Barrels of Hope


By Miranda Lee


“BOARDING PLANE T23 TO ALBANY, TEXAS.”

I looked up from my seat. After I got all settled in on the plane, I closed my eyes for a while and just absorbed that had happened this past week. It was Friday night when my mother was rushed to the hospital, and I was hauling my horse, Whiskey, along with my mom’s horse, Bandit, home from the rodeo. The whole time I was hauling the horses, I couldn’t focus on driving when my mom could be dying at the hospital. I had to be at that hospital to say goodbye. When I showed up at the hospital, I got the news that my mom, my one only true best friend, had died from the accident. The accident. All she had to do was finish rounding the third barrel. Instead her horse tripped and fell on top of her. My whole life, we went to rodeos and barrel raced, who would’ve thought an accident could’ve happened to my mom doing this sport that we have spent our lives on? Now, I am moving from Cheyenne, Wyoming to my Grandparent’s ranch in Albany, Texas.

When I woke up, the plane had come to a stop. I walked into the airport with my suitcase, backpack, and a book; I was looking around for my name on a sign: BRAELYNN THOMAS. I looked at who was holding that sign with my name on it. I smiled and ran into my grandma and grandpa’s arms. My grandma said, “Look at you! My gorgeous girl, you are. Your hair has gotten so blonde and very long. You must be what, 5’7”? You are now taller than me! Where has time gone? I am so happy that you are coming to live with us. You resemble your mother so much, honey. As you know, some of our ranch hands have gone to your old farm place and are picking up the bigger items like your truck, trailer, and horses to bring back to Texas. Do you want to go out to eat anywhere right away?”

“Hi to you, too, Grandma.  Is it o.k. if we just go back to the ranch? I am just tired, and I really want to get settled in,” I explained. I looked at my grandma, resembling my mother, and was thankfulo for her being so much help at the funeral.

A sudden wave of sadness swept over my grandma. “I understand. You are overwhelmed. A lot has happened this past week. I am sorry; we will get you home so that you can get all settled in.”

We finally arrived at the ranch, and my jaw dropped when I saw how much the place had extended. I saw horses running around in the pasture, cattle in the field, huge horse barns and horse arenas,

a huge ranch house, and then, I saw him. His hair was a little longer and curled up under his cowboy hat. He was tall and built. His style was perfection in a blue button up shirt, denim jeans with a big belt buckle, and of course, cowboy boots. “Wesley Moore,” my grandma had said which had brought my attention back to her.

“What?” I asked bringing my attention back to my grandma.

“Don’t you pretend I didn’t see you googly eyed over him. His name is Wesley Moore. Big cowboy around here. All the girls drool over him, but he works here and has no time for girls.” I laughed at my grandma already trying to hook me up with this cowboy. We parked by the house and started unloading my luggage when all of a sudden my grandma started shouting, “Wesley! Do you mind coming on over here to help my gorgeous grandbaby unload her luggage and bring it to her room. When you’re done, you could show her around the ranch, too?” My grandma looked in my direction and gave me a smile and a wink and walked off. I love her dearly, but man is she one crazy lady!

I turned around and was greeted by Wesley with a firm handshake. “Howdy, ma’am,” he said with a side grin. I just stood like a damn fool smiling unable to speak.

After we got everything in my room, he left me for a while so that I could get everything organized. After an hour, I went outside. Wesley was walking up to me with two horses and my smile faded. “Hey Braelynn, thought maybe I could show you around the ranch by riding horse? I heard you barrel race, so I figured you would like it better than walking.” I just stared at the horses in shock realizing Wesley looking embarrassed. I had to tell him at some point that I was never going to ride again, so the time might as well be now.

“Wesley, I am sure you have heard of my mother’s death? She died because of a barrel racing accident. I don’t think I will ever be able to ride again. I want to, and I miss it, but I am scared that riding will remind me of my mom. When memories of my mom appear in my head, I just can’t take it. I’m sorry.” My face got really hot, and I felt a tear slip, so I turned and ran back into the house. I looked out my window twenty minutes later, and saw Wesley sitting in the grass with the two horses just waiting. I couldn’t ride anymore. I closed my blinds and turned off my light.

In the morning, I heard two familiar whinnies. I ran out of the house in my PJ’s, and I saw Bandit and Whiskey. I yelled their names, and they both perked up and nickered to me. I ran to them, wrapping my arms around them both. I didn’t realize how much I had missed the two of them. The ranch hands took Bandit and Whiskey to the pasture. I hadn’t seen them since my mother passed away. I was happy with the horses here.  It didn’t bring the reality of my mother being dead; it brought me a lot of peace. Bandit and Whiskey felt like home.

After lunch, I saw Wesley tacking up his horse in the barn. “Hey, mind if I tag along? I can ride Whiskey, my horse.” I asked.

“Of course not! You can come along. I’m going to practice roping calves in the arena. There is a rodeo tomorrow night, and I am roping a calf. Talking about the rodeo though, would you like to come with me tomorrow?” When Wesley talked to me I could feel my cheeks turn red.

“I will get Whiskey quickly and saddle him up. I think I saw the practice arena by the indoor arena, so I can just meet you out there. When you bring up a couple calves to practice with, make sure you bring some for me, too!” I smiled and grabbed a halter to go catch Whiskey. I turned around before I left the barn and said, “Hey, Wesley, I would love to go with you to the rodeo.”

When he was roping he did everything quickly and perfectly. I think I surprised Wesley with how good I was at roping but he did give me some pointers. After riding Whiskey, I was mad at myself of thinking about just being done riding. I couldn’t live without Whiskey.

Today is Wesley’s rodeo, and I am so excited to watch him rope!  I helped Wesley get ready for the rodeo and load up the trailer; we were off on the road. Wesley and I have gotten closer since we first met. On the way to the rodeo, we were talking about how he was going to a lot of rodeos this summer, and how I should go with him. I smiled at every word he said.

We pulled into the rodeo, He went to go get his number out of the announcement office while I was tacking up Elly, his rodeo horse. Soon the rodeo had started and the broncs were throwing cowboys right and left. Now, it was roping time. Wesley was on deck, and Elly was a ball of energy. Elly reared up on Wesley, and I thought he was going to lose it, but he looked at me and threw a smile and wink in my direction. I walked over to him, patted him on the leg, and wished him luck. I went to stand by the gate to watch. “Wesley Moore and his lil’ mare Elly!” the announcer said in a low and excited voice. Everybody cheered at his name; I wasn’t surprised because I knew he was the big show around here. “Wesley’s time was a 4.0 seconds flat! It’s gonna be a real hard time beating him,” after the announcer had spoken, I ran over to where Wesley was to give him a great big hug. I rounded the corner, to give him a hug, and I saw her. Aubrey Chase. Aubrey is a big barrel racing girl. My hardest competition. Nobody wanted to be in the same room as her. She wasn’t tough, but she was mean. She had it all. Her daddy throwing all the money she wanted towards her.

Aubrey was holding her horse in one hand and draping over Wesley with the other. The people around him could think that she was with him. I couldn’t believe this right now. Wesley had never even mentioned her name to me. Wesley looked at me, and a bigger smile spread across his face, and I looked at Aubrey and back towards him and turned around and started toward the truck. Someone grabbed my waist. I turned me around, and I looked Wesley in the eyes, and he asked, “Are you mad at me or something?”

I was, too, shocked that he left Aubrey for me. I wasn’t sure if they were officially together but the way she was all over him made them seem pretty official. “No, I’m not mad at you. Just thought I should let you and Aubrey have some alone time. Good job, by the way. I am really proud of you.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Are you kidding me right now? Aubrey? No way will that ever happen. I kept shrugging her off, but you know her, she won’t stop until she gets what she wants. Sad to say that she won’t get me because I got my eye on someone else.” He looked at me and winked. “By the way, how do you know Aubrey?”

“We competed every year at every rodeo. I beat her so that makes me her enemy. She is just really rude and everything.” I looked over his shoulder towards her; she was glaring at me. She realized who I was, and she started towards us. Great. Just what I needed.

“Oh my God! Braelynn, I haven’t seen you in like forever! Just wondering, why don’t you race anymore? Like, I know your mom died, but that doesn’t mean anything. Everybody dies. I know you must be scared to ride but still, not fair to your horses. You should put your mom’s horse down, just like he did to your mom. Oh, well. I have to run soon, so I will talk to you later,” Aubrey said with a smirk on her face the whole time.

Tears filled my eyes as I stood staring at the place where Aubrey was just standing. She really did it this time. She finally defeated me. “Braelynn, are you ok?” Wesley asked in a hushed voice.

I looked at him with tears falling down my cheek. I tried speaking, but nothing came out. All I could do was shake my head. I walked past him and sat in the truck trying to catch my breath while he was untacking Elly. He hopped in the truck and started it. He reached for my hand and kissed it. We started home with my hand in his.

On Sunday, I rode Whiskey before dawn. When I was untacking him, I saw Bandit look a little different. Different in a lonely type of way with his head hanging and him dragging his hooves. After putting Whiskey away I grabbed another halter and walked towards Bandit. I called for him and he perked up right away after seeing me with the halter. He started running up towards me from below in the pasture. He greeted me with a whinny, and I slipped the halter on him. I brought him into the barn and threw the saddle and blanket on him and put on the bridle. I walked him around a bit before getting on him, realizing he hasn’t been ridden since the accident at the rodeo. I brought him to the arena where the barrels were set up. I warmed him up for half an hour, and I walked, then trotted, and then loped through the barrel pattern. Though I had sworn never to race barrels again, I am willing because it is best for my mom’s horse. Bandit was born to run around barrels, I had to put my fears aside for him.

“Am I glad to see you riding him,” my grandma said. “Your mother would be very proud of you right now. You make me one proud grandma. Just came out to give you this letter that was in the mail.”

I read aloud, “Braelynn Thomas, we heard about your loss, we are very sorry. We have heard a lot about you and have seen a lot of you and your horses. We ask you to come to The Daddy Of Them All Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming to race one of your horses in barrels. Your mother has raced here before, and we now would love for you to race here. We hope to see you there.” The leaders of the biggest rodeo in the country just asked me to run in their rodeo! My dreams are coming true. I looked down at Bandit and smiled.

I turned towards my grandma handing her the letter, “I’m running Bandit in the rodeo this Friday. If you don’t mind bringing me to Cheyenne, Wyoming.”

“Are you kidding me?! Of course I will! All of us will come and watch you!” My grandma said with a huge smile spread across her face.

I trotted Bandit in a circle, while Wesley came up to stand by my grandma to watch me ride Bandit. “Someone want to time me?” I asked. Wesley pulled out a timer and was ready to go. I was going to go to the rodeo with Bandit, and I was going to kick Aubrey’s ass. I looked towards the first barrel and kicked Bandit, and he was off. I smiled the whole time, yet focused, knowing I felt free from everything while running him. I rounded the last barrel and ran him home. I hugged Bandit around the neck after I got him to slow down, and he was happy with his ears perked.

I looked over to Wesley for the time I had gotten. He looked confused and looked at Bandit and I in shock. I didn’t understand what we did wrong. “That’s impossible. That was 13.50 seconds, Braelynn. No horse has ever gotten that before. The fastest horse ran a 13.52 seconds,” Wesley said in disbelief. I hopped off Bandit and ran over to the timer to see for myself. I screamed and ran to Bandit and wrapped my arms around him.

“Well, looks like Aubrey has her competition back,” my grandmother said with a smirk.

It was Friday, the day of the big rodeo. We stayed the night before in Cheyenne, Wyoming. All night, Wesley and I brushed and got Bandit ready. We brought Whiskey along so Bandit would have a buddy with him. My first rodeo since my mom died was today. I was getting ready in my blingy jeans, my cowboy hat, my boots and spurs, earrings, makeup, and my mom’s pink rodeo shirt, while Wesley was getting Bandit ready in his blinged out tack.

Wesley and I were walking with Bandit to the arena so that I could warm him up before the rodeo. Aubrey looked at me, and after seeing me, she was pissed. She stormed up to me, “What in the hell are you doing here? You are supposed to be back at your house. You showing this killer?” She asked pointing towards Bandit.

“Hey, Aubrey,” I said with a smirk. “You bet I am going to run Bandit in the rodeo. They asked me to run here. By the way, we will be kicking your ass tonight.”

“Bullshit. I can’t wait ‘til he lands on you tonight. We are going to kick your ass. So watch out.” Aubrey was shaking with anger now.

I started to laugh, and then, I got really close to her, “When you run tonight, make sure you run your ass off because I want competition. But don’t be too hard on yourself or your horse when you get your ass kicked by us.” At that, Aubrey turned around and ran her horse over and over in the practice arena.

Wesley looked at me and gave me big thumbs up and said, “I wouldn’t want to be in her place right now.” I just smiled and warmed up Bandit a little bit before the rodeo began.

After the National Anthem was sung, the crowd roared with excitement. The broncs, steer wrestling, and roping went on, and it was tough competition. I went back and warmed up when the cowboys started to set up the barrels. I observed some of the girls warming up their horses for barrel racing. I saw that I was one of the youngest there, I had really tough competition.

Wesley came up to me, “Your grandparents are seated up in the stands. You know you will do great.” I was on deck now, Aubrey running right before me. “Well, I’m going to go so you get focused. Your mom would be proud of you. I know I am proud of you. Good luck.”

“Thanks. You realize I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you. You kept pushing me to accomplish my goals. So. thank you,” I said with a smile.

Bandit knew we were up next because he kept prancing and would not stand still. Aubrey just finished her run. 14.19 seconds. Damn. That was good. She looked over at me with a smirk. I talked to Bandit, “This is us against the world. We got to show everybody up. Let’s make our mom proud.”

The gate men did let me go in and run right away because the announcer started talking, “Now, if you all didn’t hear ‘bout this young cowgirl’s mother this year, she had passed away in a barrel racing accident. I believe it was this horse she was running. Now, give it up for Braelynn Thomas and her mother’s horse, Bandit!”

I ran through the gate while the crowd cheered me on. Bandit got low on the first barrel and I looked toward the second barrel. He turned like a dream, now the third barrel.  We made it without knocking any of the barrels and now I let him loose on the way home and he ran his heart out. I looked at the clock.

“This is unbelievable. Braelynn and Bandit got a time of a 13.21 seconds! Fastest time I have ever seen, and I have been watching cowgirls and their horses run since the time I was born,” the announcer said shocked. Everybody was staring at me in disbelief, and people were running up to me to congratulate me. I won.

Wesley ran up to me, lifted me off the ground with a hug and twirled me around. He set me down and kissed me. I smiled and kissed him back. I looked around. I saw Wesley, my grandma with Whiskey, my grandpa, Bandit over my shoulder, and I saw that my life was great. I never thought I would be in this place ever again. After my mom’s death, I thought my dreams and hopes ended with it. But that was a lie to me because I did accomplish my dreams and goals. I had everything in the palms of my hands.