COLUMBIA — When the public address system echoed Brooke Angel Wright's name, number and horse name across the dim, earthy barn at the Boone County Fairgrounds, Wright's horse Bella sprinted towards the first barrel and then hesitated to turn.
Wright eventually completed the clover-shaped circuit, but a pause in the horse's gait kept her from placing in the Barrel Jackpot contest in Wednesday's Missouri High School Rodeo.
Things just weren't the same for Wright, a Bolivar, Mo., native. It's been two years since she's had a real drive to compete.
Tragedy struck the 16-year-old Wright two years ago at the Double J Indoor Arena in Humansville when her small bay brown horse, Skoal, broke his leg when approaching the first barrel and had to be put down. For Wright, losing Skoal was one of the most heart-wrenching things that happened in her life.
"It was like losing your best friend to a car accident," Wright said. "He probably knew everything about me — more than my friends did."
Wright's bond with Skoal started early in her childhood and grew even stronger when when she started competing in rodeos at age 8. The Wrights would go to about 100 events throughout the year with Skoal, often driving from one rodeo to another. Wright's mother, Selicia Wright, would often tell Brooke to keep her awake when driving to the next event.
With Skoal and his competitive nature, Brooke Wright won two arena records, numerous buckles and two saddles. It was Skoal's nature that allowed him to zip around barrels without slowing down — a pace that left a white-knuckled Brooke Wright gripping for her life.
"He was an awesome little horse," Selicia Wright said. "He was very competitive and was hard to beat. You could feel it in him."
Her bond was also formed through hours of walking, trotting and loping daily for two to three hours, even in the snow.
"I would argue with my dad because I would ride every night," Brooke Wright said.
Following the tragedy, Brooke still competed, though she said she lacked the competitiveness she had when she rode Skoal.
"As a parent you have to be positive and motivate," Selicia Wright said. "But we knew she had to take her time to heal."
Then prior to the Missouri High School State Rodeo finals this year, Selicia Wright and Brooke Wright both believed that Brooke could compete as she used to.
Brooke Wright is now competing with different horses, but inside and outside of the arena, she'll always remember the distinct star-striped pattern on Skoal's head, the way he walked, trotted and loped.
"My dad always joked that he wanted to be buried next to Skoal," Brooke Wright said. "We visit him more than anybody else."
Supervising editor Matt Veto