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Going Pro: Thoroughbreds in the WPRA

The members of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) are some of the best rodeo athletes in the world. The WPRA sanctions the barrel racing at the most prestigious rodeos in North America and crowns a World Champion Barrel Racer at the end of every season. To compete at this elite level, riders need horses that are fast, agile, and durable. It is no surprise that competitors have ridden horses with strong Thoroughbred heritage since the formation of the organization.

OTTBwestern Ambassador Lindsay Jensen Nordick and her OTTB mare Arghazi, aka “Andi.”
Photo Credit: Al Braunworth

In 1948, Margaret Owens Montgomery won the inaugural title of World Champion Barrel Racer aboard a borrowed horse named “Pee Wee.” “Pee Wee” belonged to Amy McGilvray’s family, and Amy won the title on him herself the following year. “Pee Wee,” clearly an exceptional horse, was a Quarter Horse with significant Thoroughbred breeding. When Margaret Owen Montgomery captured the title a second time in 1951 aboard her own horse named “Joe Brown,” he also had extensive Thoroughbred bloodlines. Latonne Sewalt also won two World Championships in 1950 and 1954 aboard a half Thoroughbred she called “Little Joe.” Martha Josey’s famous barrel horse Cebe Reed, who carried Martha to two National Finals Rodeo qualifications in the 1960s, was by the Thoroughbred stallion Frank’s Pal.

More recently, Kappy Allen won the 2000 World Championship aboard Risky Chris, an off-track Quarter Horse gelding by the Thoroughbred stallion Bettor’s Risk. Callie duPerier won the 2015 World Championship on Rare Dillon, a buckskin gelding whose second dam was the Thoroughbred mare Soft Call, by Raise a Man. And in 2018 every horse that won a round in barrel racing at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, including Hailey Kinsel’s “Sister,” was at least 50% Thoroughbred in eight generations.

So, if the Thoroughbred influence is so strong in both historic and modern barrel horses, why does a stigma exist when it comes to competing on full-blooded Thoroughbreds in barrel racing? Breeders certainly recognize the benefits of adding Thoroughbred bloodlines to their programs. The sloping shoulder, long forearm, and powerful hindquarters of the Thoroughbred are where our stock breeds derived their speed from originally. What is deterring riders from going straight to the source? We interviewed four WPRA barrel racers that did not allow stereotypes to discourage them from running full-blooded Thoroughbreds. Here is what they had to say!

Hayle Gibson and her OTTB mare Rambunchkie, aka “Ruby.”
Photo Credit: Kymberlee Nelson

WPRA Barrel Racer – Hayle Gibson lives in Redcrest, California. She has been competing since she was four years old. Her background is in ranching and roping and she grew up competing in High School and College rodeo. She continues to help many ranches in Northern California with gathering and branding. Hayle has been a WPRA card holder since 2012.

Horse – Rambunchkie, aka “Ruby,” is an 8 year-old mare by multiple graded stakes winner Bellamy Road and out of a Lord Carson mare. She made 17 starts, won 4 races, and earned $24,960 on the track. Her four wins were at Golden Gate and Oak Tree at Pleasanton.

OTTBwestern: What first attracted you to Ruby and inspired you to retrain a Thoroughbred racehorse for barrel racing?

Hayle: I pony on a small track in northern California when I’m not off rodeoing and running barrels. I saw this spunky little mare in the paddock about to run a 6-furlong race in Ferndale, California. Her conformation and height (15HH) caught my eye – something about her really made me want to watch her run. She had a “bug,” or first time, jockey on her and broke from the gate with explosive speed! I thought, “that looks like a barrel horse!” So, I went to her barn after the races knowing I had to bring her home. I convinced them to sell her to me. She had some sore feet, so she was turned out to pasture for about 8 months. The first time I rode her I knew she was special. She took to the barrels like she was bred to do it!

OTTBwestern: What has been the biggest advantage to competing on a Thoroughbred at rodeos?

Hayle: She is tough and gritty. She can haul for 18 hours and come off the trailer fresh. Because of running on the track, she can handle pressure and it makes her stronger. She is extremely smart and keeps getting better.

OTTBwestern: What have been some of your favorite accomplishments with Ruby?

Hayle: She has won close to $10,000 running barrels between rodeos, jackpots, and playdays! She placed 2nd behind an NFR qualifier at her first rodeo, an amateur rodeo in California. We also ran a 17.4 in Buckeye, Arizona against tough company and were right there.

Hayle and Ruby.
Photo Credit: Kymberlee Nelson

OTTBwestern: What are your future plans with Ruby?

Hayle: She is quickly becoming my number one, and I plan to run her this Friday at the Reno Rodeo in Reno, Nevada. She will get to run at a few during the Fourth of July run. I plan to keep running her more and prove her against the big dogs. I also have been flushing embryos out of her and think she will be a great producer.

OTTBwestern: What stallions have you crossed her to?

Hayle: She has a 2019 filly by PC Frenchmans Hayday. We have KS Cash N Fame, A Streak of Fling, and Blazing Jetolena on the list for next year.

OTTBwestern: Would you encourage others to retrain an off-track Thoroughbred for barrel racing?

Hayle: Yes! Of course! I think Thoroughbreds are smart, tough, athletic, and genuinely want to please. It’s funny, even the ones that aren’t necessarily built for the job at hand find a way to do it. I think people forget where Quarter Horses originate from and easily overlook Thoroughbreds! They have the best personalities!

Amber Moore and her OTTB gelding Nasmune, aka “Moon,” at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Photo Credit: Bobwire-S Photography

WPRA Barrel Racer – Amber Moore lives in Dolores, Colorado. She has been riding since before she could walk. She grew up competing in Little Britches and junior rodeos. Amber always competed in all the events including roping, pole bending, and barrel racing.  She has been a WPRA card holder since 2014.

Horse – Nasmune, aka “Moon,” is an 11 year-old gelding by Japanese stallion Eishin Masamune and out of a Nasgame mare. He started 3 times and earned just $180 on the track. His best effort was a 6th place finish at Arapahoe Park in Aurora, Colorado.

OTTBwestern: Was it difficult to retrain Moon for barrel racing or did he learn fairly quickly?

Amber: He was very easy. He picked up everything the first try. I have been fortunate to purchase my Thoroughbred horses from a family in Grand Junction, Colorado. They were very good about not running horses if they were not ready to run. If they did not do well in their first 3 or 4 races, they would send them on to another career instead. Moon went to his first barrel race two weeks after coming off the track and he has run the same pattern every place I have taken him since he was a 4-year-old. In addition to barrel racing, he also does ranch sorting and team penning. Moon has been on poles about seven times total. I hit one out of the last three runs on him, but they were all 21 second runs. He does not really know what he is doing. He just picks things up that fast!

OTTBwestern: What has been the biggest advantage to competing on a Thoroughbred at rodeos?

Amber: He never runs out of air and he is much easier to condition.

Amber and Moon winning a barrel race.
Photo Credit: Kirk Griffith

OTTBwestern: What have been some of your favorite accomplishments with Moon?

Amber: I do not pro rodeo that often, so most of our accomplishments have been at barrel races, but he almost always pulls a check. He has won saddles, several buckles, and average award prizes. He won a target race last summer in Moab, Utah and won a custom beaded tack set. He won a 1D buckle this year and he won a saddle at an Xtreme Barrel Race in Salina, Utah. Moon has run at Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Pendleton Round-Up. We missed the short go in Pendleton by a tenth of a second and we may try again this year. He won the Ute Mountain Roundup in Cortez, Colorado in 2015. He is just a super cool horse.

OTTBwestern: What would you tell those who are skeptical about Thoroughbreds competing in barrel racing?

Amber: I have run them since I was a little kid. That is all we could afford and all of them were easier to train and lasted into their 20s running hard. I have had a lot more problems with Quarter Horses than I ever have with Thoroughbreds.

OTTBwestern: Do you foresee more competitors riding Thoroughbreds in the future?

Amber: I think they will as more people try them and ride them. There is a big stigma about them claiming that they break down a lot easier than Quarter Horses. I have the opposite opinion, because they stay a little bit thinner than a Quarter Horse until they are about 5 years old. I think that lets their joints grow better without extra weight added on them. And most of the prominent barrel horses today have at least one Thoroughbred grandparent or a full Thoroughbred parent.

Lindsay Jensen Nordick and Arghazi, aka “Andi.”
Photo Credit: Al Braunworth

WPRA Barrel Racer – Lindsay Jensen Nordick lives in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. She rode Hunter/Jumpers until she was 17 years old, and then started to compete in barrel racing. She owns and operates Rush Meadow Performance Horses along with her husband Jake Nordick. Lindsay has been a WPRA card holder since 2016.

Horse – Arghazi, aka “Andi,” is a 14 year-old mare by graded stakes winner Ghazi and out of a Minneapple mare. She made 4 starts, won 1 race, and earned $12,190 on the track. Her one win was at Canterbury Park.

OTTBwestern: Why did you choose to retrain a Thoroughbred for barrel racing?

Lindsay: To be honest, I got Andi as a gift. I tried it out and it worked very well!

OTTBwestern: What do you think is the biggest advantage to competing on a Thoroughbred at rodeos?

Lindsay and Andi.

Lindsay: They just have huge hearts! They will try anything and give it their all, and therefore they make good rodeo horses. I am not sure if it is from being on the track, but Andi really thrives in a rodeo atmosphere. She is a 2D barrel horse at jackpots, and she can hit the 1D at smaller shows. But when she is in the rodeo atmosphere, the crowd, the music, and the adrenaline really get her firing and running hard.

OTTBwestern: What have been your biggest accomplishments with Andi?

Lindsay: She filled my WPRA permit in one season. I remember pulling a nice check on terrible ground in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Everyone was struggling on the ground, but that is when my horse usually runs best. The crappier the ground, the better she runs. She is very gritty.

OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to barrel racers that might be considering a Thoroughbred as their rodeo mount?

Lindsay: Just find a well-built horse and do not be afraid to give it a whirl. The worst that could happen is that it would not work out, but Thoroughbreds never cease to amaze me!

OTTBwestern: What are your future plans with Andi?

Lindsay: She will hopefully raise a baby or two and then become my little girl’s first barrel horse once she is ready to slow down and retire. For now, we are ready to take on 2019 and see what we can accomplish!

Brianne Hansen and her Thoroughbred mare Highly Tessible, aka “Tess.”
Photo Credit Double K Diamond Photography

WPRA Barrel Racer – Brianne Hansen lives near Tucson, Arizona. She originally began riding and showing in English Pleasure and Jumping. She started competing in gymkhanas in middle school and later competed in High School Rodeo and College Rodeo. Brianne apprenticed with a professional horse trainer in college and had her own clients for a while but prefers barrel racing and training her own horses now. She is a full-time commercial property manager and she competes in rodeos as often as she can. She has been a WPRA card holder since 2017.

Horse – Highly Tessible, aka “Tess,” is a 12 year-old mare by Chancery Court, by Seattle Slew, and out of a Highland Park mare. She was bred by the University of Arizona and never made a start at the track.

OTTBwestern: How did you first meet Tess?

Brianne: I had been training horses while going to the University of Arizona and had wanted a young one of my own to break and train on barrels. I was volunteering at the university agricultural center and shared that with one of my professors. She suggested I look at Tess, who had just come up for sale. I knew her sire and thought he was built well and could get down and turn, and my professor said Tess would be the same way. I was open to the idea of a Thoroughbred so agreed to look at her. When I went out to the pasture to meet her she left the herd and came up to me right away. That was all it took.

OTTBwestern: What compelled you to purchase a Thoroughbred when you could have purchased a young horse with proven barrel racing bloodlines instead?

Brianne and Tess.
Photo Credit: Dawn Hansen

Brianne: She was beautiful and had a great personality. I felt like, regardless of breed, if the horse was trained right it could have a shot at being successful at barrels. I trained Tess from the very beginning. I always put extra exercises into our routine to keep her hind end strong and keep her balanced and agile to make those barrel turns. Everyone I knew thought I was crazy for buying her in the beginning, but now of course everyone loves her and thinks she is amazing.

OTTBwestern: What has been the biggest advantage to competing on a Thoroughbred at rodeos?

Brianne: Her speed and endurance have been an asset in clocking on the large patterns even if her turns are a different style than a Quarter Horse turn. I also run a Quarter Horse and her fastest burst of speed is to the first barrel. She gets noticeably more tired throughout the run, and I have to push her more running home. With Tess, she may not be as fast to the first barrel, but she gains speed and gets faster throughout the run. I believe her time is mostly made up on the run home from the third barrel, because she still has the energy to keep going. I think she has more heart to compete and do well. She is quite the athlete.

OTTBwestern: What have been some of your professional rodeo highlights with Tess?

Brianne: We filled our WPRA permit in less than a year. We recently placed at Roswell, New Mexico and placed again in Silver City, New Mexico last week. I have been working on seasoning and focusing on the WPRA rodeos this year, but her biggest career highlights to date are within the Grand Canyon Professional Rodeo Association. We won the Wyatt Althoff Memorial Rodeo in Marana, Arizona, the Sonoita Arizona Memorial Day Rodeo, placed at multiple rodeos throughout the years, and qualified for finals the past two years.

OTTBwestern: What are your future goals?

Brianne: My immediate goal is to make Turquoise Circuit Finals and eventually go down the rodeo road to make the NFR. I would love to see any Thoroughbred make it to the NFR!

Like Brianne, we would love to see a Thoroughbred compete at the National Finals Rodeo. To the skeptics and the doubters, this may seem like a ridiculous goal. Indeed, it would be a preposterous expectation if Thoroughbreds were not already winning large barrel races and professional rodeos – but they are. This is remarkable considering full-blooded Thoroughbreds are significantly outnumbered by stock breeds in barrel racing. They have proven their mettle in nearly every equine discipline, and barrel racing is no exception. It will take talented riders and very special Thoroughbreds to reverse the existing stigmas, but we are hopeful that women like Hayle, Amber, Lindsay, and Brianne will champion these horses. It is time their talents were recognized!

Katelin Bradley, June 2019

Source: http://www.wpra.com

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