“I CAN’T BELIEVE I just ran a supreme time!” my niece, Brooke Stromberg, shouted out with joy upon completing the figure eight race at a recent Patterned Speed Horse Association show.
This was also her first time competing on a borrowed horse named Sunny.
“This horse is so fast, I have a hard time keeping up with her,” she said with a broad smile.
Riding looks so effortless for Stromberg, 26.
She recently moved back to Sequim after spending much of the past several years living in Vancouver, Wash.
When she did started riding Lacey again it seemed unbelievable to me that Stromberg could still jump on Lacey bareback and easily keep herself centered on the horse’s gold-colored back as if her butt were planted securely in a saddle while loping circles around my pasture.
I think it was just two months ago she felt a strong urge to race again.
The feeling of a horse running full out beneath her, skillfully guiding the horse around barrels and poles in a sport where the fastest time wins is an adrenaline rush that’s hard to beat.
So when long-time friends and former PSHA teammates Ady Crosby and Clara Duncan encouraged her to compete with them at a local show in June she knew she wanted to join them and set about getting Lacey (who became my horse when she moved away) in racing condition.
The problem is Lacey is 26 now — old in horse years — and suffering from a bit of arthritis in her knees, so I was hesitant to let her go.
Stromberg works at a local restaurant with Haylie Newton, daughter of Sequim coach Katie Salmon-Newton.
Salmon-Newton was also Stromberg’s junior rodeo coach.
When she heard Stromberg was riding again she asked Stromberg to help ride a couple of horses for her to help keep them in shape.
One such horse was Sunny, who previously was owned by a member of Salmon-Newton’s team last year.
Salmon-Newton saw how well Stromberg and Sunny worked together and encouraged them to try racing together at the June PSHA show, even offering to take the horse to the show for her.
When I showed up at the show that Saturday afternoon I did a double-take at seeing Stromberg riding Sunny in the arena.
A light palomino color with a white strip running down her face, Sunny is a spitting image of Stromberg’s first barrel racing horse, April.
Even though she’s a bit past her prime at 17, Sunny’s powerful haunches allow her to dive in close as she turns a barrel and seems to launch her like a rocket out of the turn and across the finish line.
I arrived at the show in time to witness them run a fast and clean pole race.
When their time of 21.79 seconds was announced an exhilarated Stromberg exclaimed, “I just had my fastest pole racing time ever!”
And then we heard Pam Crosby on the loudspeaker saying Stromberg had the fastest pole run time of the day.
This was her first race in years and the first time competing on a horse she’s barely ridden.
I, too, was thrilled.
“It’s like she never left,” said Super Senior division rider Sam Parks.
“She’s riding as good, if not better, than most of us who’ve kept riding while she was gone.”
So where has Stromberg been?
Long-time readers might remember reading about Stromberg and Lacey in my column when they were both 15 and she’d won the grand champion barrel racing title in her age group at both the Patterned Speed Horse Association state finals and the Washington State High School Equestrian Team finals.
That was 11 years ago.
I haven’t written much about her since then because she, like so many her age, got caught up in what is now known as the Opioid Epidemic and became an addict.
These past 11 years her decline, struggles and addiction-related issues have caused much heartache and sorrow for herself and those who love her.
Now, for the first time, she’s on the road to recovery.
Opioids are known to produce a sense of well-being or euphoria in the user.
A barrel racer will often experience a similar sense of euphoria after a good run.
After running her fastest pole race time ever an adrenaline-pumped Stromberg shouted out, “This high is so much better than drugs,” garnering a good chuckle from all within earshot.
As a young teen, Stromberg excelled at her horse competitions and musical talents.
Sadly, she turned to drugs rather than learning how to cope with her anxieties and the emotional turmoil that comes from living as a teenager with divorced parents at a time when cellphones, the internet and social media were just getting started.
She wasn’t yet 17 the first time she was checked into rehab.
There, like so many in a rehab facility, she learned more about how to attain and use more drugs.
After she and Sunny finished the figure eight run in 10.2 seconds and Crosby told her a supreme time is 10.2 and faster an elated Stromberg danced around, “I got a supreme time! I can’t believe it!” and “Sunny is so fast I can hardly keep up with her!”
Of going to the show she said, “I fell in love with it all over again.”
“I just realized I took it for granted and now I’m more passionate than ever before.”
Today, she’s continually fighting to overcome her addiction, all the while knowing how easily she could relapse.
I asked Stromberg if I could share this very personal struggle of hers. She agreed.
“I’m totally open about my struggles with addiction” and the difficulties of breaking free.
“I’m a lot better than I was, I’ll tell you that,” she said.
“I haven’t used needles or heroin since April 10, which is amazing to me.”
After dealing with this tragedy for more than 10 years I’m hesitant to let myself believe she’s off that dangerous road of addiction; ever fearful she’ll overdose and die while chasing that insatiable high.
I’m hopeful she will have a successful recovery.
She was always my little buddy; my girl.
I wish I’d been able to thwart her plunge into the life of an addict.
Now I know signs a loved one might be actively abusing heroin include:
• Extreme changes in appearance and attitude; Looking thinner and gaunt.
• Angry or depressed behavior
• Being sleepy all day and getting energized late afternoon or early evening.
• Nodding out or extremely drowsy during a conversation
• Itchy skin, chronic pimples
• Breaking rules, ditching school
• Lying and stealing
• No longer interested in friends or activities — school, sports, animals or hobbies — once enjoyed.
For help or more information about alcohol and drug addiction contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or samhsa.gov.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.