The Road to Barrel Racing

How does a barrel racing career begin? With a hair-brain idea born of a competitive spirit from a relentless soul, that's how.

When I was studying for the GMAT in preparation to apply to a graduate program, I made a deal with myself that when I finished my degree, I would open the next chapter of my life - barrel racing.

It was as simple as that. No heavens-parting revelation or grand epiphany, just a dream buried deep in my heart that I was willing to take a gamble on - so I did just that. I graduated with an MBA from Texas A&M - Commerce in August of 2016 and immediately began shopping for a hard-charging horse with the dream of one day running at the NFR.

What follows is the first chapter in my journey of Thomas & Mack dreams.

Now, this was not my first time in the saddle. In fact, I have competed extensively on horses since I was 9-years-old, everything from 4-H to junior posse, high school rodeo to reining, and rodeo queening.

In 2008, I was blessed to realize my dream of winning Miss Rodeo Utah and placing in the top 5 at Miss Rodeo America. Being the fierce competitor that I am, top 5 wasn't nearly good enough for me. Even though being Miss Rodeo Utah was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, it left me wanting more. I was still thirsty to cinch up and ride at the highest level of competition. The problem with being a rodeo queen is a one-and-done deal - once you win at the highest level, you are done for life.

So what else is out there? More reining? As much as I loved the sport, I was ready for a completely new challenge. What is the complete opposite of collection, slow figure eights, and a prudish judge with a clipboard? Barrel racing! Guts, speed, an element of danger, and a timer as the indiscriminate, unbiased judge of my fate. Sign me up!

But where do I begin? With a horse, of course. Granted, I probably put the cart before the horse on this step. In hindsight, I may have asked around more about what to look for, what bloodlines to consider, what skills are desirable, or even just try out a few horses before buying one. This, however, is not the path I chose. In fact, I have learned in my life that when I do something unexpected, unconventional, rule-breaking, and somewhat daring, I usually get the best results. It isn’t a scientific theory but definitely a reoccurring theme for me.

They say when you meet your soul mate, you "just know". Well that is how I felt when I first laid eyes on Stryker. Let me back up a few steps and tell you the not so pretty truth.

When I was ready to start looking for a horse, I first determined what my budget would be. I scraped together what I thought was a HEFTY sum for a mount and called a barrel horse broker that a friend recommended. This broker basically told me I didn't have a shot in hell getting the type of horse I wanted unless I was willing to spend 3X what my budget was. It wasn't helpful insight, it was demeaning and intended to intimidate me. It would have been disheartening to many who have not already been through the horse trading experiences I have.

Let me put this in perspective. I won just about everything there was to win in 4-H on an unregistered mare who cost $1,200 with only 90-days training on her. I rarely lost the horsemanship category in the multitude of rodeo queen contests I entered from Junior Posse to Miss Rodeo Utah on a pair of handsome geldings that cost only a fraction of what my competitors were mounted on. I tell you this not to brag, but to tell you that I speak from experience that the price tag doesn't always equate to talent. There are countless tales of NFR mounts who were saved from slaughter, acquired on a trade, or bought at bargain basement price. It just took the right rider to make them a champion. Success comes from both a horse you connect with and your commitment to outwork your competitors.

OK, so the barrel racing insiders wouldn’t help me find my diamond in the rough. Who needs them anyway? All I need is a fast, athletic steed, who knows the pattern, that I can take to the races. Who knows about races? Race horse owners know about races so I reached out to a friend who is a race horse breeder in Idaho. A few days later, Stryker arrived, our eyes met, and... well... you know the rest.

And just like that, I crossed step one off my list, "buy a horse". Now all I had to do was qualify for the NFR. OK, there are a few more steps between here and there, but with this grey rocket ship under me, I am now a little bit closer to winning that gold buckle.

Renae´ Cowley