JJ Hampton and Please Love Me (Fergie). Photo by Fernando Sam-Sin.……

Equine athletes play a crucial role in the success of rodeo competitors.  Different riders have different expectations for the horses they ride, and it’s all a matter of finding the right fit.  When a horse and rider form a bond, they are unstoppable. As the Wrangler NFR approaches in early December, we are constantly keeping our eyes on the horsepower that helps the talented ladies of rodeo achieve their dreams.  We were able to learn more about some of the amazing equines in the top 15 of their respective events. 

As one of the most popular events at the Thomas & Mack, Barrel Racing never disappoints.  The event is fast, colorful, and the athleticism from horse and rider is unparalleled.  This year, all eyes will be on Hailey Kinsel and Sister.  The dynamic duo is hoping to make history and win 4 gold buckles in a row.  Although all 15 barrel racers have earned their spot at this year’s NFR, here are a few stand-outs to cheer for.

The Racers

Dona Kay Rule and High Valor (Valor).

When Dona Kay Rule got High Valor (Valor), he was late in his 5-year-old year and not yet a barrel horse.  “I talked to Lana Merrick about looking for a project. She had kept him for herself to train, but due to her work she hadn’t started him and wasn’t able to continue.  The first time I saw him I was pretty taken with him,” she recalls.

From go round wins at the NFR, to winning the Loveland, Colorado, rodeo when it was dedicated to her late brother-in-law, to sub 17 second runs on a standard pattern, she looks at each run as a proud achievement and something to build on.

According to Dona Kay,  Valor is always sweet natured, but his funniest trait is his process of loading into the trailer.  “He does have a whole “process” of getting in the trailer, full inspection, one foot at a time, and you just don’t rush him.  It’s quite funny.”

With the team set to return to the NFR this year, Dona Kay is confident with how Valor will perform, and says, “He always tries his hardest, no matter the setup.  He likes the crowd at the Thomas & Mack and doesn’t seem to get too nervous in the alley.”

Emily Miller-Beisel and Namgis D 33 (Chongo).

Although Emily Miller-Beisel first tried Namgis D 33 (Chongo) in July 2015, it wasn’t until January 2018 she added him to her team.  “I bought Namgis D 35, Pipewrench, instead. I don’t regret my decision, but I always wanted another chance with Chongo! I’d fallen in love with Pipewrench’s older brother, Wolfie, and that’s what initially piqued my interest in their bloodlines and training program.” 

According to Emily, Chongo has a very deceiving running style.  “He has a ton of speed, but when he commits to a turn it’s like dropping an anchor, so I have to make sure I get him all the way up in the hole before letting him turn.”

He is hands down the most ornery animal Emily has ever been around. “He’s always getting into something.  His favorite prank to pull is untying himself and all the other horses.” 

Winning the first round at their first NFR was a dream come true for Emily, and she is feeling confident going into the finals this year.  “Chongo has proven he is very capable of accomplishing big things at the NFR.  My goal for 2021 is to use the experience and knowledge I’ve gained from my first two NFR’s and try to give him as good of a chance as possible.  He will take care of the rest!”

Jessica Routier and Fiery Miss West (Missy). Photo by Jackie Jensen.

Fiery Miss West (Missy) came to Jessica Routier as a 2-year-old.  They sent her to Kevin Rahn for her first 60 days, and after that did a lot of ranching on her.  Before the team came to be, Jessica had been training barrel horses for Gary Westergren, Missy’s owner. 

“Missy is very sweet to humans, specifically kids, but is a little grouchy to most other horses.  She doesn’t care to be pampered and loves her wide open spaces at home.”  Jessica credits their greatest achievement being that Missy still loves her job and has stayed sound from day one, an incredible feat for a barrel horse.

The team has stayed very consistent throughout the years and are on their way to their 4th NFR.  “Missy is very gritty. She runs and turns hard and gives 110% every run.  Her quick reaction time makes her a lot of fun when running at the blind first barrel at the Thomas & Mack. One run at a time.”

Shelley Morgan and HR Fameskissandtell (Kiss). Photo by Springer.

After just a couple weeks of riding HR Fameskissandtell (Kiss), Shelley Morgan knew she was something special.  “I had a horse named Short Go who took me to the NFR in ‘09 and he loved his job and it was easy to train him.  I knew after about 2 weeks of riding Kiss that she felt like Short Go, loved her job, and was just a natural at it,” she recalls.

Running in the bright lights of Vegas will be new for the team, who competed in their first NFR last year in Arlington, Texas. “She is super consistent and honest.  Small indoor arenas have not been her strongest asset in the past, but as she is running, she’s getting more confident, seasoned, and competitive.  We will take it one run at a time each night and put the best possible run out there that we can as a team!”

Shelley is incredibly proud of the progress Kiss has made. “Just becoming the horse she is—is the accomplishment I am most proud of.  In a close 2nd is her win at Rodeo Salinas as a 5 year old year, her trip to the NFR in 2020 as a 6 year old, and then her RAM Circuit Finals win in 2021.  But I am mostly just proud of Kiss because she is Kiss.”

Wenda Johnson and Macgyver Moonflash (Mac). Photo by Andy Watson.

Wenda Johnson started riding Macgyver Moonflash (Mac) in 2018 when his owners, Tres Mesa Horses, asked for her help when he was having gate issues.  She agreed, and the team has since gone on to win countless competitions, break arena records, and qualify for their first NFR in 2020.

“Overall, it has been amazing to ride and develop this unbelievably talented horse and cherish the many great moments and memories, with hopefully many more to come,” Wenda says. “Mac is sweet, kind, and willing.  He is so consistent and easy to be around and get along with. Together, we have accomplished so much.”

The pattern in Vegas is a big change from what they experienced last year at Globe Life Field, but Wenda is feeling confident.  “Mac is very fast with a lot of rate and turn.  He does great in small pens with tight fences.  Winning is icing on the cake, but when your horse is happy and does their best, that is the true prize.  Ultimately the goal is safe, clean, solid runs while enjoying the opportunity to compete at a high level.”

A Big Break For Breakaway

Breakaway Roping is the hottest event in rodeo after finally bursting onto the professional stage.  Cowgirls are seeing new opportunities with the addition of the event being added to the lineup at the most prestigious rodeos, as well as moving towards equal pay.  With last year’s inaugural National Finals Breakaway Roping, the ladies are looking towards one day being part of the NFR in the Thomas & Mack. 

Shelby Boisjoli and No Wimpy Turns (Onna). Photo by Rebecca Cornelius.

Shelby Boisjoli got No Wimpy Turns (Onna) in 2019 as an ex-reining horse. “She definitely looked the part, although she’s probably the only breakaway horse going that DOES NOT like to stop.”  She was the one who trained her in breakaway and moved Onna to her number one horse this year. 

Onna’s scoring ability impresses Shelby the most. She says, “She makes scoring so easy, almost as though it happens in slow motion.  I can hit the barrier quite often on her!”

“She is a teddy bear when you’re on the ground by her, but once you’re on her back you have to pay attention. She’s super cinchy and bucks regularly, so you have to be strategic and make sure you slowly cinch her up as you warm her up.”

She considers the 2021 Summer Run as their proudest accomplishment to date. “I threw her to the wolves out here. She’s been hauled a lot, in a lot of loud performances, and she’s held together great for me. I can’t say enough thanks to the committees and all of the people who had a hand in making this dream a reality for us!”

JJ Hampton bought Please Love Me (Fergie) in 2017 from Ryan Jarrett. Unfortunately, in 2018 Fergie cut her heel off and was forced into a year of recovery. Luckily, she came back strong and has become JJ’s number one mount.

She was drawn to Fergie’s ability to score good and rate, as well as her quick footedness. Like any great horse, she has her quirks. “She doesn’t like to be alone, and when she is anxious she stands with one front leg up. She is very friendly and likes to nudge on everyone. She also likes to bite my husband Ricky.”

The dynamic duo won all the rounds and the average at the Reno Rodeo this year. It was a very special moment, as it was also the inaugural year of breakaway being added to the lineup.

Being able to compete at the highest stage of rodeo is a dream come true for JJ. She says, “I love to rodeo and I love to compete, so for me at 50 years old this is something I have dreamed of and now I am doing it. I am truly having a blast.”

Nicole Baggarley and Six Moon Legacy (Calamity). Photo by Jackie Jensen.

Nicole Baggarley’s family raised Six Moon Legacy (Calamity) and she did all the training on her but the first 60 days. She was actually an “oops”, and Nicole says, “I bought her dam as a roping prospect and didn’t realize that the girl I bought her from had tried breeding her to a stud she had owned at the time. The girl tried to breed her a few times, I guess and her vet told her she didn’t take so she ended up selling her.”

The team was Reserve Champion at Cheyenne Frontier Days, an accomplishment Nicole is incredibly proud of. “She’s only been entered on for about a year and a half, so for her to work like she did on that big of a stage and that tough setup was huge!” 

According to Nicole, Calamity has a very sweet personality. “I’m pretty sure she thinks she is a dog. She absolutely LOVES attention, almost to the point it’s annoying but she is so sweet you can’t get mad at her for it.” 

Ever since she was a little girl, Nicole had the dream of making the NFR but never thought she would have the chance since she doesn’t run barrels. “In the most basic form it has been such a blessing to be able to enter all of these huge prestigious rodeos.”

Sawyer Gilbert and Gotter Dun (Big Enough). Photo by Jackie Jensen.

Gotter Dun (Big Enough) has been part of Sawyer Gilbert’s family for the past six years. Brent Lewis and Frank Thomson owned and trained him, then put him in the Full Horse Sale where her family’s ranch bought him. Sawyer praises Big’s ability to perform any task they ask of him and perform it well. “He is a head, heel, and calf horse. He’s truly done it all and is outstanding at it all. He is one of the smartest horses that I have been around.”

Sawyer says Big has more personality than most people. “He can open any gate or door, he unties himself and is her best friend when they are at the trailer. He is one of the meanest horses I have been around. Has an absolute hatred for flies, rain, and the occasional goat that goes through his pen and eats his hay.”

The team’s greatest accomplishment was winning the Cheyenne Frontier Days this year. “The WPRA and PRCA can’t be thanked enough for letting us have this opportunity, and all the committees that have had to face new challenges. Each has their place, and I think there is still more to come.” 

Lari Dee Guy and Peptos Black Quixote (Rex). Photo by Rebecca Cornelius.

Lari Dee Guy started riding Peptos Black Quixote (Rex) in 2018 after her friend, Jade Conner, sent her some videos of him working. She knew immediately that she wanted him as part of her equine team after being drawn to his speed and timing, two traits that are key to having a top-notch breakaway horse.

The team’s proudest accomplishment to date was the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping, held in conjunction with the NFR in Arlington, Texas. Lari Dee and Rex ended up winning 4th in the world after the inaugural event drew to a close. They continue to hold strong in the 2021 standings, and have their eyes set on another trip to the NFBR.

It means the world to her that breakaway roping is growing and being included on the professional level. She says, “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, and I continue to work for it to keep getting better.”

Jackie Hobbs-Crawford and DS Sassy Shiner (T Boy). PRCA ProRodeo photo by Joe Duty.

It is rare for a breakaway horse’s career to span the course of 11 years and still have huge successes, but that’s exactly what DS Sassy Shiner (T Boy) does. When he was 5 years old, Jackie Crawford took him to his first jackpot. The team took home the win and never looked back. “He is a winner. He gives anyone who gets on him a chance to win.”

According to Jackie, T Boy “is a jerk. He will knock you down when he tries to rub on you. He’ll mother up to anything in the trailer with him, but if he’s tied next to them, he may try to kick. If you don’t tie him in the trailer he will go over or under the divider and bite your horse. He is a real gem to deal with but has a sweet personality.”

When Jackie roped over 6 months pregnant at the 2020 NFBR, she never doubted T Boy for a second. “I knew 100% he was going to take care of me. It’s almost like he knew what was at stake that week and he almost worked better.”

“You go your whole life competing and hearing about these monumental, famous rodeos and always thinking as a girl roper you are never getting to experience that. Being able to experience what you’ve heard about your whole life is like walking into a dream.”

Hailey Kinsel and DM Sissy Hayday (Sister). PRCA ProRodeo photo by Roseanna Sales.

Who will emerge victorious once the dust settles in Vegas? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for certain, it’ll be a fantastic 10 days of competition. When the handiest cowgirls and their extraordinary equine companions get their chance to shine on the biggest stage, it’s nothing short of magic.