It was my final year as a youth competitor. Up to this point I have always been in the youth divisions at all the barrel racing competitions my mother and I have attended. A known opportunity highlight in Ontario for youth riders is the annual Ontario Saddle Club Youth Team Tournament. Saddle clubs from all over the province bring youth teams of their best competitors to compete in various horse and rider competitions. Each team has three riders for each division; English, western pleasure and games riding. We games competitors have three classes; barrels, poles and the stake race. Therefore, only three opportunities to prove ourselves as the best youth rider. At our small clubs we are usually only up against ten to fifteen other riders per class. At this tournament, there is an average of fifty to sixty riders in each class; 2013 saw fifty four competitors in the games division.IMG_9777

Barrels was the first and only class on the Saturday of the long weekend in August. My horse Rusty and I we’re too go in the pen about halfway through the class. We waited anxiously as we listened to the times being announced for the other competitors ahead of us. My dad has always told me, “If you’re not nervous you’re not ready”. In that case I was more ready than I have ever been considering half my body was numb from my nerves. I walked Rusty around a warm up pen as we waited for our turn. This was my fourth time attending this tournament and it was also my last. I have placed in the top ten in other years, but I have never been in the top three in all of the games classes in one year. The few weeks leading up to this weekend I stressed over the thought of this being my last youth year and my last opportunity to attend this tournament. I had previously decided, I wanted to go out with a bang.

Rusty danced with excitement and anticipation beneath me. My own excitement that now matched his smothered my nerves. I kept my hands quiet and guided him into the shoot. We made our way down to the end of the shoot and stopped. I patted Rusty’s neck talking to him quietly. I then recited our traditional pep talk. We must go in, do our best and most importantly, have fun. My legs just regained feeling and my heart pounded as though it was going to leap from my chest. I took a couple deep breaths. When I looked up my eyes focused on three barrels, and we were gone.
Our adrenalines pumped as we flew to the first can. When I was looking at the second can I knew we had just done a beautiful first. I checked him at the second and at some point while turning I lost my left stirrup. We shot from the second can and my left leg burned as it strained to hold on and kick. I could hear the cheers of my family and friends in the crowd. The adrenaline was incredible. We got to the third can and before we knew it we were on our way home with the crowd cheering us on. 17.1 seconds. We took hold of first place. Now the really hard part, we had to wait for the rest of the riders to compete. The last rider entered the pen. As of this point we still held first place. As the last competitor raced out of the pen with yet another slower time than ours we leaped with joy. We finished with a full second gap between us and the rest of the competitors, victory was ours. The rest of the day Rusty was pampered and given many deserving treats.

I made sure I got to bed at a good time that night so I was well rested for the day ahead. My alarm clock rang and I was up prepping for our first class of the day, pole bending. We were about thirty-seventh out in poles. We had a great morning getting ready for our run. Finally the class began and once again we listened to the times being announced. A majority of 23 second runs. Many riders knocked poles and I had to tell myself to block it out. I occupied my mind with focusing on a time for Rusty and me to try for. I first thought we should aim for a 22, but 21 seemed to want my attention. I pondered the thought of us running and 21. Was it realistic, I wasn’t really certain. I kept the number 21 in my head, it gave me great motivation to ride my best. Our number was finally called, “Nine”.

Again we pranced our way into the pen. After our amazing barrel run we were fueled for another shot in that dirt pen. I settled Rusty down as best I could and recited our pep talk. Even if we didn’t run a 21 I believe if you do your best, you’re a winner no matter what. With my quo Rusty jolted forward. The wind rushed against my face. All I could think was, wow…this is fast. I shut him down and we whipped around the first pole. I remember every moment like it were yesterday. Rusty worked like a champ through the poles. I was with him every second guiding him through. I have never felt more in sync with Rusty, it was incredible. The crowd roared as we turned the last pole and raced home. 21.4 seconds. We did it. A rush of excitement and happiness overwhelmed me. IMG_0088

As the class continued we cooled out and waited. One competitor raced out and the announcer began, “21… And my heart felt like it stopped…point 7 seconds. The last competitor raced out of the pen with yet another slower time than ours. We won again. I was in shock and still feel the same way now. This was one of our greatest victories. Pole bending has always been a class which I have struggled with. Winning it at this large scale tournament was amazing beyond words.

After a long well deserved lunch break Rusty and I headed back to the pen. With two victories under our belt the pressure was greater than ever. People began to take notice of us; they congratulated us for our victories and questioned me about Rusty’s blood lines. All I told them, and anyone else who asks me is, “He is a registered quarter horse”. That’s all I know and all I believe matters. He is the most incredible athlete I have ever met. He loves what we do and that’s what makes him a true champion.

Finally it was time for our last class, the stake race. Rusty and I were first out. It was good because we were guaranteed a clean pattern. Although, I find it incredibly stressful being first out. Number nine was called. We were making our way into the shoot and Rusty was fired up. I stayed as relaxed as I could but he was giving me a really hard time. I understood he was excited, but when horses get this way they don’t think straight. On our way in I hit my left leg and dragged it along one of the metal gates. It felt like my knee cap and foot had been crushed. Tears swelled in my eyes, but I knew I had to swallow the pain. I wasn’t going to let it slow me down. I walked Rusty into the pen where the stake race was set up. At this point he had calmed down a lot. I recited the last pep talk of the weekend and I knew we were both ready. We made a circle and when I was sure we were on the right lead I let him go to the first pole.

Rusty ran faster than usual and we seemed to have blown past the first pole. I pushed him out of it and we made our way to the second pole. In a matter of seconds we were racing through the timers once again. When I left the pen the announcer began, “8.6 seconds”.

My heart dropped. Rusty and I usually run 7s. I couldn’t help but feel defeated even before anyone else entered the pen. We could have done better I thought. I was in tears, overwhelmed with disappointment in myself and the pain of my leg. Family and friends crowed and congratulated us but I didn’t feel I deserved it. Rusty had given me his all like always and I felt that I let him down. I had to escape so I took Rusty on a long walk to cool out. I knew I was being too hard on myself like I usually am. I’m not the person to go out to win, but I am the person who goes out to do their best and beat themselves. I couldn’t help but think I failed to do this. It was torture waiting for the remaining fifty three riders to compete. I eventually calmed myself down and accepted our time and that we couldn’t go in again. I was proud of what we had accomplished thus far, including our stake run. Each time the announcer began my heart seemed to stop.

A boy near the end raced out with an 8.8 second run. I began to doubt if I heard our time correctly, maybe we were now in second. The rest of the riders following him had times of no faster than nine seconds. I held my breath as we listened to the results. First or second was an amazing accomplishment. I didn’t know if I necessarily deserved another win but I had no doubt Rusty did. Finally second place was announced and it wasn’t me, “And your first place winner, number nine Amelia Jaggard on I’m A Bit Rusty riding for Big Creek Saddle Club”. I was stunned and as I write this I can feel the same happy tears rising in my eyes as they did in that moment.

We did it. We won it all.

Family, friends and strangers congratulated us both. We accomplished the goal we came to the tournament to do, to go out with a bang. Overall the years the people I know have been attending the Ontario Saddle Club Youth Team
Tournament they said they have never seen a games team win every class. I was overwhelmed with happiness at the awards ceremony following the end of the tournament on Sunday afternoon. My team placed third overall out of 22 teams. With Rusty and I’s hat trick we were awarded High Point Games Rider for 2013. Every year I have watched other kids walk up and receive this award and finally it was my turn. The only thing that would have made the moment better is if Rusty could have walked up and accepted the award with me.

Someone approached me after the awards ceremony and asked me what my next goal was, after a second I responded, “The Calgary Stampede”. This is a dream I never thought would feel so in reach. This year has shown me we can do anything we set our minds too. I will remember this tournament for the rest of my life. I am so grateful for the team I had alongside me and the astonishing athlete beneath me.

This year has been the best year thus far. Rusty and I won first overall in all of our classes at each of the saddle clubs we attend and overall youth champions at both clubs. I started Rusty as games horse five years ago. These past years Rusty and I have trained and worked hard to be where we are now. I am so honoured to have such an incredible athlete as my partner. I admit there has been no shortage of falls over my riding years and streams of tears along with them. I’ve learnt so many important riding and life lessons over these years and I am so grateful for the people and horses which have taught me them.

To my family and friends I thank you for supporting and believing in me. Most importantly, I thank my beautiful mother Nadean Wellwood who if it were not for her none of my dreams would be possible. I wanted to share this story so that young riders and riders of all ages remember that anything is possible. Never give up on your crazy dreams. No matter what you set your mind to you can accomplish it if you work hard enough. Whomever said, “You can’t win them all”, was wrong. With my youth years now behind me, I say hello to a bitter sweet beginning.

 

 

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