by Gina McKnight
ME: Horses will always be my first love. Don’t tell my dog! Home for me is riding bareback in the forest, galloping up the trails, feeling every muscle in my horse’s back as we fly in unison. It’s where all negativity melts away and my mind goes quiet. Which is quite the opposite of barrel racing! However, both require complete trust, courage and synergy from both horse and rider. I have asked my horses to do a lot of petrifying things: run into dark tunnels, loud arenas and shifty ground. You can train, train, train but at the end of the day, the unbreakable bond that you have with your horse is what it takes to barrel race.
ME: Horses have been in my life since I can remember. My mother grew up on a ranch and was glued to a horse at every waking moment. With time, her passion only grew stronger so there has never been a time that our family has been without horses. My first memory of riding a horse is on my Aunt’s ranch herding cows. I remember riding all day long then getting off and feeling so incredibly small. It wasn’t until my 7th birthday that I got a horse of my very own, Birdie. He was the perfect babysitter. I couldn’t lift a saddle nor put on a bridle, but I could throw on a hackamore, push him up to a fence and be off to the races. We have been fortunate enough to have a lot of great horses come through our barn, but that was one special dude.
ME: Barrel racing is a never ending learning process, a process unique to you and your horse. Focus on your personal goals for your horse, and celebrate their small victories along the way. You will experience extreme highs immediately followed by crushing lows. Everyone will be quick to give you advice and pick apart each and every run. Stay strong cowgirl! Find someone whom you admire to adopt as your mentor. Learn from the good and kindly leave the bad, knowing that at the end of the day, you do what’s best for your horse. Also...wear a helmet!
ME: I hung up my cowgirl hat to finish college and take on new adventures life threw my way. But I will forever be grateful for that magical time in my life! It is a time I will cherish forever because I was able to spend with my mom. We had way too much fun truckin’ down the rodeo trail, barrel racing together. All of the small towns, long drives, hit barrels, flat tires, and grueling weather. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
ME: When I moved to Portland to attend Portland State University, I learned about the human trafficking problem in Portland. It broke my heart to know that young girls right outside my door were being bought and sold on a daily basis. My mom and I put our li’l noggins together and founded an organization called Reins of Grace. Our mission is to outreach to sex-trafficked girls in Portland by using equine therapy at our farm. Horses are empathetic, perceptive and act as a safe place for people who have experienced trauma to connect in a way that might not be possible with another person. We always say that the horses do all of the work, we are just there to facilitate. When the Rodeo Girls opportunity popped up, I saw it as an opportunity to spread awareness on a national platform, thus the birth of Breaking Chains. I was able to spread awareness of sex-trafficking while raising money for safe houses in Portland.
ME: My daily life may have changed since the days of rodeo but my gypsy heart sure hasn’t. I am still impulsively popping around, just on a global scale these days. I live in the Basque Country, where my family is from. I work from home so most of my days are spent enjoying the company of my partner, spending time with friends and learning languages. Two of those things are a lot easier than the other. And in the future, who knows? I could start the first Basque Country barrel racing association.
ME: We have had a rainbow of horses join our family throughout the years. From giant warm-bloods to gritty rodeo veterans to beautiful palomino divas to rehabilitation horses that were going to be put down. But our family is pretty small at the moment.
We also have Sooner’s baby, JB. He is learning the barrel racing ropes right now. But if he has half of the speed that his mamma does, he’s going to be fun!
ME: Many people can ride a horse but not very many people possess true horsemanship. I know I sure don’t! I have, however, been fortunate enough to know people who do, from whom I have learned. I’ve been able to ride with some badass ladies and taken clinics from pros to pick up tips and tricks throughout my life. To me, horsemanship means patience, kindness and forgiveness. It doesn’t take a half-decent rider to bully a horse into submission. It’s the riders who know what to ask, how to ask and also when to stop, that I admire.
Reins of Grace
All photos courtesy of Megan Etcheberry.