To return to or resume an activity that one has previously failed at, had difficulty with, or which has previously caused one harm. 

Erin Phelps is literally & Figuratively getting back on the horse.  I have had the honor of knowing Erin since I was a young man as her brother is one of my best friends.  Erin has a contagious, dynamic, and entertaining personality that makes it impossible to not smile and laugh when you are around her.  You never know what is going to come out of her mouth: Often it is something inappropriate and hilarious.  After my phone call with Erin yesterday, I quickly learned that what was coming out of her mouth was intensely passionate and inspirational.
Erin realized her passion for cowboy shooting in 2011 from an inspiring coach.  The coach that inspired Erin was not a cowboy shooting or a rodeo coach, as you would imagine, but instead it was a basketball coach (yes us basketball coaches can do anything, ha).  Coach Patton was the Men’s Basketball coach at Northern Illinois University, but in his spare time he was part of a cowboy shooting club that rented out the Arena at Erin’s parents home in Malta, Illinois.
“I always thought that cowboy shooting looked stupid and I had no interest in even trying it.”
This was Erin’s thought process until one day when Coach Patton talked Erin into jumping on a horse and giving it a shot (pun intended).   He let Erin use his horse, holster, and guns; and the first time Erin got on the horse, she hit every target.
“Coach could see the smile on my face after I finished shooting.  I really enjoyed the experience, but still cowboy shooting is an expensive hobby.  You need to get a horse, holsters, guns, saddles, and if you want to compete, money to travel.  I told coach that I had a blast, but even if I wanted to do it, it was too expensive.”
A week went by and Coach Patton called Erin and asked if she would meet him at her parents farm.  Erin showed up and coach wasn’t around, but he sent his assistant to drop of a gift.   The gift: a brand new set of guns.  When Erin called to thank him, coach told her:
“When you find something you are good at and you love, you just have to do it.”
Erin used coaches’ horse until she purchased her own horse, Mabel,  in 2012.  She started to compete using her new horse, Mabel,  and the new set of guns coach got her and she quickly began to win competitions.  There are 6 levels in cowboy shooting and Erin started as a level 1 shooter.  To move to level 2 you have to win 3 level 1 class competitions against 3 other level 1 shooters.  You then move to Level 2 where you have to win 4 level 2 competitions , against 4 level 2 shooters in each competition.  This trend continues until you reach level 6.  Living in such a small town, there is a lot of travel and expenses that go into finding competitions and competing to move up the ranks.  In 2014 Erin traveled every weekend, but one, from May to October. Her passion took her to compete in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Wyoming.  Erin, showcasing skill and natural talent, quickly moved through the ranks and was knocking on the door of becoming a level 4 shooter.  She was the Eastern Iowa Women’s State Champion and the Illinois Overall State Champion.
In 2015, Erin battled a divorce and needed a change in her life.   She stopped cowboy shooting and sold her horse Mabel.  Using the money from the sale of Mabel, she picked up and Moved to Idaho.  The move was not an easy one.  Erin was born and raised in Malta, Illinois and lived in the community for over 30 years.  Needing a change to rejuvenate her and help her pursue happiness, she relocated to Idaho without knowing anyone, without a job, and the sale of her horse being the only money in her pocket.  She quickly fell in love with Idaho and instantly felt at home, but she missed competing.
A year went by and Erin had not competed since moving to Idaho, but an opportunity was presented to her that she couldn’t turn down.  A good friend was hosting a shooting competition and asked her if she would be willing to jump back on a horse and compete.  She was nervous, since she hadn’t competed in a year, but she told her friend that she would love to compete again.
Erin did not have her horse, but her friend quickly found her a friends horse that she could use during the competition.  She  had her saddle shipped out to Idaho and she mounted her friends horse “to get back in the saddle again,” (see what I just did there, so clever).  After doing some trial runs, the horse’s owner did not like the way that Erin’s Saddle and asked her if she would mind using a different saddle that would be more comfortable for the horse.  Erin reluctantly agreed, but just like any athlete, it would be like playing a game with a stranger’s glove, with a pair of shoes that didn’t fit, or with golf clubs that are 2 inches to short (I have had this problem a lot and I am going to say it is my excuse to why I suck at golf).
The day came for the Event and still nervous, Erin could feel the excitement.  Her parents came out to Idaho with Erin’s son Wyatt, to help run the event and watch Erin compete again.   During stage 1, Erin only missed one target and was in 13th place out of 70 plus shooters.   Not to bad for not shooting and riding for a year.  Erin’s confidence went up and her nerves began to wither away.

“I started to sense that this was going to be my foot back in the door.  I was going to start competing again after a year off.”


In Stage 2, Erin hit the first 4 out of the first 5 targets and as the horse was rounding the barrel, he went to wide.


“You want the turn to be tight around the barrel, so I tried to lean forward to correct the turn.  When this happened the saddle horn got caught on my holster.  My competitive side came out and instead of unhooking, and being safe, I continued to shoot and I tried to lean and wiggle to unhook the holster.”


With the hooked holster, Erin still hit 3 out of the next 5 targets ,but her efforts to unhook the holster form the saddle horn, caused the horse to go faster.”


“Leaning forward is the signal to the horse to run faster.  So while I was trying to unhook, the horse picked up speed.  When he went to round the next barrel he was going to fast and to wide.  I was practically laying on his neck trying to unhook and the horse slammed me into the fence.”


You can see Erin’s accident in this video:



“As soon as I hit the fence, I was knocked out and fell like a sack of potatoes.”  (I normally would never joke in a time like this, but with Erin’s personality I feel comfortable saying this: she fell like a sack of Idaho Potatoes.  Yes, I know.  It is inappropriate humor, but I am sure Erin laughed.”


“I fell of the horse and in the video you can see my dad, who was working as the Range Master, run towards me.  When this happened the horse got spooked and then ran back towards me and stomped on my head.”


Erin was unconscious for 32 minutes and the paramedics transported her to the local hospital in Alpine, Wyoming.  The hospital was not equipped to handle a brain injury like this, so they air lifted Erin to the Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Erin spent a few days in the hospital with 2 skull fractures.  When Erin finally went home, she spend several days going back into the ER with severe headaches (a year later these still have not gone away), pain, sickness, and the inability to eat.  Erin lost her sense of smell and her sense of taste and the doctors are unsure if this will ever come back.  (This would be ideal for me growing up with my grandmothers cooking.  Sorry, not sorry grandma!  I just pointed to heaven so she knowns I am joking).

Erin moved back to Malta, Illinois to be home with family while she recovers and gets back on her feet.




You would think that this would be enough to say “Ok, that was fun, but I am done.  I will find a new passion or find something else I can do, because this accident has changed my life for ever.”  This would be the normal reaction for a normal person, but like I said earlier, Erin is not normal in any sense of the word.

A few weeks ago Erin got back on a horse, literally and figuratively, for the first time since her accident.  She has since started to ride around the arena and shoot at targets.  Erin’s plan: to get back on the horse and compete as a cowboy shooter again.

We all have challenges, but to me there is nothing more inspirational than hearing a story of someone overcoming challenges and then hearing their WHY.   When Erin said she got back on the horse, I had to ask “Why would you do that?”  Erin’s response:


“This was my life for slo long.  I am not going to let the fear of getting hurt scare me away from my passion.  In my eyes I just see this as another test to challenge myself.  I am not a quitter and growing up my dad would always say that the Phelps never quit and we aways go big or we go home. “


When Erin said this and I heard her WHY, I could feel the hair on my arms and neck start to stand.  Erin said it best when she said “it was just another test to challenge myself.”  Everything in our life is a challenge.  Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we can either choose to learn from our challenges and grow or we can decide that they are too hard, quit and take the easy path that often won’t lead us to happiness.  Erin realizes that this was a test and that this test is going to make her stronger, better, and allow her to grow.


As we are about to close the conversation, Erin says:


“Oh yeah, by the way, the other day when I rode and shot for the first time. I only missed one target.”


I laughed and it just continued to confirm that Erin is a cowboy shooter through and through and she is not going to let an freak accident stop her from living her life and chasing her passion.  Just like Coach Patton coached and inspired her to pick up cowboy shooting, I believe that Erin’s story can coach and inspire us all to never give up and to get “right back on that horse” no matter what it is that bucks us off. 



A Video of Erin Cowboy Shooting: 



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