Friday, February 18, 2011

NFR Dreams: Part 4

People ask me all the time why I want to barrel race. After all, it is one of the most dangerous and risk-taking sports in the world, it costs a lot of money, and is ultimately a gamble in which you could lose hundreds of dollars in a weekend. But what these people don’t see is the reason I do it. They can’t feel your horse’s heart beat when they get into starting position. They can’t see the crowd, who’s so excitedly waiting for you to run out into the arena. They can’t understand the rush of taking off on the wings of faith, leaving everything behind in reckless abandon. And most of all, they can’t comprehend the trust between horse and rider, truly a team. When you win, you celebrate together. When you lose, you grieve together. You and that horse trust that you will not lead each other into danger, and will keep each other safe. It seems like a pretty intense bond for a human and animal, but that undying commitment and trust in each other is what keeps us going, win after win, lose after lose, fall after fall: and the feeling is addicting.

That’s what drives our dreams, that addiction: The dream to run at the National Finals Rodeo, with the most exciting crowd of any barrel race in the country, the dream to be seen as a serious competitor and winner, and to be victorious at the highest level possible, and the dream to have an unbreakable bond with an amazing, powerful animal. I’ve qualified for the National Barrel Horse Association World Championships four times in a row, and have run my horses to district, state, and national titles, but when it’s all over, it comes back to you and your horse, simple as that. Because as wonderful and exhilarating as the win is, it couldn’t be done without a team with a strong foundation, a good heart, and an honest faith that they can take on anything with a little hard work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NFR Dreams: Part 3

14.682. “Good, but I know you guys can go faster than that. Loosen up on the inside rein about four feet before your turn, remember to look at the wall, not the barrel. Oh, and make sure you start kicking as soon as you get out of that first, with two hands on the reins so you can get over right away to make that pocket. If you can remember all of that, you could probably take about 3 tenths off your time. Let’s try it again.” These are the all too familiar words of my trainer, Theresa Baumgartner. She’s worked with 12 time world champion, Martha Josey, she’s run at some of the biggest shows in the country, and is one of the most respected trainers in Iowa.

 Oh, and when she says 3 tenths, she means of a second. It doesn’t seem like much, but winning or losing comes down to hundredths, even thousandths of a second. I’m in her arena with my three barrel horses, training to perfect our form. She watches me for any little mistake, because any little mistake can determine whether we win, or we walk away with nothing. She watches where I put my horse for his turn, where my hands are, where I’m looking, how I sit, and all of my cues. There’s a lot to think about in 14 seconds: and that’s the heart of the sport: learning to be precise and on the top of your game.

NFR Dreams: Part 2

Mean Rosie Jean: AA rated racehorse, taken off the track at age four, started on barrels, a barrel horse prospect that comes around once in a lifetime: and she belongs to me. This horse is one that has the potential to be fast enough to be in the top five at the NFR, she has the agility to turn the barrels full speed, and the heart of a champion. She is my best shot of making it to the NFR. But before I can haul her down to Las Vegas and try to win 20,000 dollars in 14 seconds, there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s a lot of early mornings ahead of us, a lot of late nights, working by the street lights next to our arena, there’s going to be frustrating days where I’m going to want to quit, and a lot of tears to overcome. My dad is going to have to sit me down and tell me to cowgirl up when I fall off of her, or knock a barrel going full speed. It’s easy to see that there’s a lot more than just sitting on a good horse and going.

But not only do I have to develop my horse’s skills, but also my own. I’m running three miles a day, limiting my diet, doing strength training, rain or shine. There’s no excuse for me to not go running, or to break my diet, or to be lazy. Barrel racing is a team sport, between you and the horse, and if you don’t do your part, you are letting your partner down, because they are giving their all when you ask them to. This is why we are so committed. This isn’t just our passion, this is our horse’s passion as well. They get just as excited and anxious when we walk in front of an alley way, people screaming, cameras flashing, timers set, and arena ready. They expect just as much out of us as we do them, and it’s heartbreaking for us to watch them fail because of us.

NFR Dreams: Part 1

            On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, most people were with their boyfriends and girlfriends, going on dates, and eating chocolate. But for me, February 14th was the first day of extensive rodeo training for the 2011 season. You can ask any successful barrel racer how they got there, and every one of them will tell you the same thing: sweat, tears, and hard work. Though the season doesn’t actually start until April, our ranch and The Triple T Speed Team, is already preparing to hit the season hard. So many people underestimate the sport of barrel racing, and rodeo in general. Many people don’t even consider it a sport, and it’s easy to see why we are sensitive to those comments, especially this time of year. This is the inside story of why we ride, why we run, and why we work so hard.

Every barrel racer has the same dream: to compete at the NFR, or National Finals Rodeo. NFR is like the Olympics of rodeo. Everyone there has fans, has success, and has worked extremely hard to be named one of the best in the world, and this is what we think about as we sit in front of our TVs watching the barrel runs with the fastest and most amazing horse-rider teams in the entire world. This dream happens for very few, but with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

<-- grand entry at the NFR, the biggest, and most prestigious rodeo in the world