With the love of a very good horse

Molly Harmon had trouble walking, then horses came into her life

  • Molly Harmon, 17, kisses her quarter horse, Hypo, on his forehead.

  • Molly Harmon and Hypo during a local barrel race. Note the sharp turns around the barrels.

  • Molly Harmon and Hypo

As the sports landscape continues to change, many are discovering new sports to follow.

Enter barrel racing.

It’s not, as one might originally think, where people roll barrels to the top of hills and then push them down, or even where people ride barrels down a racetrack, trying not to fall off.

No, barrel racing is all about horses and riders. Riders race their horses in a particular pattern around barrels to each try to get the fastest time possible.

It takes a very special bond between a horse and a rider, with a well-developed sense of trust, to race at a competitive level, and that’s what Clinton rider Molly Harmon, 17, is trying to do with her horse, Hypo.

Molly and Hypo got together after Molly had recovered from a number of childhood ailments, and this horse has become the focus of her life.

“She always had a passion for horses,” said Harmon’s mother, Theresa. “She always watched [barrel racing]. She had a little horse named Jackson that she rode for at least two years and hit a lot of barrels – and you don’t want to do that. Then we ran across Hypo.”

A family friend of the Harmons, Melissa Stooksbury, owned Hypo, who is a 12-year-old quarter horse. The Harmons told Stooksbury that if she was ever inclined to sell Hypo, they wanted to try to buy him.

“I just got this feeling,” said Theresa. “Melissa called me one day out of the blue and told me that if we were serious about getting him for Molly, she wanted us to have him, and she made it possible for us. Horses like Hypo don’t come that easy. It’s been a dream, and Hypo’s been a gift from God. She said that she felt like it was meant for Molly to have Hypo. Horses like that don’t just happen and they don’t just fall in your lap like he did ours. I really never thought I would have an opportunity to own him, and [Melissa] made it to where we could have an opportunity to pay for him.”

Molly didn’t start out racing horses, though. In fact, when she was little, she had trouble even walking.

“She didn’t walk, she sort of scooted,” said Theresa. “Her legs were tight like there was something wrong. I had a hard time admitting it, because nobody wants anything to be wrong with their kids. Right before we went to see a specialist, though, to get her fitted with braces, she sat up and got this strange look on her face. Then she just ran across the floor. We had been to children’s off and on with different things over the years, with her lungs and everything else.

“Then the next day, we went in and the doctors looked at the x-rays and said, ‘I can’t explain it, but — there’s nothing wrong with her legs anymore.’ Then things just started getting better. Her lungs started getting better and her eyes.”

Even with the health problems, Molly always loved horses. She would run around their feet, and reach up to try to pet them from her stroller.

But Theresa Harmon says she believes that Hypo was meant for Molly.

“I swear he was born for her,” she said. “Not many horses will just wait on you, like he does for her. He’s got the agility to go really fast, but he just gradually goes with her a little more at a time. He’ll come to her in the field, and just lay his head down on her.

“Lots of horses don’t like to be petted. It’s just crazy how he acts with her. It’s a God-given thing. I’ve watched him with other kids, and these two have a bond that I can’t even explain. I don’t know who was meant for who, whether she was meant for him or he was meant for her.”

Molly takes riding lessons from Shayna Miller. Her dream is to ride like her mentor, as well as famous barrel racers such as Carly Taylor and Alyssa Whitehead, and, as far as observers can tell, Hypo wants to help her with that dream.

“He just waits for her, like he knows she’s still learning,” Teresa said. “Everyone thought he would be too much horse for her because he’s so fast and strong, but he waits for her. Every time she’s ready to go up a notch and go a little faster, he’s like, ‘Okay, little human, I’m ready.’ Whenever she’s ready to take it up a notch, he goes with her.”

Molly’s been quite successful as a barrel racer so far, winning two of the four races she’s entered, competing against kids from Maryville, Virginia, McMinn County, and other places. She’s qualified for Youth World next year, and will be competing there, but her ultimate goal is to make it to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

“You can win saddles, or money, or a lot of different things, depending on the race,” said Theresa. “Winning is always nice, but having a horse that loves you as much as Hypo is winning in itself. He really is her wings.”

Hypo has done more than just raced with Molly, though, according to her mother.

“Horses teach kids so much, from responsibility to commitment to confidence,” she said. “The rider is the horse’s voice. If you’re nervous, they feel you’re nervous. If you’re happy, they feel it. They teach them how to be a leader. When they commit and sit on that saddle, they’ve got to know they’re in control, they’re the leader, and they have to be confident, so that this 1,200-pound animal can be confident, too.

“In order to succeed, you have to have struggles in your life. I’ve always told her that there’s scriptures in the Bible about soaring on the wings of eagles, and I truly believe that Hypo is those wings for her.”