder. Dad said there had to be a reason she did what she did, so we got on the tractor and went back to where she turned around. The reason was quite clear. Right beyond were the hoof prints stopped, there were fresh bear tracks in the snow.

Photo courtesy Beverly Henry

Jessica Gilbert — Washington

I worked on the racetracks across the Pacific Northwest for many years, until I realized it was time for me to move on. I got a “real job” and I left my dreams and passion behind. Years later, I couldn’t take it anymore, driving past Portland Meadows regularly while working but not being involved. So, the first morning of training for the 2017 race meet, I went to the backside and started chatting with an old trainer I had previously ridden for. I told him I just wanted to get on a few head a day, and he told me to go tack up the little bay colt in the first stall. He was a bit skittish, but kind, and when I got that leg up, I knew I was back where I belonged. He was an absolute gentleman out on the track. When I brought him back to the barn, I couldn’t stop smiling. I had found a piece of myself I had lost. The trainer then told me I might remember the colt’s dam, One Fast Cowgirl. I sure did. I had galloped her regularly years before for another barn. She had been a favorite of mine. I formed a bond quickly with the little bay colt, and even came to help paddock him for his first three races. I had to work the day he ran his fourth time and he got claimed. I never galloped a horse at Portland Meadows again. I was heartbroken. Fast forward to December of 2018 at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fallon Taylor told me she wanted to compete in the 2019 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover show and she wanted my help finding a horse she could win it with. I looked her dead in the face and told her I knew exactly which horse she needed, it was just a matter of getting him bought & to her. We were able to purchase him off the track in January and got him shipped to Texas within a couple weeks. Fallon worked hard with him that spring and summer. In October, they went to the Kentucky Horse Park and were not only the champion Barrel Racers, but were also voted the Overall Makeover Champions. I saw Fallon again at the 2019 NFR a couple months later and she asked me if I wanted to bring that little bay colt home for good. DUH. We arranged for shipping once again, but this time, he was never going anywhere without me again. When he stepped off the trailer, I was still in disbelief that he was really mine and was finally Home. We have worked so hard together these past 3 years and clawed our way from the bottom of the 5D to regularly placing in the 1D-2D event at large races. He makes my heart so happy and full everyday. My little bay colt. Cowboy Swagger.

Photo courtesy Jessica Gilbert

Jennifer Boyd — Arizona

My late father had bought our second horse. The horse was from a community called Esketemc (Alkali Lake, British Columbia, Canada), where it’s known for cowboys & ranch land. This big beautiful horse was a gelding and a former saddle bronc used in rodeos. We were told the history of the horse we named Country Boy, or “C-Boy.” I heard my father was the first to get bucked off after he bought him, wanting to see if the horse still did his job; he did. I was about grade 11 at the time my girlfriend and I decided to go riding horseback. She rode a beautiful, big Quarter Horse paint with such stamina. I saddled up Country Boy, unafraid of the possibility he’d buck me off. As we were in beginning of our horseback adventure for the day, two young guys talked us into giving them a short ride by doubling. The Quarter Horse paint starting leading with my friend, and I followed behind. I was feeling positive that Country Boy didn’t even buck once with the guy I was doubling with. Both guys had no experience riding horses and just wanted a short ride. So, about few short minutes into our ride, I looked down at the ground and it seemed like I was bungy flight. My rider passenger was bucked off, while Country Boy was full rodeo circuit bucking. I was still riding past 8 seconds. I must’ve rode for about 3 minutes when I looked down at the ground and that’s when I was thrown in the air — a full 360, about 6 feet and landed on the ground right beside Country Boy. I couldn’t breathe for few minutes and my glasses were broken in half. My passenger was still laying 5 feet away, groaning on his back. I found out after we both could breath that he was holding Country Boy in the flank with both his feet, trying to hang on, and Country Boy went rodeo-saddle-bronc-mode. It’s the unexpected experience which creates such detailed memories. We owned our first horse my late father bought and she was a beautiful purebred Quarter Horse. She would’ve made a time breaking in barrel racing. Anyway, that’s another story. I did better riding a horse that bucked than a steer who threw me off the second I came out of the chutes. The picture I submitted is my mother. I’ve lost pictures of Country Boy, so I honor my mother, who grew up with horses. I chose Arizona to honor Ty Murray. I just wanted to share my story. Thank you.

Photo courtesy Jennifer Boyd

Jerilyn Johnson Houghton — Missouri

The Reunion
by Jerilyn Johnson

One of my favorite memories from my childhood days on my grandparent’s ranch was the Birdie-Patsy reunion. Both fillies were born in 1961 on my grandparent’s Currie Acres in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The two were half-sisters, sharing the same sire, a Quarter Horse stallion named Ready Money. Birdie was out of Grandpa Roy’s mare, Lady, and Patsy’s dam was Janie. Birdie and Patsy were pasture mates and spent two years together until the day Grandpa gave Birdie to my family and we moved her to our homeplace. A small but mighty bay with a white blaze, Birdie became a riding horse for my sister, Ellen, and me. We competed on her in 4-H horse shows and rodeos and took lots of trail rides. She proved to be a good broodmare, as well, and raised seven foals for us during her lifetime. Grandpa kept Patsy, who grew into a big sorrel beauty, as his riding horse for cattle work and competing in area horse shows. He also kept his beloved old paint mare, Judy, but soon sold broodmares Lady and Janie. After Judy was killed by a lightning strike on the ranch, Patsy lived alone at Currie Acres for the next decade. In the spring of 1975, I decided to let Birdie enjoy a little time off. My mother, Dee, and I trailered her four hours up to Currie Acres. Grandpa came out to greet us when we arrived. He looked her over, as keen-eyed horsemen do, and then softly stroked Birdie on the neck. I asked him where he wanted me to put her. He replied, “Patsy is in the West 80 pasture, better put Birdie with her.” It was more than a mile to that upper pasture, located at the far West side of the ranch. We would need to ride through the big pasture where Grandpa’s herd of Hereford cows and their black baldie calves were grazing the tall native grasses of the Flint Hills prairie. I didn’t have a saddle with me but grabbed a hackamore from the back seat of my mother’s station wagon and hopped on Birdie bareback. We walked down the barn lane, past the barn corral, and onto the winding rock road. We first passed by the creek bottom ground where Grandpa grew alfalfa hay crops. The next stop was the flowing creek where I let Birdie get a cool drink. She took a couple of long sips, then lifted her head high with ears forward. The next thing I knew, we were taking off like a flushed prairie chicken, up the creek bank and through the big pasture. I could not rein her in, so just held on tight for the ride. Birdie kept going faster and faster, jumping ditches and focusing straight ahead. When we reached the gate to the West 80 pasture, there was Patsy, nickering to us and anxiously pacing on the other side of the gate. I dismounted, opened and led Birdie through the gate, and let her loose. She and Patsy met nose to nose and then galloped off together like two frisky fillies. It had been 12 years since they had seen each other, but apparently horse friendships last forever.

Photo courtesy Jerilyn Johnson Houghton

Toby Cross — Texas

It’s not a single day adventure but, rather, getting an arena-sour, runaway horse safe and solid enough for me to rope on for a branding and arena ropings. It has been a 2-year process, and I am still on the adventure with him.

Photo by AliciaMarie Photography and courtesy of Toby Cross

Cynthia A Sitko — Ohio

I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and running on my Bold Ruler Appendix that was given to me by the Peters Gallery owners around 1999. I was running on an arroyo when, suddenly, my horse slid and stopped in his tracks at a 90 degree corner.

A real cowboy was riding the other direction and I said, ”Hi, my name is Cindy.” He said, “Boy, you’re a pretty good rider! My name is Henry McKinley and this is my land!” Oops. We continued to ride together and he invited me to his ranch to watch him rope cattle. It became a great friendship. I moved longhorns with him — 400 cattle on 35,000 acres of BLM land. I always rode English and the cowboys would say, “Boy, you sure can ride!” I couldn’t believe I had to go 1,500 miles from Ohio to get a compliment!

McKinley was famous for being one of the last cowboys to move cattle from Texas to New Mexico. He was in a magazine in Europe for his exploits. He grew up on a ranch next door to Georgia O’Keefe and his dad had movie stars like John Wayne come to see what real ranching was like. The day I put my Appendix down, he took me to his cattle ranch and showed me around to keep my mind off my heartbreak. He died a few years back. I will never forget him. My roommate teased me that he put me to work instead of shooting me for trespassing!

Photo courtesy Cynthia Sitko

Oscar — Missouri

I have recently acquired several stories involving my father’s equestrian history, coming from his best friend and fellow jockey of old, Jimmy Collins. His stomping grounds were Park Jefferson Race Track in Sioux City, South Dakota. They first met while racing each other back in the 1950s. It was exciting to hear these stories right from the horse’s mouth (sorry, had to do it), and you could tell Jimmy remembered them vividly by the way he told them — with much life and with much color.

At Park Jefferson Race Track, Jimmy and my father were in a post parade before a race. Jimmy, getting a bit parched, asked my father if he wanted to race to the gate for a beer. My dad stopped at the gate with no problem, while Jimmy flew past it. Only moments later, they had to race the same horses in an actual race.

Another time at Park Jefferson, my dad had won the first race. There was a horse in the 8th race that couldn’t run due to a leg injury, so they had switched that horse with the one my father had just jockeyed for the win seven races prior. He won it again.

These next stories are ones I had forgotten to mention earlier, but are certainly worthy of noting:

My father gave me a girth that belonged to Triple Crown-winning jockey Johnny Longden. He received it in the 1950s on the day of Kentucky Derby. I donated this girth to the Kentucky Derby Museum, where they also displayed a picture of my father for the donation. In the fall of 2010, my family and I went to see the presentation of his picture at the museum in a glass case beside another picture of Nick Zito. It was wonderful to see him get the honor he so greatly deserved for his dedication to the sport and talent at training fantastic jockeys. He trained people such as Keith Asmussen (his son, Steve Asmussen, is currently the No.1 trainer in the world, and his other son, Cash, is a very famous jockey). It was a heart-wrenching experience. After the day was winding down, we had watched a film at the museum about the deep history of the Kentucky Derby and its participants. Before the credits rolled, it faded into a blanket of roses. I could not help but think and smile knowing my father finally got the shower of roses he deserved.

When my parents were living in Indian Town, Florida, my dad was training horses in Fort St. Lucie, Florida. It was there that he exercised horses for the famous Ogden Phipps and Lloyd “Boo” Gentry. He was close friends with Boo Gentry, so one Thanksgiving evening, my parents had dinner with Boo as well as George Oliver, the leading professional polo player from the 1940s into the 1960s, at another exercise jockey’s home. They stood outside in the yard that evening, watching army tanks come by as the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on in 1962.

Jimmy Pam Walker, I have a funny story for you. Oscar, years ago at Ponca, my dad raced your dad. My dad was on a bicycle & your dad was riding one of Clayton’s horses. They raced 30 yards and my dad got a 15-yard head-start. My dad said as Oscar went by him, hit him in the back of the head with his whip, and he fell of his bike. Dad told me Oscar won all 10 races at Newkirk, Oklahoma, in the same day. Oscar, your dad was one of the best riders that ever threw his leg across a horse, and all you ever saw was his ass!

Photo courtesy Oscar

Miranda N. Prather — Maryland

My favorite journey is the entire time I spent with Blue Blue Sea. Although he was born of racing royalty, he never caught on as a racehorse. When we found each other, I bought him right off the track. The plan was to do some jumping and dressage, and it all started out fairly well. Then, in 2006, he experienced five colics in 4 weeks, without any understanding of what was causing it. I took him to a teaching hospital that diagnosed him as suffering from a Crohn’s-like disease in horses. I was told he would only have 2 years at the most, and encouraged to euthanize him.

Instead, I took him home and, with the support of my local vet, I began to reach out to many vets and researchers from Georgia to California. Finally, we found a nutritional vet from University of California, Davis in Davis, California, who worked out a special diet. Blue went on to live another more than 7 years. During that time, we worked on tricks he could learn, and we shared his story on social media, where he inspired people all over the world to follow their dreams and never give up. He was my heart-horse and the years I had him were the best horse years I’ve had in a lifetime of horses.

Photo courtesy Miranda Prather

Piper Bennett — Texas

This is a story about my grandad and his buckskin, Cinammon. Cinammon was an Oklahoma-bred ranch horse. My grandad rode him in the 1970s, working cattle on his ranch in Cimarron County, Oklahoma. I grew up on stories of Cinammon and grandad’s ranching adventures. That horse and my grandad were to me what Roy Rogers and Trigger were to the Western world. When my grandparents retired and moved to town, grandad gave Cinammon to me to keep at my Dad’s farm in Texas. I was about 12. Cinammon was my first horse and my absolute favorite! I rode him as often as the sun allowed and he took great care of me and taught me how to take care of him. In July of 1987, my grandad celebrated his 88th birthday. I was 20, and Cinammon was 25. My cousin and I drove down to my dad’s place, picked up Cinammon and drove him back to Oklahoma, so my grandad could see him. He was so happy to see his old horse. He got out his gear, oiled down his bridle and saddled up that horse with the same Potts Ingerton saddle he had made for him in the ’70s. He rode him to the church to show everyone. We all followed closely in the car in case one of them had a heart attack. I don’t know who had more pep in their step, Grandad or Cinammon. That horse was so happy to see my grandad and they almost trotted the whole way. At the end of the day, we all cried as we had to convince Cinammon to load back up so we could take him back to the farm. He had to be led in by my grandad, because he refused to load on his own that evening. It was the last time we saw them together. I left that month for the Air Force. Cinammon lived until he was 28 and my granddad lived until he was 92. Seeing them together was the best day of my life. I now have the saddle, bridle with the Crockett Renalde bit and the Crockett spurs and chaps he always rode with. While stationed in Japan, I found a guy who was talented enough, in my eyes, to draw a copy of my favorite picture of my two favorite things in this life. I had this one commissioned and another from the day in ‘87 with the same gear.

Photo courtesy Piper Bennett

Krystal Cates — Texas

Well well well, where do I begin? I must’ve been about 12 at the time. You could say my childhood was a little less-than-ordinary: dysfunctional family, tossed in foster care and finally adopted by my half-brother’s family.

Fast forward: I am about 10 years old, and my dad purchased a Quarter Horse gelding yearling for my stepmom. She had no real interest in him, but I was head over hooves. He was sorrel, flaxen mane and tail and three white socks. He had a sense of adventure they couldn’t get enough of. My dad lived about a half-mile from my grandparents, and we live next door to the greatest horseman I know to this day — Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom has two older daughters, my cousins that always let me tag along. I would ride with Uncle Tom and my cousins, and I was telling him how much I really wanted to start Bear, the new horse my dad had gotten. Of course Uncle Tom started his magic. Next thing I knew, that horse is over at our house. For more than a year, I worked hard, paid for his hay and, with the help of Uncle Tom, put a good start on him. The gentleman at the local feed store let me put some tack on layaway and even let me use it before I had it fully paid off. We had an unbreakable bond; I couldn’t help but believe he was my soul-horse.

Convinced this guy was mine, I came home one day after school to notice that he wasn’t in his pen. Upon investigation, I found out my dad had given a cowboy in town permission to use him, and he was over at the bar my dad and stepmom ran. I asked Granny for a ride over and, sure enough, there was my pride and joy standing tied and saddled, hitched up at the bar. I boldly walked inside with my hand on my hip and publicly announced the cowboy who mistakenly came over and got my horse could remove his saddle or I would leave it on the ground for him.

I’ll never forget that lanky cowboy wheeling around to see this little munchkin with all the attitude in the world staring him down. He kind of giggled and said, “Well excuse me, ma’am, but your father said that I could use the horse.” I replied, “I pay for his feed, therefore, here in the state of Texas, I own him via bill of feed rights. So, like I said, you can take your saddle off yourself, or I’ll leave it on the ground for you.” He just smiled and patiently followed me outside where he apologized for borrowing my horse. He took the saddle and his bridle off. We had such a bond, all I needed to use was a halter. He offered to give me a leg up, but before he could finish his offer, I was already on Bear’s back and we were on our way home.

Never get in between a girl and her horse.

Photo courtesy Krystal Cates

Casey Kramer — Illinois

I adopted my Mustang, Chief, in September of 2019. Chief was a 4-year-old gelding from Nevada when I brought him to the Chicago suburbs. This was my first experience with a Mustang. It was the greatest challenge of my life, but one that taught me invaluable lessons. That first year, Chief and I fought, loved, learned and, eventually, became best friends and almost inseparable.

Chief taught me several life lessons. 1) Trust is the main ingredient to relationships — a horse (and people, too) needs to feel confident in your intentions. 2) Patience and persistence — Galatians 6:9 tells us to never get tired of doing what’s right, and Chief taught me that lesson in real life. Keep going, don’t quit on your horse and he won’t quit on you. 3) Celebrate small victories — it’s easy to force a horse to do something, but true horsemanship comes from your quiet teaching and celebrating with your horse when they get the right answers.

In Chief, I found a lifelong buddy. He made me a better horseman and a man. In May of 2022, I loaded up this once wild Mustang and took him to my family ranch down in Oklahoma, where I rode him in our family’s annual gather and branding. Chief is everything I wish to be — honest, tough and full of character and personality.

Photo courtesy Casey Kramer

Heather Fehr — Iowa

The best adventures, for us, are always in the trials! Our favorite place, so far, has been Eminence, Missouri.

Photo courtesy Heather Fehr

Sonia Kudalsky — Colorado

My name is Sonia Kudalsky, and I live in southwest Colorado with my three Quarter Horses. Horses have been my passion since I was 3 years old, as my father is a horsemen as well. One horse I’m particularly close with, Whiskey, is a 5-year-old registered paint horse that I started as a 3 year old in 2020 during the pandemic. He is the first colt I have ever started, and we share a very special bond. One of my favorite adventures with Whiskey was being able to take him on the cattle range, where I am currently working as a range rider for Twin Mountain Cattle Association. In the summer, the local cattle ranches in this association graze their cattle on around 50,000 acres of National Forest.

My job during the spring, summer and fall is to check grass, water springs and troughs, pack salt, fix fences, move and doctor close to 2,000 head of cattle.

Every day, I wake up at 5 a.m., before the dawn, to ensure my horses have enough time to eat breakfast before we head out for the day. I saddle my horse, pack my saddle bags and make sure I have all necessary items I may need — fencing pliers, bullwhip, food, water and a good slicker — and head out to the range.

I meet up with my mentor and co-worker, Cathrine Keck. She was born and raised riding range, and has been doing this work for over 25 years. Before she rode the range, her mom and dad rode it, and her sisters and daughter do this work as well. I feel privileged she has been training me and teaching me all she has to know. Many of these lessons must be passed down generationally and taught first-hand.

We ride out together with her three Hanging Tree cow dogs, Edy, Aby and Kali. They are always eager to get to work. We always have a “plan” for the day, but things don’t always go as planned. Then, the plan sometimes changes or priorities get shuffled. The weather does not always cooperate, either. In this line of work, especially in the mountains of Colorado, one must always be ready for all types of weather — burning sun, cool winds, rain and even hail or snow.

In the West, we always pray for rain. Mother Nature delivered this year, sending rains unseen for many years in this area. This, in turn, caused flash flooding on the range, drastically changing the landscape. On the bright side, it made the grass grow abundantly. It also created some unique challenges. The land was cut and ravines deepened. Places where we traveled on horseback were no longer passable. Roads were taken out with massive soil and rock erosion. The water even picked up an entire trough and moved it down-slope. It certainly created more work for us, and the cattle were on the move constantly, with us not far behind on horseback for most of the year. I keep track of and log my miles and areas I ride. I average about 200 horseback miles a month. One thing is for certain: the miles I put on my colt, Whiskey, out on the range were invaluable. I was able to expose him to so much. We get to spend a generous amount of time together. We also have a job to do, giving my colt a sense a purpose. It has also made him a safe, smart and sensible gelding with a great personality. The best part is: I know there are still more adventures to come, as I ride my journey. Happy trails!

Photo courtesy Sonia Kudalsky

Jason Black — Tennessee

Otis and I are a part of the Broken Road Mounted Search and Rescue team. We absolutely love the training.

Photo courtesy Jason Black

Cody Goodson — Connecticut

There have been so many adventures; I would say it’s more been the honor of raising my boys around these beautiful animals that have made them who they are today. I would like to submit an essay my son wrote when he was in 7th grade; he is now 22 years old. Cody’s essay was picked to be published in Creative Communications’ book. If you are a horse person, please know Cody may have taken Dad out of context.

Horse Riding

One of my favorite things to do is ride horses. If you put a lot of hard work and effort into learning how to ride, you can do some pretty cool things.

I learned how to ride horses because my dad learned how to ride and teaches other people how to do it, too. The first time he showed me how to ride, I thought it was so fun. I think anybody would feel the same way. One thing you can do when you learn how to ride is jumping. I’ve only watched people jump obstacles with horses. It still looks like a lot of fun, though. In my opinion, the best thing to do when you know how to ride is find a long trail through the forest and go trail riding. It’s relaxing and you can see some cool things in the woods.

People do a lot of other things with horses. Another example would be riding cross-country. It seems like an interesting thing to do. It would probably take forever, but it would be like a trail ride for days. I heard from somebody that, if you take a horse cross-country, you have to retire it after that, because their hooves get damaged. So, if you go on a cross-country ride, make sure you know that you’ll have a pet, not a riding horse, after that.

If you ever decide to go riding, always be safe, but have fun!

By Cody Goodson, Grade 7

Photo courtesy Kimberly Goodson

Bruce Clark — Colorado

My brothers and I have a good friend who invited us to hunt at his cabin, which is situated at the end of the road above Ouray, Colorado. To drive into his place is to love a one-lane, narrow road made of dirt and rock. Most people would call the drive more adventure than they wanted. To pull a 20-foot horse trailer up to his cabin takes skill and perhaps a lack of fear of dying.

Anyway, surviving the road trip in was the easy part of our adventure, so I will get to my story. His cabin was on Cutler Creek, and it was rustic to say the least. My brother and I received hand-drawn maps of the trails in the area, and each had their own story our friend told us about that night in the cabin. We decided a great ride would be round-trip, up to the top of Boyeds Meadows and down Dexter Creek Ridge, past the old mine and back into camp. Our friend agreed, but mentioned he had not been over on that ridge in a while.

Our ride up to the top of Boyeds took more than 2 hours. There, we took a right on the ridge and headed to the top of Dextor Creek. We found the ridge, but not really a trail. One did appear, though. To the left, it was very steep for 50 to 60 feet and then it was a cliff that dropped into the creek maybe 500 to 600 feet below. There was no going left, so staying on top or going to the right were the only options. Soon, we found an old, narrow trail off the top of the ridge that entered the timber-covered hillside to the right. “Perfect,” we thought, as we were now 5 hours into our ride with no desire to turn around. We couldn’t even consider the thought of telling our friend that we turned back. So, off into the timber-covered trail we went.

Now, I may need to explain what “steep” was in this situation. There was no way to get off the trail and ride parallel to it. You could not get between the trees. The hillside was so steep that the trunks of the trees were just around 2 feet apart.

Now, wouldn’t you know it, we started hitting down-timber on our trail. We are mounted good — my brother on a mountain-wise mule and me on a high-dollar team roping head horse. Why am I on an arena horse in that kind of country? Well, because “Tank” had previously been used to chase wild horses on the BLM roundups. This stout horse had a great mind and he was very sure footed, and I was about to put both of those traits to the test. We hit a log we could not get over and neither one of us wanted to turn around and go back through what we had already overcome. You see, going over big logs on a downhill trail is one thing, but going over the same log heading uphill is another. We had no saw with us, as our friend never advised that we should carry one. We were on a joy ride, after all, right?

Well, my older brother lead the way “leading” his mule, if you can call it that. It was more like a controlled fall, or slide, and down the hill he went. We stopped at a tree where he could step left with is mule.

My turn. Tank was 1,350 pounds of rock-hard, stand-up horse. So, when we left the trail and I fell on my ass and was sliding down holding the reins of my horse, you could imagine my concern when my feet planted and I came to a stop. As I lay there in an almost-standing position, because the hill is so steep, I had the large front legs of my horse on either side of me, his head over the top of my right shoulder and his tail buried in the hillside (and I hoped it was anchored there). Now, I see where my brother and mule turned. I even see them on the trail again, maybe around 20 feet away. Now, I have never been accused of being a smart man, but I did know that huge horse was not going to stay where he was for long. Keeping a hold of my reins, I did my best to leap sideways as far as I could and then keep scrambling until I reached the trail. I love that big horse. He came right with me and never stepped on or trampled over me, though he had every opportunity to do so.

That was the last big log we encountered on the trail, and we made our way to the old mine and down the draw to the cabin. Our friend came out of the cabin when his mule started sounding off at our arrival. His greeting was that he did not expect to see us so soon, because no one had been on that trail in years and he didn’t think we could make our way through it. Before we sat down for supper to regale our story, as we were just dismounting, we mentioned it being pretty steep and logged-in. Our friend just laughed said, “Yep, it can get pretty salty up there!”

Photo courtesy Bruce Clark

Craig Fisketjon — North Dakota

This photo was taken while halter-breaking a 4-H steer. I halter-break them like a colt. At the shows, we had the best leading steers. They weren’t taught to pull, but give to pressure Cattle are a lot smarter than people think.

Photo courtesy Craig Fisketjon

Aaron Betts — Texas

While traveling the world, I’ve had many experiences. Peru was amazing, as I embarked on a journey riding horses there. The equine community was amazing as I became friends with a Peruvian Paso horse who was a multi-champion in paso llano competition.

From ages 5 through 7, I was in foster care. At age 7, I was adopted. I’m thankful I’ve been afforded the opportunities I have, being that the odds were never in my favor from my unfortunate circumstances. Horses and bucking bulls are now an intricate part of my life.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” — Saint Augustine

Photo courtesy Aaron Betts

Bob Franzi — California

My mom kept after me to bring by my horse Cochise. So I did, and at 101 years old, that’s all she talks about.

Photo courtesy Bob Franzi

Courtney Joiner — Idaho

I began doing obstacle course challenges with my yearling this year through Equine Trail Sports. They offer in-hand classes, and I felt it was a perfect opportunity for training and to expose him to new surroundings while he’s still young. Our first one was in April down in Pasco, Washington. After reading through the instructions for all of the obstacles, I chose to do one of them at the advanced level. The instructions were to start in the middle of two barrels and back your horse in a figure-eight around them. I felt a tad arrogant doing the advanced level with a 1-year-old, especially since it was our first time doing an event like this, but I knew he could do it based on how I’d been training him. After we completed the obstacle, I felt really good about how he did and actually shed a few “proud mom” tears. Overall, we won a partnership award, voted on by the judges, and he scored a 10/10 on that obstacle. It was a very validating weekend for me in that his training is working. Especially since he’s the first horse of my adult life I am training all by myself.

Photo courtesy Courtney Joiner

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