By Ashley Lodato

Some kids like to take it easy during summer vacation, but not ninth-grader Sam Wottlin.

Sam has been riding horses most of his life and has participated in rodeo events, but this past summer he took his riding skills to a new level by training with professional rodeo rider and Twisp native Aaron Hammer, who since graduating from Liberty Bell High School in 2007 has been competing on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys circuit.

Sam stayed at Aaron’s place near Moses Lake for a while, helping Aaron with some colts and other work. In exchange, Aaron taught Sam how to ride bareback bronc, which involves riding a bucking horse bareback with only some minimal leather straps to hang onto, called “rigging.”

At Aaron’s, Sam put rigging on what he calls a “spunky” 2-year-old and started learning the technique. According to Sam, the approach is straightforward: You get on the horse, you fall off, you get back on, and you repeat this until you don’t fall off anymore. But there are many components involved in this strategy, such as learning to spur and figuring out how to best lift on your rigging. “After that,” Sam says, “you just keep riding horses until you get good.”

In his third week, Sam had his biggest fall of the summer. Aaron was on the bucking horse and Sam was riding a colt in a specific direction dictated by Aaron. But Sam’s horse unexpectedly took a big jump and Sam hit the ground. “Gravel got all embedded in my back and I’m not sure if I got a concussion or not,” Sam says, “but I had to go to the emergency room.”

The next day, Sam was back on the same horse — literally, back in the saddle. Shouldn’t a rider take the day off after being thrown from the back of a horse, I wondered aloud? No, Sam told me. The reason to get back in the saddle is not to build back up the confidence of the rider, he explained, but instead for the horse’s sake. “Once a horse bucks you off,” Sam says, “you have to get back in the saddle to show the horse that it’s not OK to do that.”

Sam described a few other falls and near-misses (including a six-button rattlesnake that appeared right in his path on a trail ride) in such a casual manner that I had to ask him, “Are you covered with scrapes and bruises after your summer with Aaron?” Sam sighed wearily, in the manner of a 14-year-old Methow kid who lives an active life. “I’m always covered in scrapes and bruises from God knows what,” he replied.

Sam hopes to continue his bareback bronc training, but for now he’s back in school as a freshman at Liberty Bell High School, right back in a different kind of saddle.

Photo courtesy of Laura Wottlin
Sam Wottlin has been training with professional rodeo cowboy Aaron Hammer.

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