Bridget Romey: A Rocky Road to Recovery
As the shines its brilliant rays during the last few minutes of the day before darkness descends, Bridget Romey uncinches her buckskin gelding and pulls off the saddle. She unwraps his boots while he munches grain. Her hand brushes over the scar on his left front foreleg as she stands up. The pair make their way to the pasture with a promise to see one another tomorrow.
Twelve-year-old Flingin Firewater, fondly known as “Rocky” by the Romeys, made his start as Bridget’s dad Gary’s ranch horse, bought as a two-year-old and used as Gary’s main ranch horse for nine years. Bridget had another barrel horse that she wasn’t clicking with, so Rocky, the well-broke and athletic ranch gelding, stepped up to the task and didn’t disappoint.
“We thought, maybe Bridget can take his horse in barrels, and Gary can get the other horse out of the arena and go ranch on him,” Bridget’s mom Sharon said. That was in February 2016.
The 13-year-old barrel racer got along well with Rocky, speeding up her times with each barrel run, largely due to the number of hours she put in the saddle at home in the arena and pastures on the family ranch near Hot Springs, South Dakota.
“I do think she is a natural with animals; she is very talented at reading animals, but she works incredibly hard,” Sharon said of her daughter’s success. “She is driven to learn as much as she can on how to do this. We were given one of those books one time that talks about the 10,000-hour rule, learning to master something. I’m not saying she’s a master, but she’s working the hours to try to get herself better.”
Bridget and Rocky had just won her age division with a 17.3 second run on a full-standard pattern at the 5-State Breeders Futurity in Rapid City, South Dakota, and, several days after returning home, the Romeys’ friends discovered Rocky one morning with a leg shredded.
“He is the leader of the gelding pack here, and he got spooked by a mountain lion in the middle of the night,” Bridget said. “He got his leg hooked on the third wire and took out 70 feet of fence before it broke loose, shredding his leg.”
“He cut his left forearm to the bone and completely severed the ligament that runs down the length of the leg,” Sharon added.
The first took him to Fall River County vet, where his leg was clamped to prevent further bleeding, then trailered to Sturgis Veterinary Hospital and Equine Center, where he was seen by Dr. Jason Mez.
“We almost lost him; he had arterial damage and almost bled out,” Sharon said. “Dr. Mez told her he would watch her run again and gave her hope. At the time it felt pretty hopeless, but he said if she did all his rehab right, he would come back.”
Upon returning home, the Romeys began Rocky’s nearly year-long rehabilitation, which consisted of walking him a minimum of 20 minutes twice daily, and 20 minutes of rinsing with ice water. Bridget also had to peel the scabby wounds, making room for healthy flesh.
“Rocky got a little irritated, but he was really good considering he almost cut his leg off,” Bridget said.
“That was a very emotional time for Bridget; it was very rough, she loves that horse,” Sharon said. “She was absolutely heartbroken, and there were days she couldn’t doctor him; she would just sob. It really did feel hopeless a lot of times, yet she persisted and worked so hard, praying he would come back.”
After running a few small barrel races, Bridget was able to run Rocky at this year’s 5-State Futurity and better her time by two-tenths of a second, a 17.1 second pattern.
“She placed in the women’s open in 1D, placed in the maturity, and ran in the youth sidepot and won that,” Sharon said. “She had a phenomenal race. It was like coming full circle for her. It was hugely emotional. So much of it was his heart; that horse’s heart is huge, and I feel like he’s giving it to her every time she asks him to run.”
Adding to the list of wins, Bridget won the Oelrichs Youth Series on several of her horses before going on to win South Dakota 4-H State aboard Rocky, placing first and fourth, winning the average and earning a saddle.
“It was my first saddle won. That was amazing,” Bridget said. “I was so happy; I didn’t even know what to think.”
Rocky is still intermittently sore or “off” on the occasional weekend, which is where Sharon’s ranch horse comes into the picture. While Rocky recovered, Bridget ran Mercy, forming a tight bond with the little black mare.
“We bought her as a four-year-old as a flunked out reiner to be my ranch horse,” Sharon said. “When Rocky was hurt, we just started thinking it might be a good idea to start thinking about backups in other areas for Bridget’s rodeo horses. Last winter when it was so snowy and icy, we sent her to a friend in Missouri, and this gal started her on barrels. She took to it like a fish to water.”
Bridget still runs both horses in barrel races, and she has an appreciation for both, but one holds her heart just a bit more.
“I thought Rocky was my favorite, but I’ve grown to like Mercy, but I still think I like Rocky a little better,” she said. “Rocky likes big patterns, but Mercy can run in just about anything. Rocky is a little easier to keep calm.”
The trio plans to compete in high school rodeo and continue competing in large barrel races, but the looming goal for the eight-grader is to get both horses to The American qualifier and even qualify for the semi-finals.
“We are really proud of her. She’s got big dreams. We hope she’ll continue working hard and find happiness in the journey and not just the results,” her mom said. “We know the level of maturity it takes to level your nerves to run in those kinds of situations. She doesn’t look like a 13-year-old running those barrels.”