Hold Your Horses!

The thundering sounds of hooves thumping against the dirt-covered path fill the silence as sophomore Erin Moody grips onto the reins, guiding her horse, Percy, around three wooden barrels. As she weaves through the course, I can’t help but notice a common design on her riding gear — a vibrant sunflower that adorns her fanny pack, the bandages on Percy’s legs and her riding helmet, as if to replicate the same positive energy she radiates in the arena.  

Moody began horseback riding at 6 years old; her first lesson took place at the Anaheim Equestrian Center Rancho Del Rio Stables. 

“It’s actually really funny because my parents aren’t horse people at all,” Moody said. “My mom doesn’t like horses very much, but I’ve always wanted to ride horses. I was just your typical four-year-old who was like, ‘Oh look, a horse! Wow!’ And from there, my parents signed me up for lessons about a month after my sixth birthday, and here we are now.”

After her first lesson, Moody said she knew she wanted to ride horses competitively. Since then, she has trained at five locations, including Country Trails and Riding School in Irvine Regional Park and Silver Stirrup Riding Academy. 

But training at several locations also posed the challenge of accommodating different horses every lesson. Yet, Moody was always eager to adapt to the personality of every horse she encountered. 

However, in Summer 2020, this dynamic shifted when she was finally given her own horse by her parents, who she then named Percy—a name inspired by her two cats, Apollo and Orion. Moody said when thinking about what to name him, she immediately thought of continuing her trend of using common names originating from Greek mythology. 

“My personal horse has been the horse that’s been the most difficult to develop a relationship with,” Moody said. “He is honestly kind of a nut case. It’s been really interesting working with him because he’s such a difficult horse to manage because he’s inconsistent, so every time you ride him it’s just so different.”  

Like every relationship, it required time and patience before Moody and Percy could develop an enduring bond. Shortly after school, Moody would rush to the stables to train Percy with the goal of preparing for barrel racing competitions: a Western style of horseback riding that involves weaving around wooden barrels in a clover pattern.

However, this stable schedule was unexpectedly disrupted when Moody had an accident with her horse, resulting in the loss of a part of her thumb.

“I was tying him to a rail, and my finger was in the loop while I was tying him, and he pulled back, which means he sat backwards because he spooked at something,” Moody said. “My finger was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

After being in the ICU for seven days, Moody was told she would be unable to train or visit her horse for three months. During her recovery period, her best friend and El Toro High junior Sophia Darling took care of Percy and sent videos of them at the stables to her while Moody rested at home. 

“From the very beginning, I was just here to help because she’s my friend, and she was in a hard situation,” Darling said. “It was very difficult for her to be in that situation because of her thumb, and she was also having these mixed feelings about her horse, Percy.” 

After recovering, Moody finally returned to training in December 2020. But just as she was easing back into her normal training schedule, Percy fell and severely damaged his back in February. 

“I just remember there was this one time after he fell, while we were waiting for the vet to get there, he came and rested his head on my shoulder and sat there for half an hour until the vet came, and I was just sobbing because I knew he was in pain, but there was nothing I could do about it,” Moody said.

Today, Moody continues training with Percy for barrel racing competitions and now interns for Silver Stirrup Riding Academy. 

“Her positivity and her attitude is just very strong in a positive way,” Silver Stirrup Riding Academy owner Liza Hillman said. “I can’t say this about all of my students, and I love all of my students, they have such amazing qualities, but even for myself, I wouldn’t say that I’m as bright and positive as Erin is.”

Though Moody’s long-term goal is to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo, her top priority is to be a positive role model that young horseback riders can look up to. 

As I watch Moody and Percy playfully interact with each other at the stables, it is no surprise why she selected a sunflower to represent her journey. 

“There’s a quote I really like that goes, ‘Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do,’” Moody said. “It’s just an amazing reminder to power through.”