A teenager from western New Brunswick and his horse are proving wrong anyone who said they would never race again.
Ryson Doucette, of Lakeville, and his horse, Gangster are both making a comeback from serious injury, to high-level competition in barrel racing and pole bending rodeo events.
The two are heading to the U.S. to race in the All American Quarter Horse Congress, starting on Oct. 24.
"It's just so amazing, it's indescribable," Doucette said. "I could never love another horse as much as I love him."
When Doucette, 13, and Gangster went into their first competition, his mother thought she had bought him a dud horse.
"Ryson was approaching the chute to begin racing and Gangster was walking along, eating grass and dandelions," Rayna Doucette recalled.
"And I was saying, 'Ryson, wake him up,' and Ryson turned to me and said, 'Mom, he's not going.' And suddenly, Gangster sprinted.
"He lost his reins, his feet flailing, and by the time he finished, the horse automatically went through the pattern. Ryson came back with his eyes enormous, and said, 'Holy cow Mom.' And he ended up winning that class, and I knew at that point I had done a good thing."
The two were at the top of their class when Doucette was badly injured in July 2012. He was in the back field at an event, when a horse spun and kicked him hard.
"I got thrown 20 feet, through fences," he said.
His mother remembered rushing him to hospital.
"I remember … driving as fast as I can, running by the entrance lady, who said, 'Stop, you have to register.' And I went back through the doors, security running behind me, because I knew he was really, really injured," she said.
Summer of healing
Doucette was in the ICU for days. He had swelling around his heart, and a severe laceration of the liver and in the front leg muscle. The swelling was still present more than a week after he was released from hospital.
"When I got home … there was a a big bruise of just the hoof on my leg and on my chest. They said they were amazed that I had lived," he said.
Soon after Doucette's injury, Gangster got a cut in his leg that required 26 stitches. Later, it was discovered he had two cysts that affected his breathing.
Rayna Doucette said no one was optimistic either would race again.
"Both were bandaged, he was on crutches, the horse was bandaged," she said. "They spent a lot of hours just recuperating together. It was a healing summer for both of them — I think physically, emotionally and mentally for both of them.
"And I think really, the time off made them come back better as competitors this year."
Doucette and Gangster also qualified for an international rodeo event in Georgia in the spring.
"My mother wants me, of course, to go there and take it safe. That's not what I do. It's a race. I go there to race, I don't go there to play it safe," said Doucette.
"When he moves, you better hang on."