Tricks of the Trade

Photos by Tanya Clemons Photography
Photos by Tanya Clemons Photography

Tricks of the Trade

Someone once said, “The world is best viewed through the ears of a horse.” That may very well be true, but from the perspective of the sibling trick riding team of Claira (13), Wyatt (12), and Allie (10) Morris, the second best view comes from hanging upside down off the side of a horse running around a rodeo arena.

There is not a lot of mainstream attention paid to the sport of trick riding, but because of the glitz, high-adrenaline stunts, and, of course, danger to the rodeo crowd, it is a fan favorite. This sport is one of constant practice, creativity, complete trust in a one-thousand-pound animal, and a serious risk of injury. Being young and fearless plays to the Morrises’ advantage, but their natural athleticism and rare talent in the world of trick riding are truly a sight to behold.

Growing up around horses, Claira Morris began attempting tricks on her horse at the age of four. Her parents, Casey and Jimmy, were terrified of their young daughter getting hurt and tried to discourage her from such danger. “At age four, Claira did not even know the term ‘trick riding.’ She just started leaning off the side of her horse and saying, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’” Discouragement did little to curb the four-year-old’s ambition. Casey and Jimmy decided if they could not get Claira to stop attempting her own made-up stunts, at least they could provide her with lessons on how to perform the tricks correctly.

The Morris Family Trick Pony Riders: (L-R) Allie (10), Wyatt (12), and Claira (13). photo by Matt Cornelius

After researching experts in the field, Claira’s nervous parents hired an award-winning trick rider from Stephenville, Texas to train her on beginner stunts she could practice, along with safer methods for performing them. As expected, Claira’s love for the sport only grew. By the time Claira was six, she was officially trick riding in rodeos and specialty shows near her hometown in Southwest Arkansas. The Morris family was knee-deep in Claira’s obsession, including a younger brother and sister who were watching her every move.

In the summer of 2022, Claira and her sister, Allie, performed together for a crowd and attempted a stunt requiring Claira to release her hands and arms downward while hanging off the horse’s back end, bringing her head near the running horse’s tail and hooves. She had practiced this trick many times before, but on this day, the trick failed. Claira was hung up on the horse and could not get off, and the horse dragged her around like a rag doll from one end of the arena to the other, bruising her lung and fracturing six ribs.

Her injuries required Claira to take a one month sabbatical from the trick riding scene. In her absence, Claira’s younger brother, Wyatt, stepped up to fill in for his big sister. Wyatt had been practicing stunts alongside Claira for several years and enjoyed the sport, but he did not want to perform for a crowd. Casey remembered with a smile, “Wyatt always wanted to be in the background, but the minute he began to trick ride for an audience, a star was born. He is a complete showboat.” Little sister, Allie, has since taken her rightful place in the spotlight as well, as she has been trick riding for two years.

Claira, Wyatt, and Allie live and breathe trick riding. The siblings have separate performances with stunts reflecting their individual personalities and skill sets. The girls even do tricks together on the same horse. Casey laughed when discussing double trick riding, saying it requires much coordination. The Morrises perform tricks with intimidating names like the Liberty Stand, the Back Breaker, and the Apache Hide-A-Way. In fact, at a rodeo in Hope, Arkansas, it was announced that Allie would attempt a stunt called the Suicide Drag. When hearing the name of the stunt, a distressed child in the audience, who was obviously not well-versed in the world of trick riding, yelled, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” Someone quickly and calmly explained to the young spectator it was only the name of a trick performed on the horse, and Allie was well-prepared for the performance.

It is obvious all the Morris siblings are extremely talented, well-mannered, and competitive. However, as the eldest, Claira is a self-admitted perfectionist and serves as the spokesperson for the group. She loves a challenge and is constantly trying to up the ante regarding stunts. She won the 2017 and 2018 Cowboy Regional Rodeo Association (CRRA) Specialty Act of the Year. Wyatt, the middle child, is always trying to outdo his sisters in trick riding, and everything else, according to his mother. He is also the comedian of the family. He is trying to convince his parents to let him do showtime tricks on his bull, Buster, and his steer, Buddy, whom he saddles and rides around the Morrises’ property. As the baby of the group, Allie is very calm and shy, often deferring to her big sister regarding questions about their love of horses and the amazing stunts they perform on them. Allie is the Morrises’ go-with-the-flow child and literally hangs on for the ride. The Morris trio claimed the 2022 CRRA Showcase Group Act of the Year when demonstrating what they love to do most.

The Morris children have grown up on their family farm, and a regular day begins with their daily chores: caring for their horses and helping in the family’s chicken houses. The children then complete their homeschool assignments overseen by their mom. The flexibility of the homeschooling schedule allows the family to travel during rodeo season. Of course, the three must also practice or showcase their trick riding stunts every day except Sundays, which are “off days.”

The kids have even trained a few of their horses, hoping to turn them from barrel and team roping horses into trick riding horses. Claira explained the horse has to be trained to run continuously around the arena without stopping. When the kids do their tricks, they do not grasp the reins, as they are hanging parallel off one side of the horse or upside down off the other. In Wyatt’s case, he is vaulting off the saddle to the ground and jumping back up on the horse while running in patterns around the arena. The horse has to know its job is to move constantly forward while the riders perform adrenaline-packed stunts off its back. “You have to trust your horse,” the kids explained. “We take good care of our horses every day. They know us, and we know them,” Claira added. The kids have trained their horses: Tadpole, Gus, and Roy the Wonder Pony. It is always an exciting time on the Morris farm; three talented kids, three good horses, and two parents determined to make the siblings’ trick riding dreams come true.

Along with the stunts that the Morris three perform, they also have fantastic costumes and crowd-pleasing pyrotechnic props that accompany their shows. The kids’ grandmother sews all of their costumes, complete with sparkles, fringe, and any other eye-catching accessories she can create. “I ride for God and country,” Claira explained. She is adamant about stars, stripes, and anything patriotic being a recurring theme of their showtime outfits, while according to mom, little sister Allie would be okay with some purple thrown in the mix.

As an added feature to their act, Claira, Wyatt, and Allie hand out postcard-size pictures of themselves at every event. The images are of the kids in action on their horses. Printed on every card is a Bible verse specifically chosen to share with rodeo fans. Not only do the Morris kids consider trick riding a sport, but they consider it a ministry. The three siblings say that if they can bring people to the Lord through their extraordinary talents and conversations with spectators, they have accomplished more than just trick riding.

Casey and Jimmy are very busy with three kids, and they sacrifice so their kids can live their dream. While nothing about this sport is cheap, they work hard to make it possible. The whole family especially enjoys traveling to places where spectators have never seen trick riding. They say fans are often in disbelief at the ease with which the Morrises perform their tricks, the keen and fluid movements of the horses, and the fearlessness that all three siblings display.

Do Casey and Jimmy Morris ever get nervous? “Every time they ride,” Jimmy said. Casey quickly interjected, “Our family knows there will be broken bones and scars. It is just part of it, but these kids love what they do.” Claira, Wyatt, and Allie Morris were born to do amazing things. Those amazing things happen to be done off a horse’s back or side. When asked to explain trick riding in one sentence, Claira laughed and said, “Do not try this at home!” We will leave the mind-blowing stunts to three very skilled experts. Y’all enjoy the ride!

For more information on the Morris performers, visit their Facebook page @clairatrickriding.

photo by Matt Cornelius


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