Teri Vance: Lehman chases dream carrying a flag horseback

Turning 50 this year and with her three children moved out of home to go off at college, Erin Lehman found herself alone.

What could have been a lonely time, Lehman turned into an opportunity to go after her dreams.

“Man, I still have a lot of life to live,” she realized. “You only get one go at it, so you have to make the best of it. I want to experience all these great things in the second part of my life.”

When her children were small, she started taking them to each year to the Reno Rodeo. And every year, she admired the rodeo’s team of women who carry the flags into the arena.

While busy taking care of her children, and getting them to their own rodeo competitions, participating herself didn’t feel like an option.

She decided this was the year to try out to become part of the prestigious group of women.

“I set goals each year to stretch myself a little bit,” she said. “My goal this year was to try out for the Reno Rodeo Flag Team. When you allow yourself to take in all these new experiences, you just learn so much.”

An experienced horsewoman, who led the High Sierra Riders 4-H group for nearly a decade, she still had some hesitation.

“I’m a little heavier than I was before I had kids and when I used to do competitive riding,” she said. “I wondered, ‘Am I going to look good enough out there on my horse. Do I still have that posture and the equitation?’”

She qualified for the team — which carries the American and state flags, sponsors flags and sometimes shows off some drill team maneuvers — along with two of her horses JoJo, 12 and Pepsi, 19.

JoJo, a registered quarter horse, whose official name is Kings Bueno Cowboy, is her main ride and has been her silent strength.

“It’s very reassuring being confident in my horse,” Lehman said. “Knowing he isn’t going to spook and jump out from underneath me, makes me relax and enjoy the ride.”

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had his moments. Lehman remembers the first night as they approached the arena and could see the lights and hear the cheering of the crowd.

“His body puffed up, and I could feel him getting a little nervous,” Lehman said. “He looked back at me like, ‘Really, this is what we’re doing?’ But he did great.”

The jitters return each night, she said, but they just fuel the excitement.

“Standing under the arch at the north end of the arena, it’s this massive adrenaline rush,” she said. “It’s such a cool feeling coming in that arena at a full gallop. It’s awesome.”

Her hesitations have all been erased.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “The minute I go into that arena, I can’t help but smile. I’m so glad I did this.”

One of the highlights, she said, is riding alongside some of the girls she mentored in her 4-H group.

“It’s been great. We have a great time,” she said. “It’s a really great group of girls, and I’ve made so many friends. They’re just amazing horsewomen.”

Her favorite part of the performance each night is the grand finale when the flag team walks the arena, shakes hands, gives high five and chat with spectators.

“It’s really cool to interact with the crowd like that after the rodeo,” she said. “It’s an exhilarating feeling.”

The Reno Rodeo — celebrating its 100th year — concludes Saturday evening with the championship round at the Reno Livestock and Events Center.

Lehman is already planning to try out again next year. She wants to encourage others to chase their dreams as well — no matter their age.

“If you push yourself a little and get out of your comfort zone, anything is possible.”


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