Three years ago nearly to the day, Amber Rios was about to give up her love affair with horse riding as she was headed off to surgery for scoliosis.
On Sunday, she was back on Little Big Man, in the finals of the Craig Cameron Extreme Cowboy Race at the Washington State Horse Expo at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
Her back repaired with two titanium rods, 18 screws and seven clips, Amber, 19, of Vancouver, was a crowd favorite. She was out of horse competition for a full year recovering.
“I’m very proud, it’s my first year of doing (the cowboy race),” she said after completing a course with some 15 obstacles aboard Little Big Man, a paint.
“It’s trail riding incorporated with speed,” she explained after the run. “I was really happy he went over the teeter-totter, I loved his free run.”
Elaborating, she said, “I thought he did great on the noodles. He didn’t hesitate, he went right through.”
To get to Sunday’s competition, Rios needed to be in the top 10 of the adult division from Friday’s runs. She finished sixth,
Her dad and mom, Roy and Rita Rios, were there to support her.
“I’m proud that she got on the horse after such a violent
surgery,” Roy said. “And I’m proud of him (Little Big Man). He takes great care of her.”
“We’re definitely a team,” Amber said.
More than 6,000 people attended the expo, said show co-promoter Maryjo Turnbull, 46, a Hudson’s Bay High School graduate. She started riding when she was 18 in Battle Ground. Today, she lives in Lynden and works for the Northwest Washington Fair & Event Center. A riding instructor, she also puts on about a dozen horse shows a year for her business, On Horses Equine Promotions.
The expo’s second year in Clark County featured more than 100 vendors, six areas of horse activities, 145 horses and about 130 riders. Turnbull said participants and spectators came from Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Alaska.
“It’s a great venue,” she said of the event center. “There are a lot of people who want to come and learn.”
Dennis and Jody Benson of Vancouver were staffing a booth for the Clark County Fair Fence Riders. Each year at fair time, they join other horse lovers in patrolling the perimeter of the fairgrounds on horseback, Dennis on Hummer, 19, and Jody on Poco, 32, both quarter horses.
“It’s our 10-day adult summer camp,” Jody said, laughing.
The Bensons were promoting the association’s fundraiser, a trail trial on July 14 in Woodland.
“We got to talk to people all the way from California to Canada,” Dennis said.
Jody said she appreciated the expo because it “pays attention to the equine community of Clark County.”
The Clark County Executive Horse Council has estimated there are 35,000 horses in the county.
As for Amber Rios, who started riding at 8, she missed the finals Sunday but still was still elated.
She’s working at an Albertsons store and hoping to become a massage therapist.
“I had a great time and will definitely be riding again next year at the cowboy race,” she said.