Ryleigh has always loved horses. As a young child he was always at the stables, with a horsey mum he didn’t have much choice. He never had any fear of the huge animals that towered above him. Ryleigh was extremely lucky that a family friend was a talented western rider. She introduced him to the western world by sending him a beautiful western saddle. The obsession had begun!
This was when his first love came into his life. An older dales mare called spirit owned by a friend at 14.2 she was too big for a tiny 5 year old but she was trustworthy and bombproof. Ryleigh couldn’t say spirit so she was renamed Spinach and together they would plod around the arena proudly with their western saddle while the big livery’s on their sports horses pranced around them.
Ryleigh desperately wanted to take Spinach on a cowboy adventure so we packed a borrowed lorry with borrowed camping equipment, Spinach’s owner Bev Ryleigh and his mum all set off up the A1 to a western games weekend at Richmond, and what a weekend! Spinach proudly stood next to the beautiful quarter horses and stunning western trained ponies with her tiny cowboy. That weekend changed everything for Ryleigh, he only wanted to ride western. He watched the western games and was amazed with the skill and the speed the cowboys and cowgirls achieved.
The next adventure couldn’t come soon enough. Spinach by this point was well into her twenties and nobody wanted to push her too hard but she was the only pony that was trusted with a tiny cowboy. So one last adventure was needed. After hours searching Facebook for a suitable event, 4 strides barrel racing popped up, it was a new club run by Sally Heron, an international barrel racer whose love of the sport had grown into her opening 4 strides barrel racing in Lincolnshire. So Ryleigh his mum Bev and Spinach got back in the borrowed lorry, this time heading south on the A1.
This was probably the most pivotal day in Ryleigh’s life; the reason why we will get to later.
Spinach as always did her job flying towards Bev waiting for her at the finish line carrying her cowboy proudly. They didn’t really bother the big cowboys and girls on their speedy mounts, but they still brought home a few youth rosette’s! But it wasn’t Spinach’s perfect performance that changed everything that day, it was Sally. She approached Ryleigh at the end of the day, quietly chatting to him about his day and if he enjoyed himself. Ryleigh explained that Spinach wasn’t his and although she was most definitely the bestest barrel pony in the country, she wasn’t his and that she was too old to carry on without risking injury. Sally had a solution; she had a pony. Now this pony was small enough for Ryleigh, but she was sassy and difficult and was known to buck off small people and adults alike before breakfast. Ryleigh didn’t care. One look in that ponies eye and he knew. So, a week later Willow moved to the same livery yard as Spinach. Spinach actually hated that small sassy pony who now carried her cowboy.
Now, Willow was a completely different beast. Strong sassy and fast, but Ryleigh could see nothing but love for that tiny beast. Together they worked on being a team. They didn’t just barrel race they tried trail hunting, le trec, hacking, horseball. But it was barrel racing they loved.
Under the coaching of Sally Heron and Luke Burrbridge, the coaches at 4 strides barrel racing, they improved every year getting faster and more accurate. Barrel racing isn’t just a game, it’s a fantastic way of introducing people to western games and western horsemanship. It is a gateway sport into so many different things. Great for kids and adults and you don’t need the equipment that can come later. Willow taught Ryleigh everything; not just the ridden aspect of horses, but the skills needed to look after a horse. The grooming, the stable management, and most importantly the responsibility of owning a horse.
Seven years down the line they are still together. She has calmed down her spicy attitude, although he still hits the deck occasionally when they go to fast at a barrel, or she decides he’s going to eat sand for lunch! But they are now often contenders for a place in the rosettes against the adults.
Ryleigh says that western riding is better for boys as you can wear jeans and short boots in comfy saddles. There’s no pressure to look a certain way or ride a certain type of horse. The western community is so welcoming and has so much positivity around its younger members. The team at 4 strides are so proud of the younger riders they are often heard shouting and encouraging Ryleigh across the finish line louder than his own mum, even if it means he beats them in the process.
Ryleigh is now reaching a point that he has grown legs so long, he only has a small amount of time left on his trusty steed. They have big ambitions though. Originally Willow was going to retire from barrels this year but after much deliberation they will do one more season in the hope they can set new records and finish higher up in the points table.
But the future needs to be planned for both Ryleigh and Willow as he outgrows her. So their path together will change and scurry racing will become their sport together. But that certainly doesn’t mean an end to Ryleighs western riding. Over the past year there’s a new kid on the block. Standing at 13.2 high Scarlett will hopefully take Ryleigh further on in his adventures. Scarlett is still only young and after being broken this year Ryleigh is now working with Henry Browne to produce Scarlett for barrels and western showing. Having a strong male role model like Henry is helping Ryleigh see that western is the way forward for him. That he has found his place in the equine world. With the continued support of sally Luke and Henry, Ryleigh will continue to develop into a true horseman.