The Double Trouble Trick Riders are kindred spirits with rodeo participants at Saturday’s 8th Annual Rosewood Rodeo, to be held at Great Bend’s Expo III Arena. They share a common experience because therapeutic horse riding has positively changed their lives.
The trick-riding trio from Lexington, Mo., is comprised of teenage twins Bethany and Brittany Iles, along with their younger sister, Libby. Bethany’s battle with anorexia three ½ years ago drew the family to horses and that quickly led the girls to pursue trick riding.
“Doing this type of event is heartfelt to us because we know the importance of the horse to someone who has a different need,” said Andrea Iles, the mother of the sibling trick riders. “We’ve seen the advantageous of therapeutic riding firsthand. The horses help us heal; it’s amazing what can be accomplished with them.”
In early 2009, Andrea was struggling with a mysterious illness, thought to be cancer. That stressful ordeal led to Bethany’s eating disorder. Professionals encouraged Andrea to find something that would interest the child. She thought about the newly opened horse ranch that was about five minutes away from the family’s home. The twins had shown a recent interest in the horses, remembered Andrea. So, horse-riding became a new hobby for them.
“It was freezing cold, the middle of February and we put the twins in horse-riding lessons,” she said. “It was a Godsend thing. Within a very short amount of time, we bought both girls a horse. The clinic realized that this child was getting better and they offered her more riding time with eating. Our lives changed for the better almost instantly.”
Three months later, the girls were trick riding, unbeknownst to Andrea. They had watched a performance by trick rider Jennifer Gatrel and were intent on learning the art. Andrea was hospitalized for a few weeks during that time and received a text message. It was a photo of her twins, both standing on horseback.
“Of course I’m in the hospital, saying, ‘Those girls are in deep trouble when I get home,’ but I changed my mind by that time,” said Andrea. “I could tell they were gifted at it and I wasn’t going to let my fears stand in their way of doing something that they truly loved.”
From that point, they never sat very long in the saddle. Andrea hired Gatrel to instruct Brittany and Bethany. They practiced the art for a year before performing their first show in June 2010. A few shows later, little Libby was overheard yodeling and was asked to perform. She’s been singing at the shows ever since. More than a year ago, the now 9-year-old joined her sisters as the third trick rider.
“When you meet Libby, you realize that her personality is so outgoing,” explained her mother. “She wasn’t going to let her two older sisters have all the fun on horseback. She was going to find a way to be part of that spotlight.”
Today, the sisters continue to hone their skills, performing an array of daredevil tricks on their horses. Brittany performs a “full-finger drag,” where she positions herself underneath her galloping horse and drags her hand along the ground. Bethany’s trademark trick is the “shooting star,” in which she flips over the horn of the saddle and hangs off the side of her moving horse. Not to be outdone, Libby performs her self-titled “Liberty Special,” where she twists one foot in the stirrup, hangs off the side of her horse and lifts her free foot up to her ear.
With less than three years on the circuit, the popularity of the Double Trouble Trick Riders is growing. This year has been the busiest season by far, said Andrea. In the last four months alone, the girls have performed 50 shows. They spent last July performing every night in Cody, Wyo. They have performed every weekend this year, all the way from their home state to Wisconsin. And Andrea said they will perform nationally in January for an opportunity to appear in some of the largest professional rodeos next year.
To maintain their lifestyle, the girls practice and train horses up to six hours a day. They are home-schooled each morning and they practice and train in the afternoons. Andrea’s mother travels with the trick-riding group, helping with the rigors of life on the road.
It’s been the help of many, which has allowed her little trick riders to realize their dreams, Andrea acknowledged.
“It’s taken my mom and my dad; and it’s taken sponsorships because we had to have a truck and trailer,” explained Andrea. “We borrowed trailers for a long time until we could afford to purchase our own. It’s taken a lot of help to get these girls where they are today. They appreciate that help and count their blessings for being able to do what they love to do every day.”