Q&A with First-Time NFR Barrel Racer and Rodeo Veteran, Dona Kay Rule

2019 NFR Barrel Racer Dona Kay RulePhoto by Jade Crago

They say it takes 20 years to make an overnight success.

Dona Kay Rule’s been a success with horses and in the rodeo arena for much longer than that. With family and business priorities though, it’s only been recently that she’s had the freedom to pursue rodeoing professionally full-time.

As not only a top barrel racer, but an exceptional roper and recipient of the WPRA Pioneer award, Dona Kay may be a first-timer in the alley of the Thomas and Mack this year, but as a lifelong, tough competitor in team roping and calf roping as well – she’s no rookie.

What’s been evident to me is that Dona is not only a winner in the arena but a true horsemen. These two qualities that aren’t necessarily always found together, which is all the more reason I’m happy to share a special interview with this one-of-a-kind cowgirl.

Join me in both learning from her example, and cheering on Dona Kay at the Finals!
Tell us about the horse(s) you’ll be riding at the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo?

Horse of the Year, High Valor

High Valor is a ten year old gelding. His sire is Valiant Hero and dam is Rare High. He has a sweet personality and very efficient turning style. He’s kind and happy most of the time. If he’s ever grumpy I will know he is trying to tell me something.
My backup horse is Bullseye Bullion owned by Lanie Whitmire. His sire is Bully Bullion and dam is Top Shawnee. He’s a stallion – super intelligent and very powerful.

Do you think the Thomas & Mack environment will complement their running & turning style, or do you anticipate making any specific adjustments (in advance or to how you’ll ride, etc.), if so what would they be?
Valor competed at The American in 2019 at AT&T Stadium so I don’t expect an issue but you never know until you get to an event what changes are needed. Sitting in the alley is going to be different, so we will see!

Do you have any specific goals or intentions for this year’s National Finals Rodeo?
For my horse and myself to stay healthy and stay focused and hopefully win some nice checks!

Do you have a preferred bloodline, running style, body type, or personality you prefer and look for in your barrel horses?
I used to really go for a cow horse / race horse cross but I have changed to more running bred. Our industry is riding faster horses and I think it has been good for me to evolve to more run in my program. I do really want a very balanced horse with a quarter horse-type body. A kind eye is important to me.

What has been your biggest challenge or learning opportunity during the 2019 rodeo season?
I had a very good year, very few challenges. Staying sound was always a concern, so that was what I worried about the most. Weather conditions were a minor concern but good for the most part.

What products and therapies do you depend on most to keep your horses healthy, happy, sound and competitive?
I think conditioning is my first and foremost therapy. If I take care of that, the rest if not as big of deal. I do love my KoolSpeed feed. I have had zero ulcer issues using it, that is a big deal on the road for all of our performance horses. I use essential oils for pain and calming. I also use one designed for lung and air. I order from Deanna Harrison’s Essential Oils. Valor gets Equi-Resp breathing treatments to keep his lungs cleaned out. Five Star Pads AND Classic Equine splint and bell boots are my go-to tack. I ride a custom John Rule saddle.

Speaking of therapeutic support, I also use Deanna Harrison’s Essential Oils. How did you first learn about them? Which oil blends do you use? What do you appreciate most about them?
I learned about Deanna Harrison’s Oils when my horse Juice was exhibiting signs of EPM. I contacted her and we developed a pretty good partnership. I currently use Mega Air, MB Plus and also have her Equine Lung Healing and Allergy Sinus 2.0 blends.

What piece of tack or equipment is one you can’t live without?
My John Rule saddle.

From a training perspective, what aspect of a horse’s development do you think is most critical to their success as a pro-level athlete?
Consistency, riding correctly every day. Do not skip any steps in the early training.

What do you think is the key to making the transition from a part-time amateur barrel racer to a full-time professional?
Family support! You can’t leave home feeling guilty about what is not done at home. Family has pitched in and took care of everything and assured me that “It’s OK for you to go do this.” Also, keep learning from those who have been out there on the road, there is so much to know!

If you could give one tip to a barrel racer with a goal to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo, what would it be?
Never stop learning better horsemanship, from riding to bodywork to correct shoeing.

Can you share one of the most memorable and/or funny moments or experiences from this year or one that really stands out from your years of rodeoing and barrel racing?
Probably when Ty Hillman was trying to help out after the win at Caldwell, he said he would take my horse for me and I said “No, I’m just going to walk a bit and water him.” Then he said, “Umm, Dona Kay you don’t have time, you gotta go for a victory lap!” I was so embarrassed and shocked! Lol! Then of course Horse of the Year was astounding!

If there was one theme, or one message that your barrel racing journey stands for or represents that is a positive message to others, what would it be?
Do your best, be proud for others that do their best and understand that this is a gift, be thankful for all of it.

If you could change anything about professional rodeo, that you feel would help ensure it can grow and be enjoyed for years to come, what would it be?
Educate PETA people, we absolutely love our animals and they love us, performance and bucking stock alike. Also we must really be vigilante about ground conditions for timed event horses. Too many horses are sidelined due to poor ground conditions.

What individuals or aspects of your support team have been absolutely crucial to your success, (that you also recommend others with NFR goals have in place as well, if possible)?
Good Equine Sports Veterinarians have been essential – Dr. Robbin Johnson and Dr. Amy Jergens. I am so grateful for their expertise and listening to me. Dusty Franklin is my farrier, and without him being on my team, we may have well stayed home. My feed provider Aaron Custer with KoolSpeed. You must have a good Vet. and a good farrier to keep them sound, and a good feed program to maintain health and energy to go the distance.
We could all benefit from as much inspiration from Dona Kay Rule as we can get, so I’ll be sharing a Barrel Horse News / TrainingBarrelHorses.com bio video, as well as several other articles and interviews below.

The 2019 NFR action starts on Thursday, December 5th and will be televised nightly through December 14th.

Click here for the WNFR TV schedule at ProRodeo.com.

Click here to learn more about becoming a member of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.

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