Taylon Halden lives for Thursdays.
“It’s Thursday — there’s a rodeo tonight,” she’ll say to her mom first thing in the morning.
And if the Haldens happen to drive past the Blue Moon Nite Club and Casino, she’ll crane her neck around to see if the stock animals have arrived yet and whether or not the rodeo sign has been put up.
To say she’s a fan of the sport would be putting it lightly.
But last Thursday, Taylon didn’t just feel excited for the rodeo — she felt nervous.
The 22-year-old was making her barrel-racing debut.
Taylon walked up to the registration trailer with her parents, Karlynn and Heath, on either side, each taking an arm to ease their daughter up the ramp.
With this, like many tasks in her life, Taylon needed a little extra help.
The Columbia Falls resident lives with both cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that impairs muscle function, and microcephaly, a birth defect that results in a smaller than average head size, often due to abnormal brain development.
But that doesn’t stop Taylon from wanting to be just like every other 20-something.
She has crushes on boys.
She wants to be independent from her parents.
And yes, she has a love for all things rodeo.
“She wants to do everything that everybody else can do and that’s what really hard,” her mother said.
So the family started visiting the Blue Moon Rodeo, held almost every Thursday night in the summer behind the bar. It was something they could all do together. They soon realized Taylon couldn’t get enough of the rodeo. It wasn’t long before they began coming every week. Soon, Taylon learned the names of the different bulls, cowboys and bullfighters.
She lit up in the rodeo environment and organizers took note.
“Vance Brash has been really good to her,” Heath said of the rodeo owner. “He supports her and he knows her condition and would like to see her out here. He knows how excited she gets when she’s around the horses.”
After more than four years of watching the rodeo, Taylon was ready to pick up the reins.
Rodeo pickup man Roddy Gadeberg provided encouragement — and a horse.
“We were talking with Roddy one night and he said, I might have a horse [for Taylon],” Karlynn said.
He told the family to bring her down to the rodeo to ride instead of watch.
And Taylon came prepared.
“Tay has a helmet for every activity she does,” Karlynn said.
But this one was special.
Her bright pink helmet was topped with a cowboy hat given to her by schoolmate and rodeo competitor Kylee Skelton. Taylon’s sister Dalton had the idea to attach the two together so the first-time barrel-racer could have a little cowgirl flair, and still be safety-first.
It was after 9 p.m. on July 20 when the junior and pee-wee barrel racers wrapped up their sets.
Taylon was first to enter the arena in the ladies division.
She sat atop Gadeberg’s gentle roan, Cricket, with Jillian Lehr and Annika Dupree on either side and Gadeberg at the helm. They rounded the first barrel and then the second at a walk. When the foursome neared the third and final barrel, Taylon picked up a hand and gave an enthusiastic wave to the crowd, which responded with resounding applause.
“It was emotional and brought tears to my eyes,” Karlynn said. “Seeing her do something that we never thought that she would get to do, it made us very proud of her.”
Fresh off her victorious lap around the arena Taylon turned to her parents, “Now, am I doing this next week again?”
Karlynn has a feeling it won’t be Taylon’s last appearance in the arena.
“She had her dream come true last night to ride the barrels and hopefully she’ll get to do that some more,” she said. “I think it helps to educate the community that individuals with disabilities have the same wants that other individuals their age do. They just need that support. She’s come a long ways —she has her challenges, but she continues to grow.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.