Editor’s Note: Holly Crichton is from the Grande Prairie area. She was the guest speaker at the Cowboy Prom in Grande Prairie for the Alberta High School Rodeo Finals weekend, June 4th.
Fox in Focus contacted Holly to share her words, so many others could read her message. Thank You for your submission Holly.
To the Grads of 2016:
I expect you Grads are wondering what interest a grey haired, wheelchair bound, grandmother, could possibly hold for you on your Cowboy Prom night.
I clearly remember my grade twelve grad. A very long time ago. I certainly had no desire to listen to an old lady. In fact, all I would have been interested in would be speeding her up so we could get on with the party.
So why should you listen to me now?
You should listen to me, because, when I was your age 40 years ago, I could not have begun to imagine being where I’m at now. And not one of you in here, can know for sure what your future holds.
If I could narrow my most important life lessons down to one, single, meaningful word. That word would be, gratitude. One definition of gratitude is; the quality of being thankful. Another definition is; readiness to show appreciation for, and to return, kindness.
A few years ago as I sat at my keyboard late into the night, sometimes all night, spilling my thoughts onto paper, I was sick with terror over what was to become of my family. My youngest son was in prison, charged with first degree murder in the death of his father. I had a farm to run from my wheelchair, while I fought to save my sons life.
A yellow sticky note posted just above eye level, on my computer monitor, with the words “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME,” printed on it in block capital letters, with red felt pen, became my mantra. It reminded me to be grateful, no matter how difficult my situation was.
When I was 11 years old, my parents bought me a 2 years old filly for $100. It was all they could afford. I spent countless hours riding her. Usually at top speed with little control. A move when I was 13, away from the small town we lived in, to the city of Kamloops, threw me into using drugs and running with street kids. I still loved riding, but my horse was boarded on the other side of the city, and I rarely got to ride.
Another move, when I was 14, to get me away from the streets and the drugs, took our family to what was at that time, the largest privately owned ranch in North America. The Douglas Lake Cattle company. They ran 10,000 head of cattle on half a million deeded acres. I wasn’t happy with the move, I missed the excitement of running the streets. I think I was a pretty typical kid. In my mind, everything was about me, and what I wanted.
We hadn’t been at Douglas Lake long, when I learned that my horse was not broke at all compared to cowboy standards. She would rear and bolt if I didn’t let her have her way. The cowboys said, “come with us for a week, and she’ll have a different attitude.” So that’s what I did. I started riding with the cowboy crew. I then had all the excitement I could possibly want.
Stan Murphy, who was cow boss at Douglas Lake, took me under his wing and began my equine education. Under his tutelage I began high school rodeoing. I entered every girls event; team roping, breakaway roping, goat tying, steer riding, barrel racing, pole bending and cutting. I was successful in all of the them, but cutting was my main event, taking me to the national finals, in Lake Charles Louisiana, in 1976.
Stan would work all day, cowboying on the range, then he’d meet me at the quarter horse barns, where the world champion cutting horse Peppy San lived. There, Stan coached me, and turned back for me, as I rode his cutting horse. In the summer I stayed at cow camps with Stan and his wife Diane. I didn’t understand at the time how much their kindness would affect my outlook on life, and give me the strength in later years to face tremendous obstacles.
The day after my grade 12 grad I headed out to go to work for a veterinarian I had met while she did her practicum at Douglas Lake. By the end of that summer I knew being a vet assistant was not for me, so I went to work for a cutting horse trainer.
As luck would have it, in the fall of 1978, even though I always felt quite big, I learned that I was just the right size to be a jockey. I headed to the race track. Nothing could have suited me better. The summer of 1979 was fast and furious. Aside from the fun of community race meets, which to me were one big traveling party, I got to ride race horses three nights a week, and exercise them in the mornings. I rode a lot of horses and quickly rose to the top of the pecking order in jockey standings. I was a natural for the job.
Along the way I met a racehorse trainer and fell in love with him. We were perfectly suited to each other, or so I thought. Both of us loved horse racing and thrived on hard work. Despite the fact that he was considerably older than me, I had no interest or concern about his history. I was young and didn’t know, then, what personal baggage is. We got along so well that we decided to start a family together. Shortly before the birth of my first child in 1981, the illusion I had of my spouse, as my friend and protector, was shattered. He blindsided me with a violent side I couldn’t have imagined.
My life went from blissful and carefree to terrifying in the blink of an eye. I, who had always been so strong and confident, was suddenly a victim. In those days, if you lived on a rural property, the only way to reach out, was through the party line phone system, or with snail mail. It was very easy for this man to isolate me from my family and friends. And it was easy for him to silence me with threats of violence, against me, and everyone I loved. Aside from those clear threats, the overwhelming shame I felt over the way I was being treated, kept me silent. Who would I tell? How could I admit to being beat up by my husband?
I made up my mind that although I couldn’t control this man’s treatment of me, I could control how I dealt with the rest of my world. I decided to be the best worker, and the best mother, I possibly could be.
I didn’t ride race horses while I had small children, but when my oldest son was seven years old, I started back race riding. I quickly regained my old status, back at the top of the jockey standings. In the public’s eye I was successful, and our family looked to be doing just great. But out of sight, things were different.
In 1995 I was leading rider for the Grande Prairie meet, then, 2 days into the 1996 races, I went down in a spill that left me paralyzed. As a jockey, quite often I would jump on horses for the first time, having never even seen them before, when they were tacked in the paddock and headed toward the starting gate. Jockey’s put their trust in trainers not to name them on a dangerous horse, without at least giving them a warning.
I quickly figured out on post parade, that the horse I was on that day, was trouble, but I’d ridden lots of bad horses before and wasn’t too concerned. I was in the one hole and thought the outside horses would haze me around the turns. But, on the first turn my horse threw its head up, and bolted out, trying to head back to it’s barn area.
When my horse bolted, it clipped heals with the horse in front of us, and broke it’s leg, piling me into the ground and slamming down on top of me. I ended up with two crushed vertebrae, 7 shattered ribs, 2 punctured lungs and a broken collarbone. The horse was put down. The only thing that saved my life, was my helmet and flak jacket. I was a strong proponent of proper safety equipment.
Hundreds of people came to my aid, in one way or another, doing anything they could to help me adapt, but very few were aware of the dangerous setting I lived in. The situation at home had immediately become more complicated. My two sons who were 13 and 14 at the time of my accident, now had no one to protect them from their violent father, and I had just lost my only skill set. I was more trapped than ever.
My oldest son, Jason, graduated in 1999 and pursued a path with computers. My youngest son, Matthew, went to Oklahoma State shoeing school and became a talented farrier, as well as training race horses. Mat’s father was proud of him because of his status with the chuckwagon and race horse crowd. Until a car accident in 2004, when he was 21, left Mat brain damaged. Suddenly, he was an embarrassment to his father. A retard. Someone to be bullied once again.
As Mat slowly learned to walk, talk, read and write, it became obvious that he would never be the same person he once was. His right side was partly paralyzed, his vision and speech were still handicapped, and his previous job skills were gone.
Hundreds of people stepped up to help Mat out. He had been well known and respected as a child and young man, and it came back to him in his time of need. The people who were grateful for his help when he could give it, were there for him after his accident.
As time went on, Mat became more able, although he was classed as a semi-dependent, vulnerable, adult. With the help of many friends and neighbours he learned to cope with his disabilities, and to become a productive person again.
To the public, we were an amazing family, coping with two life changing accidents and moving forward. Mat’s father often told me, that people would compliment him on what a good man he was, for looking after his handicapped wife and son. They couldn’t know what went on behind closed doors. The abuse toward Mat, who was by this time the weakest link, steadily escalated.
On September 3rd 2010, around eleven am B.C. time, I got a phone call as I sat on my power chair in an outdoor arena, near Dawson Creek, preparing to send my border collie stock dog around a group of sheep. Mat was on the other end. “I’m sorry to ruin your holiday,” he said, “but I just shot your husband.” Once again, my life was thrown into a complete tailspin.
The police, in charging Mat with first degree murder; That’s planned, premeditated, intentional murder, painted him to be a heinous individual. His father, a feeble old man.
A friend from my race track days, who was a local civil lawyer, rushed to the Grande Prairie jail where Mat was taken after he phoned 911. The lawyer knew instantly that Mat would be destroyed, if he was convicted of first degree murder. Sentenced to 25 years to life, in a maximum security prison. Upon talking to Mat, and hearing the story of what had happened, he became even more determined to defend Mat.
The outpouring of support was astonishing. Mat’s planned defence was “Self Defence.” Hundreds of people stepped up to offer letters of support, and many were prepared to go before a judge, and a jury, in Mat’s defence.
Through the many months of preparation for trial, with life in prison hanging over Mat’s head, the support never wavered. When Mat decided to accept a plea offer of, guilty of manslaughter, and was sentenced to a 4 year prison term, the support still never wavered.
Mat is now home on the farm, looking after our cattle and doing farm tasks. His wife Jenny is a part time nurse at the Grande Prairie hospital. They have two children. Percy who’s 5 years old, and Emmalyn, who is one.
Mat, Jenny, Percy, Emmy and I, all still live at our farm. We work hard, volunteer for community functions, and are good solid citizens. The only way we can repay society for its belief in us, is to try harder, be better, and hopefully enhance the lives of others. These days that’s called, “Paying it forward.”
In my life, I’ve been dealt some terrific blows. Any of which could have kept me down…
If not for the kindness of so many friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, I may have given up. I am grateful, every day, for the strong shoulders that have been there for me to lean on, and I believe that every person in this room, can easily find at least one thing a day to be grateful for.
At one time I could easily exercise ten horses in the morning, then ride ten races that night. There seemed to be no limit to my stamina and ability. Now, ¾ of my body is like a block of concrete. I would dearly love to be the old me, but that’s not happening. Instead, I’m thankful for what I can do. My first thought of the day, is nearly always, “I’m so glad I can use my arms.”
My message to you, grads of 2016, is this: As you experience your adult life, on whichever trails you choose to follow, never underestimate the value of gratitude, or the power of kindness.
Things may not always go exactly as you wish them to, but rather than be angry or bitter, be grateful for your abilities, whatever they are, and keep on trying. One thing I’ve learned, is that you don’t have to be THE prettiest, or THE best, or THE smartest, to be respected. You just have to do YOUR best, whatever that best is.
Holly CrichtonPrint This Post