WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #162
Against All Odds
Not even cerebral palsy could keep this youngster from riding,
competing ... and winning.
by Pam Woody
MANY RIDERS OVERCOME adversity to triumph in the saddle. But
few are up against the challenges Californian Aimee Sawyer has
faced, starting from the moment of her birth.
On Valentine's Day 1995, Aimee came into the world with
cerebral palsy. The doctors predicted she wouldn't live through
But she did.
Then they said Aimee would be severe ly limited in her
cognitive functioning. But she wasn't.
Then, as she grew, they said she would never walk.
But she did. In fact, against all odds, Aimee has been
proving the doctors wrong ever since-even to the point of winning
barrel races on a horse her mother found for her on Craigslist.
But... that's getting ahead of the story.
Aimee was born into a family with five decades of horse
involvement. Breeding, showing, and team roping were favored
pursuits, as well as, most recently, barrel racing. I ittle Aimee
found herself up on a horse before she could walk, and was riding
on her own in spite of her condition---by the age of 3.
By 11 she was barrel racing.
Cerebral palsy, which is caused by brain damage that occurs
around the time of birth, can be a devastating condition, It's
marked by a lack of muscle control, especially in the limbs,
resulting in varying degrees of disability.
Aimee's specific condition is called spastic hemiplegia,
which means stiffess or rigidity on one side of the body.
She has limited use of her right hand, and her right leg
gives her an unusual step.
I first met Aimee a few years ago through a mutual
acquaintance who was boarding his horse at Aimee's mother's
place. One of my first memories is offering to help this petite
girl saddle the 16--hand horse she was riding at the time. Her
head didn't even reach to his withers, but she politely declined
my offer and proceeded to heft that saddle up as if onto a
Shetland. She was riding off before I was ready with my own
horseand I'd started saddling well before her.
In fact, it seems nothing slows down this remarkable
youngster. Whereas other girls use both bands during a barrel
race---one to turn the horse and the other to grip the horn.
Aimee matter-of-factly makes do with her left hand only. Even
surgery to lengthen her right Achilles tendon in December of 2009
didn't keep her out of the saddle for long; she was back riding
again at the earliest possible point.
Before the surgery, the stiffness in her right leg typically
caused Aimee to lose her right stirrup by the second barrel.
Thinking she might be falling off, the anxious crowd would hush
for the remainder of her run. If later you were to ask if she'd
felt unbalanced, however, she'd just grin and say, "I was fine."
Since her surgery, she's been better at keeping her right stirrup
and staying level in the saddle. In fact, she's won three
saddles, numerous belt buckles, and thousands of dollars barrel
racing in her home state on her current mount, Rio. Aimee's mom,
Jill Sawyer, spotted the reining-bred Quarter Horse for sale on
Craigslist. The gelding had no prior barrel racing experience,
but he clicked with Aimee and seemed to love the sport.
With him, Aimee last year won the junior division of the
American Computer Barrel Racing Association and placed in the top
five in California for the Women's Pro Rodeo Association/
Juniors' Division. Currently she's sitting fourth in the ACBRA's
On weekdays, Aimee is like any other teen - listening to
music, texting on her phone, playing on the computer, laughing
with friends. On weekends, though, it's all about barrel racing.
While training and competing, she's still managed to maintain a
3.0 GPA, and the money she's won in competition helps her single
mom finance the horse activities.
In addition to keeping Rio legged up, Aimee is also bringing
along a 3-year-old prospect and riding her mom's stallion.
Her ultimate goal is to make it to the National Finals
Rodeo, to compete against her barrel racing idols. The likelihood
of anyone getting that far is slim. Then again, Aimee knows all
about beating the odds.
PAM WOODY lives in Clovis, California, with her 16-year-old
daughter Angela, also an avid barrel racer. A lifelong rider, Pam
currently owns 9-year-old Paint gelding Dancer (on whom her
daughter competes) and Taz, a 3-year-old Quarter Horse fitly that
mother and daughter hope to start on barrels soon.
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