Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Friday, April 6, 2012

I sat and watched the sun rise over the horizon. The variety of colors was stunning, and it made me homesick. Most mornings found me cleaning stalls, getting to the barn before daylight to ensure all the horses were fed and stalls were cleaned before the sun rose. My routine was a five day a week gig, mostly to save me from getting a regular job. Dad insisted that as long as we had horses to ride and take care of that they would keep me busy enough that I wouldn’t need a job. He was right. There weren’t many extra-curricular activities on my daily schedule. Regular classes were plenty to keep me occupied besides going to high school rodeos. Keeping my grades up was top priority when it came to school, a high GPA would help me when it came time to pick colleges. My interests weren’t truly in going to get an education, or even going for the sake of getting to college rodeo. I just wanted out.
            Away from the drama, the sympathetic smiles from the folks at the grocery store…the gas station…the Mexican food joint... nowhere in our small town was I safe from the tilted heads and muted smiles. Most of them said nothing, but some were nosy, as people by nature are. “Hi honey. How’s your momma? Doin some better I hope. Ever get that mess with that horse sorted out? Such a shame that familys get into things like this. Tell your daddy hello for me, take care!” And off the concerned bystander would go, without letting me have a word edgewise. Odd as it may have been, I was better at just nodding and smiling, rather than rattling off some contrite bit of nonsense that didn’t bear repeating. My mother had raised me to have manners, it wasn’t that I was trying to be rude to the folks that expressed their concern over the situation. Quite the opposite. My manners were better if I could keep my tongue between my teeth, without letting the general populace truly know how I felt. One of my favorite songs had a line in it about how if “people knew how I really felt, most folks wouldn’t like me anymore.” That sorta summed me up on most days.
The rodeo grounds were nearly deserted. Trash blew here and there, scuttling along the tall chain link fence that ran the length of the frontage road. New road construction had threatened to take away most of the rodeos grounds here, the arena itself would've been turned into an overpass. The outcry from the locals staved off the assault, but who knew how long it would last? I shook my head as the sound of a dumpster's lid banged in the breeze.This wasn't one of the biggest rodeos, but it was one of the oldest. The long rows of stalls had once been home to dozens of racehorses; quarter horse races had once been held here year round. Remnants of the track were still visible in spots, most of the track had been converted into parking many years ago. It made my heart hurt, that so much of this place was a part of rodeo's history and would be torn to the grand for something newer...fresher, more modern. It just didn't make sense to me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I shoved my way out of the truck, barely able to stay on my feet. My left leg had been denied blood flow for an undetermined amount of time, so it started to tingle no sooner than I put weight on it. It went from a vague tingle to feeling like needles were skewering my flesh from every angle within a few steps out of the truck. I kept the phone clutched in my hand, like my life depended on it. Dad would be back soon, ready to load horses and try and get home for a few days between rodeos. It was hard to stay on my feet as my legs protested the unwelcome movement, but I dragged myself into the trailer anyway. Knowing the horses were fine put me at ease, along with the edges of daylight that were growing as I looked out the window. The sun's glow grew across the horizon, broadening, brightening as it grew. Slivers of orange, pale yellow, pink and deep red scattered across the sky as the sun itself grew ever higher. Exhaustion was starting to take hold of me, I could feel it to my very bones.

Our time here had been a whirlwind of emotions, literally the highest of highs, and more recently, the lowest of lows. Keeping my emotions in check was an ever evolving battle, I could never tell from one day to the next what a song on the radio would make me feel or think. Getting a handle on my emotions was all that stood between me and a "normal" life. Nothing had been normal since the accident, I wasn't sure if I knew how to be "normal" anymore. Sunshine found it's way through the trailer window as I pulled a sleeping bag up around my ears. Dad wasn't too high on changing and laundering sheets, so rather than having sheets on the mattress, we threw sleeping bags in there and slept in them. As the morning sun warmed my face, I was finally able to shut my mind. A constant flurry of thought finally started to slow, and I welcomed the change. Nothing in the world would bring my brother back, and there was only one solution that I could see to the problem that my family faced. Albeit an unwelcome one at that--I didn't want to think about it. Sleep finally came. Dreams were always vivid, pleasant at times, others, not so much. They were worse when I was tired, they were more realistic then, like a waking dream.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I couldn't help it. Night time was my least favorite time of the day. It was the time of day when there was nothing else to do, nothing to keep my hands busy...nothing to keep my memories at bay. It was worse when I was tired. Fatigue made me weepy, prone to melt downs that would exhaust me. I wasn't one of those girls that looked pretty when she cried; there were no small tears that rolled down my cheeks, no soft sobs or sighs. When my emotions got the best of me, they were almost incapacitating.
That night, after the performance was over, I took care of all the horses and tried to calm my chaotic mind. As long as my hands were busy, the memories stayed away. Like a hungry stray dog, they nipped around the edges of my consciousness, waiting for the first slip. The dampness of my tears on my cheeks were buffeted away by the breeze when they first fell, but as more and more came, the breeze couldn't keep up. Alone, I crawled into the passenger seat of the truck and cranked the radio up. The sounds of a mariachi band should have been enough to steep the flow of salt water coursing down my face, but it was quite the contrary. Jace's voice flowed in my mind, talking to me in spanish, lessons in how to count to 10, simple words and phrases...
The little bit of control I thought that I'd held onto was gone. Time was a swirl. Dad had decided he was sick of sleeping in a trailer and went and got a hotel room for the night, so I didn't have to hide my breakdown from his over concerned eyes. The generator was still humming when I finally woke up, there was no way my black out had lasted more than an hour or two. My arms, legs and back reminded me of the cramped position I'd just subjected them to, and protested quite vehemently as a result. The sky had turned a muted shade of gray, and I sighed with relief that the dawn of a new day couldn't be too far away. With daylight on it's way, I climbed out of the truck. A quick check confirmed that the herd was still safe and sound under their trees, hind feet cocked and eyes drooping. My phone was buzzing with missed calls and messages, but my emotional hangover wouldn't allow for any thing but sleep at that point. My finger found the power button on the side and smashed it down, hearing it power off was all I heard as my head hit the pillow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My hard work was paying off. Out of 245 horses, my big outlaw had laid down the fastest run of the day. He won the 1D among some fierce competition. We won some cash, and to my surprise, a shiny new belt buckle. It was all a blur...certain moments stood out more than others, but from the time that we pulled into the rodeo grounds to the moment I walked into the office to pick up the check and the buckle, it was all just like a movie stuck on fast forward. Colors, images, sounds--they all just spun through my mind.

The afternoon was hazy, humid even. Thick gray clouds skimmed across the sky as they threatened to pour down an onslaught of rain, but the wind kept them rolling and scuttling back on themselves. My horses were all resting under shade trees, the truck and trailer parked a stones throw from them. Hay nets and water buckets were full, they all stood with a hind foot cocked. Like the seasoned travelers they were, they knew to rest when the opportunity presented itself. My ratty lawn chair made a scraping protest as I drug it from the back of the pickup, as I tugged it free I managed to drag half of the contents of the pickup bed out at my feet. Ropes, snuff cans, water bottles, an extra flag or two- they all laid in an unceremonious heap on top of my toes. I sorted through it all, flung the garbage into an empty bucket and heaved the rest back where it came from. The bucket was emptied into a big orange dumpster, then rinsed out at they hydrant nearby. I could my hair creeping from the grip of the rubber band I'd tried to secure it in early in the day, the humidity brought out what little curl my hair possessed.
The trailer was thoroughly occupied, Dad had been asleep since shortly after he'd watched my run that morning. He'd been happy with how my horse had worked, and since he didn't have to work any performances until that evening, he'd gone and turned the AC all the way down and locked the door. I had a key in my pocket, I could get in if I wanted to but had no desire to sleep at the moment. My mind was a jumble of the past days events, like so many strands of silk thread twisted and knotted into place. I knew I needed some time to work it all out, and was intent to do so as I pulled my chair into the shade of the trees. The horses didn't seem to mind sharing. I used the trash bucket to prop my feet up on as I shaded my eyes with my arms. A breeze jostled the leaves over head, gently lifting manes and blowing tails sideways as it blew. It was like a whirlwind had finally decided to subside; the manic turning of the wheels of my mind started to slow as I exhaled.

It was sprinkling when I woke; the sun was still shining as brightly as before. The wind had picked up a little, the horses had turned themselves to it but were still as relaxed as before my nap. It had to be getting close to 3 or 4 o'clock by now, I was fuzzy from my nap. My back complained a little as I rose from my chair, reminding me that it probably wasn't the most orthopedic sound item for sleeping in.
My phone was blinking in the front seat of the truck, missed calls from mom. A smile found it's way to my face as I scrolled through the missed call list, she'd tried to catch me every hour for the last 3 hours. I knew my dads phone would show as many if not more calls than mine did. She was more forgiving of my missing her calls; she assumed I was being obnoxious and avoiding her. Part of the time she was right, the only reason she called was to be sure we were safe though. I tried not to worry her for no reason, so I dialed the number for her cell phone.

The phone buzzed in my hand as I heard her answer, someone had sent a text message just as my call to my mother connected. She launched into her usual spiel, "Where are you, how are you, is your Daddy OK, are you OK, when you coming home?" I answered each question in turn, smiling at the concern in her voice. She remembered the barrel race at the last moment, and cried when I told her how well it had gone.

Momma was my biggest critic, but she was my biggest fan, too. First to tear into me, she reserved the right to be that biggest critic, but heaven help anyone who tried to take her place. She had been to bat for me countless times since my brother died, mainly at school. I coped just fine in the everyday world, around adults that were mature for the most part. Being thrust into the high school scene just broke me to pieces; kids were just mean. Picking, poking, prodding....all to get a reaction, not caring how much devastation they caused to get said reaction. She had offered home schooling as a way out, but I had declined. If I couldn't handle a little more drama while I finished high school, I didn't see the point of attempting college. The same type of people would always be around, just like dirt on the ground. You could brush them off, but eventually they just end up right back where they were.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My horse felt good this morning, even after the long haul last night. He was the type that was always a little on edge, head up, nostrils flared, looking for an excuse to blow sideways. He was athletic enough that it was a commitment to throw a leg over him, there was no relaxing on him unless he was running as fast as he could through the barrel pattern. That was the only time he truly focused. If I didn't ride him everyday, he'd get to be such a mess that he wouldn't even walk in a straight line. Today though-he was perfect. The long ride had taken a little of his razor's edge away, but he was still sharp. Warming him up was like a dream...he was soft in the bridle, responsive to my feet, but ready to throw his tail up and scatter if I gave him half a chance. I had countless hours of sweat and tears poured into him, and thankfully my hard work was paying off. He had yet to dissapoint me, for all that he was known as an outlaw, he gave me all he had to give any time I asked him for it.

I knew how tough the competition would be, alot of the pro girls had their futurity colts with them, along with their backup horses. A big barrel race like this one was perfect for getting a colt out and getting them exposed to the sights and sounds, and was equally as good to get a feel for how a back up horse was working, whether they were on the top of their game or whether they needed a little tuning. Dad had entered me as soon as he'd heard about it, so I was one of the luck ones to be entered in the first 60 runners. They had limited their entries, they didn't want the jackpot to run long and cause the rodeo to start late that afternoon. The cut it off at 150, but it was still going to be a long day. The rodeo started at 4, which gave me plenty of time to get some sleep as soon as I got done with the barrel race and had Coolie put up and taken care of. It was cool that morning, the breeze lifted my horse's forelock as it blew between his ears. A deep, rolling breath echoed out of his nostrils as he stretched his frame into a long, sweeping trot, his strides reaching a little farther with each step. We only had about five more runners before us, so as we finished a short circle, I eased back into my saddle, dropping my weight and asking for a stop. The big chesnut horse slowed his stride, dropping his head as he rounded his back and brought his hind feet up beneath him. He heaved a big sigh as I stepped off, shaking his head and licking his lips. I cleaned all four feet, checked my polo wraps on all of his legs, cinched him up just a tad tighter, stretched his front and hind legs. He knew the drill...as soon as his feet touched the ground and I was back aboard, he began to dance. Not uncontrollable, not wild, just excited. His pace was just between that of a prance and a short trot, I could feel his heart thumping with each breath he took. As his heart started to speed up, mine did as well.
There was a long alley through the bucking chutes that led to the arena, I gave it a wide berth. My big gelding was explosive after he heard my name called...he knew when it was his time to shine. An unbroken string of words came from my mouth, my voice kept him just distracted enough that he didn't turn and bolt for the alley way. They called the name of the girl ahead of me as I slipped rubber bands around my feet, my horse stepping sideways as he adjusted to my weight. I found a quiet spot along the fence and walked him right up to it, pressing his nose against the vibrant blue pipe rails. Banners flapped against the fence, making a slapping sound when the wind blew just right.
I could hear the other horse's hooves pounding back from the last barrel as he and his jockey made their dash to stop the clock, her voice sounded above the din as she stopped at the gate.
"WHOAH, easy babe, WHOAH now, whoah."
The big black mare threw dirt in ever direction as she slid to the gate, making the gate man wince and shut his eyes against the down pour. The mare sashayed her way out of the alley, looking no worse for the wear. My heart was beating almost as hard as Coolie's now, hammering a staccato beat against my rib cage. I could feel his lungs drawing deeper and deeper breaths, he knew it was time. The announcer called my name, said the arena was clear and the timer was ready. I eased my hands down the reins, knowing every movement, every thought would carry down the leather lines to his mouth. He was a coiled spring beneath me, one move was all it took. I turned my head and he spun under me like a reiner, flat and fluid--we were headed for the alley. He dropped his head lower as I crouched over his withers, trying to balance my self against the jolt of his quest for flight. I managed to hold him to a ragged, bouncing trot half way down the alley, the echo of the speakers ringing off the metal bucking chutes filled my ears as we went.
"GO baby, turn him loose!"
My dads words were a catalyst, like putting a match to a flame-we flew. Down the alley way, his strides getting longer and longer, I pushed my hands forward, giving him as much rein as I could. He felt solid and smooth beneath me, running as hard as he could. The first barrel was less than five strides away, I rocked my weight back and dropped my left hand as my right clutched the saddle horn. He rated at just the right moment, wrapping the barrel so tight I felt the rim burning my knee as we went. A giant stride later we launced for the second barrel, slipping a little as we went into it. I threw my weight forward, trying to keep myself ahead of his momentum, hoping that he could keep going and not go down. His head shot up as he reached to gather himself, never slowing down, lever losing focus on the task at hand. An extra stride was all it took to set himself right, and off for the third barrel we went, closing the distance rapidly. I couldn't feel any difference in his way of going, no hesitation at all, I was afraid the slip may have pulled or strained something, but it didn't seem like it at the moment. The third barrel was gorgeous, almost a text book turn. He gathered himself and pushed off in one smooth motion, leaving the barrel far behind. I asked him for all he had, and he gave it, reaching, digging deeper into the ground, flying past the timer line. I was out of breath when I got him pulled up, he danced and tossed his head as I pulled my hat loose from my head. I could hear clapping and shouting, but had no clue what was going on. I rode over to a quiet spot in the warm up arena, and swung off. Cinches loosened, saddle re adjusted, I began to unwrap his legs. He was quiet again, still breathing a little more rapidly than normal, but his neck was dry to the touch and he showed no signs of the effort he'd just spent. As I took the wraps off his left side and hung them around my saddle horn, I came face to face with my knight and his big gray horse. Coolie felt the same way I did, and let a big hearty nicker out as he pranced in place.
"Fastest time of the day, good job girl!"
"Huh? Are you talking to me?!"
"Yes ma'am, did you not hear them announce it?!"

I felt my cheeks turning red, it was dawning on me that maybe the clapping and hollering had been for me and the big chesnut after all!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I was nervous.
Dad had managed to work me into the stock contractor's string of girls that night, I would be running sponsor flags around the arena in between events and taking them out with the round winners. On top of that, he'd also entered me in the big open barrel jackpot that was supposed to take place just after the slack that morning. Between those two things and my dinner date that I still knew very little about, I didn't know if I was afoot or horseback! I knew carrying flags that night was no issue, if I couldn't ride one of my dad's horses I knew the stock contractor would have one or two good solid horses I could use. On the upside, the flag gig would pay something, and who knew? Maybe I'd be able to pick up some cash from the jackpot as well.
I was glad to be getting a run in the Hawthorne arena, one of the regular season high school rodeos was held there every year. I was anxious to run my horse in the same type of rodeo set up to see how he'd handle the pressure. He'd done well so far, a handful of jackpots around home and some little open rodeos had been good for getting his feet wet to the rodeo world. He hauled great along with my calf roping horse when I took them both, so I wasn't too worried about how he'd feel when we unloaded him. We had four horses with us, Dad's two flag horses, my young barrel horse and my veteran roping horse. We had arrived with just a few hours to spare, enough time to get the horses taken care of then catch a little bit of sleep before starting all over again.