Autism doesn’t stop young cowboy from fulfilling his dream of being a bareback rider | TheFencePost.com

Autism doesn’t stop young cowboy from fulfilling his dream of being a bareback rider

Jody Hall
for The Fence Post

"He's so infectious," laughs Kelly Timberman World Champion Bareback Rider of 2004. "If you're having a bad day, you go hang out with Jaret and you'll be doing just fine," he said of 8-year-old bareback riding fanatic Jaret Whitaker.

At 5 years old Jaret's teacher suspected something was going on with his development. After several tests Jaret was diagnosed with autism. From the beginning, his parents, Billy and Leah Whitaker, decided that they would not let his challenges define who he was. To them he was an average little boy, and that is how they would treat him and raise him.

Even as a small child Jaret was drawn towards horses. Billy said that most autistic kids have a "thing" and Jaret's "thing" is horses. The horses seem to calm him down and vise versa.

"His horse Senna, I watched her buck off my dad. She's bucked me off, but when Jaret's around her she is the calmest she ever is," Billy said. "Two nights ago, Jaret used her for sorting cows. Thirty minutes before that she had a high speed come-apart with me, but with him it's all business."

BAREBACK RIDING

When Jaret's older brother George started bareback riding last winter, Jaret decided he wanted to give it a try. Being autistic, Jaret's mind appeals to methodology. When he is preparing for the ride there is a certain order (method) of doing things that happens the same way over and over. His rigging, putting on his glove and sitting the horse. Jaret had never been bucked off until recently. Billy said, when he got bucked off it confused him, because it didn't fit into the order of his procedures. His method had been interrupted. Up until that point he had always been picked up by the pickup man. So, the next day he practiced 10 hours.

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"I didn't know exactly how he was going to handle getting bucked off the first time," Leah said. "He impresses me every time I turn around. He took it very well. He knew what he had to do to fix it."

Like any mom, Leah worries about her son. She said on rodeo nights her anxiety level is a little high, but she trusts the people at R&R Rodeo Winter Series.

There are times when Billy must work and can't be there with her and Jaret. "You don't necessarily see a whole lot of moms getting on the back of the chute but there are dads all over the place. Someone helps him get on the back of the horse. The majority of those guys will help. They are quick to step up," Leah said.

"I know the people well enough to know they are going to do everything in their power to help him go as far as he can," she said. "I know there are a lot of people who don't understand and are quick to judge. He wears a helmet. He wears a vest. He practices. We take all the necessary precautions in order to keep him safe."

FAVORITE RIDER

Recently Billy reached out to Kelly Timberman, World Champion Bareback Rider, through his social media site and his program ChampionsGO9-0H. Timberman invited Jaret and his mom and dad to his place for a practice and a few pointers.

"When he first came in, we were sitting at the counter in the kitchen. I said, 'Who's your favorite bareback rider?' Without hesitation he hollered 'Kelly Timberman.' That made my heart jump. That was pretty cool," Timberman said.

Timberman's program, ChampionsGO9-0H is his way of giving back. The program will help any young aspiring rodeo athlete and promotes growing the sport of bareback riding. Timberman does his school for free and works with anyone who has an arena and stock. He handpicks the horses for the program and covers everything from riding to goal setting and work ethics. He also works through social media and helps with visual aids. Sometimes he will host practices at the facility at his home.

Timberman was amazed at how focused, dedicated and determined Jaret is to be a bareback rider. Billy told him Jaret practiced every day. Instead of finding it a challenge to get Jaret to practice their challenge lies in getting him to stop.

"He wants to be a bareback rider and he works for it on his own. His parents don't push him to do it. It's all on his own ambition," Timberman said. "It takes a team to get you anywhere in life. They are a good family. For them to treat him like a normal person is very commendable. Most people would want to treat him like he has a dysfunction or something that's wrong with him. It's a difficulty that's for sure. Treating him like he has to have special treatment really would take away from him being able to be himself and be something more in life."

Jaret has his Junior National Finals Rodeo membership card and it's his dream to compete in the finals in December 2019 in the Peewee division. Only two riders will qualify from each region, making it extremely competitive. Jaret has a great start with only being bucked off once since starting last winter.

Leah said that a saying that has stuck with their family is … "You practice like you ride." With Jaret's focus, talent and dedication, that should not be a problem.

If you would like more information on Kelly Timberman, his programs or ChampionsGO9-0H you can reach him through his Facebook page: Kelly Timberman or Kelly Timberman World Champion Bareback Rider. ❖

— Hall is a freelance writer from Platteville, Colo., when she's not writing she is riding her horse in the mountains. She can be reached by email at jodylhallno1@yahoo.com.