- Associated Press - Monday, July 28, 2014

WARNER, Okla. (AP) - Taylor Howell was 17 when he straddled his first bronco in a California rodeo.

“I got on a big old monster,” Howell said.

“I entered a rodeo, and it was just the luck of the draw. I got one of the biggest bareback horses I had ever seen. He jumped out there, and my arm got straight, and he blew my hand out of the rigging. I went about 15 feet up in the air. I went upside down and all the way over.”

Only, Howell never actually saw that horse, let alone the dirt with which he was about to collide. He’s been blind since the age of 2, when cancer took his vision. Now, as an eager 18-year-old climbing the ranks of the rodeo circuit, Howell is gearing up for his first semester at Connors State College in Warner, where he’ll be a part of the school’s rodeo team.

Howell, who is originally from Acton, Calif., said those few seconds of adrenaline were enough to keep him coming back for more.

Last year, he was named California High School Rodeo Association District 9 bareback champion, and garnered the title of all-around cowboy.

Even though he experienced success on the West Coast, the lack of rodeos and chances to ride in California prompted a move to Oklahoma. It just made sense to go where the horses were, to follow the action, he said.

Howell moved to Warner with his grandmother two months ago and will start school at Connors State there in the fall.

Howell said being blind gives him a certain advantage over other riders. He feels the horse move underneath him, rather than watching it and trying to anticipate its next move.

The crowd, the fence, the atmosphere, none of that matters when all you know is what you feel.

“There’s a lot of times you can watch the fence and kind of see which way the horse is going to go and which way he’s thinking about going, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to go there,” Howell said.

“That horse can feel a fly land on his back, and he knows when you’re out of position. And, he’s got you right where he wants you.”

Howell said part of the reason he came to Oklahoma was to learn from Brad Gower, a bareback riding instructor who teaches out of Coalgate.

Gower lost his right eye in 2012 when a horse kicked him, leaving him 50 percent blind.

Gower said working with Howell has taught him a lot about how he rides, too.

“He has changed me, the way I teach,” Gower said.

“Now I teach off of feel, using the feet and the legs to feel off the horse’s neck and feel that drag and spurts coming up. You can actually feel right into that horse, coming up in the air, and you can feel him drop back down in the front end. You can watch a horse all day long, and you’ll never learn. But, if you can feel that horse, you can learn everything about him.”

Even though Howell and Gower feel like their unique conditions offer them a certain advantage over the average bareback rider, Howelll said he wants rodeo judges to look at him as just the same as everyone else.

“I don’t want to be scored higher by the judges just because I’m doing something that they’ve never seen before,” Howell said.

However, behind that determined sense of fairness is an exuberant confidence Howell said drives him to be the best he can.

“I think the world of bareback riding better watch out, because me and Brad, we definitely have an advantage over some of them guys,” Howell said.

“I think once both of us get to the top of our game, it’s going to be a lot of fun going out there and just taking it to some of these guys who think they’re the best and show them, maybe not so fast.”


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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