Suzanna and Skyler Norris knew that a trip to the 2018 USEA American Eventing Championships, presented by Nutrena Feeds® (AEC), would take a lot of hard work. It was a trip that would require support from others, it would cost more than Skyler had saved, and it would also be served with a heaping side of and ups and downs.
When fifteen-year-old Skyler Norris qualified for the Championship event in the Junior Training division she was ecstatic, but she questioned whether or not a trip across the country would be feasible. Not wanting her daughter to miss out on the incredible competitive opportunity the AEC provides, “Suzee” encouraged Skyler to raise the funds to make the journey to the Championships a possibility. She told her daughter that if she wanted to reach her goals of being a top equestrian athlete when she was older, she was going to have to get used to making these opportunities work out. Skyler set up a GoFundMe account and with the support of her family and friends, she raised enough money to travel to and compete in the 2018 AEC.
With the AEC funds secured, Skyler and Suzee packed up their truck and trailer and started their journey west. Their drive to Parker from their hometown of Cocoa, FL, would cover roughly 1,900 miles and take an estimated thirty-two hours of driving. In the trailer, they loaded Skyler’s mount, Elegance (Ella for short), and two horses that they were hauling for a friend, to be delivered to Corpus Christi, TX. Day one of their voyage ended in Houston where they overnighted the horses at a local farm and headed to a hotel to get some rest.
When the alarm went off at 4 a.m., Suzee resisted the urge to hit the snooze button and quickly ushered Skyler and their belongings to the truck. At 4:30 in the morning, they arrived at the barn to pick up the horses for their second day of travel. As they were turning off of the highway, into the driveway, Suzee and Skyler felt something happen to the trailer. “There was a big commotion,” Suzee described, “at that point, I thought I had done something wrong. I didn’t know if I had hit a deer, or if the trailer fell off into a ditch. But then Skyler looked back through the window and saw the car.” Suzee went on, “There was a little car that was completely pulverized at the back of the trailer. When I saw it I thought, for sure, that there was no way the driver was alive. We got out of the truck and started walking back towards his car when he crawled out, perfectly unharmed. How he survived, I don’t know.”
Debris from the trailer covered the road
The driver of the car had been driving home from work on a road he was very familiar with and, as he regularly did on that stretch of the highway, he had his cruise control set to sixty-seven miles per hour. The driver didn’t see the truck and trailer on the road until the last minute when he slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The collision with the small car completely tore off the back of the trailer and the force of the hit sent the trailer shooting forward, breaking the gooseneck from the hitch and crumpling the back of the truck and the contents of the bed.
“By the grace of God, Skyler had moved her saddles from the back tack room, to the main tack room. She had forgotten the rear tack room lock, so fortunately, the part of the trailer that was damaged most was nearly empty. Her helmet was back there and so were a few buckets, but nothing that valuable. We were really so lucky-so lucky that the horses were not in the trailer, so lucky that her saddles weren’t in the back, and so lucky that nobody was injured.” Suzee continued, “Life is weird, if I would have hit that snooze button, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But then, maybe if we had spent five minutes to go back to get the lock, the saddles would have been in the rear tack room, the horses would have been in the trailer and he could have hit us at the next stoplight. We’re just so grateful things happened the way they did.” Once Suzee realized that everyone was ok and the shock of the accident started to wear off and her focus turned back to the task at hand. “We have to get to Colorado!”
Suzee’s kind smile grew even larger as she retold the next part of the story. “Everybody’s attention turned to getting us to Colorado. The on-duty police officer, the owners of the barn, and even the man who hit us all started making calls, trying to help get us to Colorado. I put out the plea on Facebook and immediately, offers to help started pouring in from all over the country. My phone didn’t stop ringing from 6:30 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon.”
People often liken the eventing community to being similar to a village, saying things like “it takes a village” when they are speaking about eventing. From the multi-discipline support each athlete needs, to the volunteers that are the heart and soul of every successful event, to the camaraderie that events are known for, eventers are known for coming together. Suzee knew of the village but she never expected that village to cross state lines, time zones or even disciplines, all to help a girl and her pony get to Colorado. For seven hours, Suzee received calls from people offering to drive Ella to the AEC, offering to lend their trailers, and even donating money towards a rental trailer. For so many reasons, that was a morning Suzee and Skyler will always remember.
Skyler and Suzee ultimately ended up renting a trailer to complete their journey to Colorado. Because Suzee was responsible for getting the two other horses to a different location, it was easiest to simplify the journey and keep all of the horses together. The truck was confirmed to be structurally sound and the bumper-pull rental trailer did not use the damaged gooseneck hitch, so by 5 p.m., Suzee, Skyler, and their three equine passengers pulled out of Houston and continued on their drive.
One of the offers Suzee received was from Sandee Slattery of San Antonio, TX. Sandee was also traveling to the AEC and offered Ella a spot in her trailer. Wanting to arrive earlier than Sandee was planning, Skyler and Suzee instead took her up on her other offer providing a place to overnight the horses, further along on their trip. That evening, after dropping off the other two horses in Corpus Christi, Suzee, Skyler, and Ella pulled into Limerick Farms at midnight, for a comfortable night’s rest.
The rest of the drive to Colorado was, thankfully, without incident. Ella and Skyler have already had some great warm-up rides at CHP and Skyler is anxious to compete.
Skyler and Ella soaring over a warm-up fence at CHP
Although the unfortunate start of the AEC journey was different than expected, the Norris ladies are resilient and are overcome with gratitude. “There have been so many blessings, under the circumstances,” Suzee said. “The driver of the car apologized to me and said ‘I’m sorry I ruined your weekend’, I told him ‘You didn’t ruin my weekend! Somebody could have died! That would have been so tough and ruined my weekend. This is all stuff that we can fix and we can figure out.”
Skyler and Ella stretching their legs in Colorado
Suzee’s outlook is a true testament to her character and it’s easy to see that Skyler’s gracious and humble demeanor emulates the model set for her by her mother. The Norrises have been involved in Thoroughbred rescue for years and it’s plain to see that their years of paying it forward and helping others, came full circle, on the side of the highway in Houston, TX. It’s a lesson to us all to help people in need, to avoid the urge to only see the negative in situations, and maybe to give in to your snooze button once in a while.
Suzee, Ella, and Skyler settled in and ready for competition!
Photos provided by Suzee Norris