A blanket of sun warms the snow-saturated air, and steam blows from the horse’s lips. Hailey Green walks around her horse, Pistol, as she reaches under his blanket to check his body temperature; he is warm, and she buries her hands under the blanket. She smiles as the feeling returns to her fingers and then continues her pre-race preparation. The blanket comes off and she leads him out of the stable and onto a grassy mound nearby so he can stretch and get his blood flowing. His mind is only on the lush grass at his feet, so Green and he do a loving tug of war to progress toward their race.
Green, 17, and Pistol are participating in the Tennessee High School Rodeo at Shelby Farms the weekend of March 10-12. The Lakeland resident is a true cowgirl who has five horses and loves everything about owning them. Her barrel riding career only started a few years ago when a friend introduced it to her.
“I’ve always loved horses and I have only been riding for five years. I had a friend invite me to ride in an arena, so we hauled there and she started running barrels. I watched and was like, ‘I want to do that,’” she says. “So I got with her trainer and I loved it.”
Green then got her 17-year-old horse Pistol and began rigorous training and learning about barrel racing. She learned quickly and began her sport with impressive enough times that she was rewarded.
“I started riding Pistol and within six months we started winning checks,” Green says with a warm smile.
Barrel riding not only provides her with a fun sport but also builds a strong sense of empowerment.
“I love going fast and the excitement it brings,” Green says, beaming. “I feel powerful. I feel I can accomplish anything when I go around barrels.”
Although Green started her career winning money prizes, the last eight runs have been filled with disappointing times and mistakes. Her goal for this rodeo is improvement.
“On Sunday I want to go faster than we did on Friday,” Green says.
Before each race she goes through a routine to calm her and focus her mind and muscles. She does deep breathing and listens to her growing playlist of songs. She can’t afford negative emotions; they affect both her and her horse.
“If I am nervous or have butterflies, I just take a deep breath and relax because his emotions run off me,” Green says. “I tell myself it’s just three barrels and some dirt. Then I pray for a safe and fun run.”
Just before she and her horse race through the gate and into the arena, Green does one more calming ritual for herself and Pistol.
“Right before we go in, I run my fingers through his mane and pat him on his butt,” she said. “I picture our run, and then we go.”
Green does better at this rodeo than she has in the past eight races. Her run begins fast and precise, but at the third and final barrel her foot clips the barrel, knocking it over and penalizing her with more time. Even though that happens and she doesn’t win a prize, she still has her head held high and enjoys the fact that her runs improved.
Green attends Bartlett High School as a senior and plans to attend Southwest Community College before transferring to a four-year college to finish her education.
Written and photographed by John Collins, special to the Express.