The ride I knew my horse and I could do at home. 

The thing about living a comeback story is…you don’t know it’s a comeback until after its over.
When you’re in it, you’re just taking the next step.

The first time I rode through the arch titled, “Gateway of Champions” my horse wore no bridle.

It was my first time ever riding at the National Reining Horse Association Futurity show, and it would be easy to think I must have been nervous, but I was not.

I had one aim: ride into the arena and do EXACTLY what I knew my horse and I could do at home.

That’s it.
No more. No less.

I didn’t hope for a specific score. I didn’t dream about a placing.

I had one clear goal: ride the same pattern I could do at home.

Two months earlier I was full of  hopes and dreams at the Quarter Horse Congress.
But I blew it. With thousands of people witnessing my mistake.
Any thoughts of winning had been washed away by tears and waves of shame.

Tonight would be different.

I knew it because my goal was different.

Although I wouldn’t wish my public failure on anyone, that night did serve to wash me clean.
And now I had my second chance.

I remember three specific things about that night: how clear my focus was, the sound rushing into my ears at the end of the ride, my husband saying, “Do you know who that was?”

I sat mounted on my horse halfway down the tunnel to the entry gate and waited.

The announcer came on, “Exhibitor 1254, Can Can Lena, owned by James Fanello of Lucas, Ohio. Stacy Westfall will be riding. This is our final entry.”

I waited for the music to start.
Someone suggested I should move closer to the gate…I shook my head no.

I had been specific.
Start the music.
Then I will come.

Two months ago, the delay in the music would have felt like an eternity, and the suggestion from a stranger would have caused me to wobble.

Not tonight.

I took another deep breath. Felt my horse breathing beneath me, and waited for the music to begin.

I was focused. I was determined. I was ready.

I would do the ride I knew my horse and I could do at home. 

And we did.

I made one modification on the fly.

After my first sliding stop, I could hear that I was ahead of the music, so I loped further down the arena before circling back to do my next run down. Otherwise, I rode it as planned until the last deep breath I took after the back-up.

As I exhaled, my focus lifted and the volume in the room turned from zero to ten. The noise of the crowd rushed in…and I realized they were on their feet cheering. I was in uncharted territory.

Big horse shows have some well established routines.

As I approached the gate to exit, the gate crew was crying.

This is not a normal part of the routine.

When announcer returned with the score he beginning “Thhhhhhee score…” which alway indicated that the rider had just taken the lead.

I was the last rider in the class. That meant I ha won. Was this really happening?

Still scarcely believing this was real and not a dream, I began walking back up the Gateway of Champions. Passing those who were preparing the next presentation.
Following my class, the show organizers were holding a ceremony for the top earners in the industry.

Halfway up the isle stood the legendary Bill Horn, who was the leading rider at the time, and two years later would be the first to pass the $1 million dollars in NRHA earnings.

He looked directly at me and said, “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen on horseback.”

I think I shyly smiled and nodded. I might have looked like a deer in headlights. I might have said thank you. I know I wasn’t breathing.

Three more steps.
My husband, Jesse, catches up with me, “Do you know who that was?!”

I nod.
We are both silent, letting this sink in.

By breakfast the next morning, I’m simply ‘mom’ again.

We escorted our three young boys, ages 2-5, to the hotel breakfast buffet and eat breakfast.

As they began to eat, Jesse whispered, “Listen…”

I do, and I hear kids eating, neighboring tables talking…forks scraping plates.

I give him a questioning look and shrug.

“Listen to what they are saying.”

And now I hear it. They are talking about my ride.

“Did you see it?”

“Who was it?”

“No bridle…”

“Have you heard of him before?”

A small grin appears on my face.

Wearing the bandana means they literally don’t know if “Stacy” was a man or a woman. Which was fine by me…I was not prepared for this.

Or at least, I didn’t think I was…

All I could do to find out was to take the next step.

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