Road Warriors – Life as a Professional Barrel Racer with the Top 15 NFR Qualifiers

Road Warriors – Life as a Professional Barrel Racer with the Top 15 NFR Qualifiers

Life on rodeo road isn’t for the faint of heart. The 15 ladies below toughed it out in 2015 and earned their spot under the bright lights of Las Vegas.

Read on as they reflect on the highs and lows (AND how they got through them), plus share insights on the transition from amateur to professional, entry strategies, and more!
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Callie duPerier
Callie duPerier

#1 CALLIE DUPERIER
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I looked to the rodeos that added the most money and those that I thought would best fit my horses. Luckily, over the 4th of July I got to travel with Sherry Cervi. I just told her you enter and “I’ll go where you go.” She is experienced at knowing the best ones to get to.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Biggest accomplishment was Calgary. It was my first time there and I ended up second behind Lisa Lockhart and Louie. Lisa and Louie are so awesome so I felt happy doing so well there.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was at one of the Champions Challenges I hit the third barrel on Arson to win it.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? My dad and Whiplash, our driver who used to drive for Cody Ohl, so everyone knows him. And then Sherry during the 4th of July.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? Being able to stay on the road is a big transition. I am a homebody so being on the road was a big change for me. Also the rodeos are different when you get on the road competing with such tough competition at them all.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? Wow, there are so many awesome horses this year. If I had to pick one I guess it would be Louie. He kind of has the same style as Dillon.
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Lisa Lockhart
Lisa Lockhart

#2 LISA LOCKHART
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I always try to keep my rodeo numbers to a minimum, utilizing the large ones the best I can. Keeping my driving hours to the least possible I can is a priority for both my horses and myself. I’m my own driver, so I have to have a good plan to manage driving to all of them, not flying to any.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? I had several huge accomplishments in the 2015 season, starting with winning second at Houston, then winning Calgary and Cheyenne.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? I try to keep the disappointments in check, and strive to move forward, keeping a positive attitude.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? Me, myself and I!

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? I think ones horsepower is the main determining factor, along with being able to stay focused and handling the bigger pressures that go along with moving up.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? I want to try them all! What a blast that would be, knowing each one of them can win first!
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Sarah Rose McDonald
Sarah Rose McDonald

#3 SARAH ROSE MCDONALD
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I’m so thankful Ann Thompson enters me. I look to her for advice. I only ran the summer rodeos in 2014, so a lot of the rodeos this year were still new to me. Now I know which pens Bling likes and which ones Rose likes. This year I tried to pick the bigger added money rodeos to run Bling at and make them count. I tried not to back track any miles and I took rests. We went home after Houston for two months to rest. If we made a finals at a rodeo and was entered somewhere else I would turn out and stay for the finals. It’s hard to just sit and turn out but I try to think of my horses first. I never fly to any rodeos because I like to always be by my horses to monitor them.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Winning the Fort Worth Stock Show in the beginning of the year really gave us a boost of confidence for the remaining winter rodeos. Bling was amazing there, winning both go rounds, finals, and the average.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? I was excited to run at Calgary, but we really struggled with the ground which made it hard to enjoy it. We did advance through the wild card round into the finals, but I wasn’t able to push Bling like she normally likes to run.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? In the first part of the year my friend Erika Norris and then my boyfriend Wade Whatley. They helped me so much and I’m so thankful! Wade drove everywhere after March. He refuses to let me drive, I don’t know why?

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? It’s a lifestyle to be with your horses on the road most of the year. It takes a lot of support and a great team behind you. I wouldn’t be able to rodeo if I didn’t have an awesome horse like Bling, a very supportive family, and great sponsors. Consistent fast runs is key in rodeoing. At barrels races you know they usually run so many an hour, drag every 5, start at certain times, and run all in one day where the ground is consistent. At rodeos, I’ve had to learn about when we will run, what entrance is okay to pull in with the trailer, which address is correct with the GPS, which roads are not safe with a trailer, which arenas have alleyways and ground types that fit my horses and me, and watch the weather to see if it’s poured on the pen or if it’s dry. Sometimes the ground works out in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t. Also if you have a bad weekend at a barrel race you can go home and regroup but on the road you usually don’t have much time to work on things. That’s where having an awesome horse like Bling, a great bond with her, and the great handle my uncle Steve put on her helps to fall back on. It helps that now I know what ground and arenas fit my horse.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? Each horse at the NFR is an amazing athlete. Even though it would be awesome to ride each one I would want to stay on Bling because I know her so good and I can trust her
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Mary Walker
Mary Walker

#4 MARY WALKER
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I don’t fly to any rodeos. Latte is the main one I run. As to how many miles, I would say it is somewhere around 30,000. My rodeos were mixed between large and small rodeos.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? The rodeo that was the most important to my year was Reno. I have never done well there so I just didn’t go. I went this year and did terrible on my first run. Fixed a few things and won the 2nd round

Who did you travel with majority of the season? Byron goes with me as much as possible. Andy Henson has gone with me all year. I couldn’t do it without both of them.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? In the amateur association you pretty much stay around your state. With the WPRA rodeos, you travel all over. If you are willing to travel like we do that would be the biggest difference.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? I wouldn’t want to run anybody else’s horse.
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Sherry Cervi
Sherry Cervi

#5 SHERRY CERVI
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? During the summer I try and go as hard as I can. I like the summer run. I, of course go to the big ones but I also enter the small ones along the way.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? San Antonio was definitely my biggest accomplishment. It started the year out strong for me. This was the second time I have won it.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? I didn’t have one that I consider a disappointment.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? Mostly my husband, Cory, which was nice. Also Callie duPerier and I got to go together over the Fourth of July.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? Having the type of horse that is ready to go and having a strong mental attitude yourself. A lot of people will have the horse that is ready to go but they will doubt themselves. But they just need to do it. You never know until you try.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? Dillon. I think he looks like he would be a lot of fun.
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Nancy Hunter
Nancy Hunter

#6 NANCY HUNTER
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? Our strategy has been to take Fuzz to the pens he likes with the most money and take him as a fresh horse so we can capitalize on that. That is what has worked best for us. We have so many responsibilities here at home and just cannot stay on the road long.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment was winning Houston. It’s a great rodeo for us. Fuzz likes that rodeo. It’s always a tough field of horses and it’s a progressive so you sometimes can run up to seven times so there is a strategy in keeping your horse running his best that many runs. And I enjoy that challenge.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment would be Calgary. It was hard to travel up there and have so much money to run at and then have so much trouble handling the ground. I only ran Fuzz a couple of runs then made the decision to get off for safety reasons alone.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? I only travel with Fred. He’s the only one that can put up with me. Some days I can’t stand myself so I have to travel with someone that won’t chuck me out the window.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? Be realistic at what you are clocking at the rodeos and really know the horse that you are riding. If you are clocking with the horses that are winning at that level then take a shot at it

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? Oh, I can’t say just one. There are tho that I think are pretty similar and I think they are going to have a good year. It would be Louie and Dillon. I think they are two of the best horses in the country and I think they would be great to run.
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Fallon Taylor
Fallon Taylor

#7 FALLON TAYLOR
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? This year I wanted to go to 50 rodeos or less on Babyflo – make or break the NFR. It didn’t matter as that is all we wanted to run her this year and then bring a colt out for the last 50. We wanted to do this for the last couple of years but never had a good enough year to do that. Since I already won the gold buckle and that wasn’t our main focus this year like it was last year, that was our horse and rodeo strategy.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? National Finals Rodeo was biggest accomplishment in 2014.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was the NFR in 2013. I had a terrible, horrible Finals in 2013 that ended up building more character making me go back and retrain my mare and came back in 2014 for my biggest accomplishment and world title.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? My husband, my assistant Stormey Ward and Jenna Smeenk.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? The key is to know you are going to lose more than you are going to win and I don’t think anybody ever tells you that. Even in your best year, you are going to lose more than you are going to win.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? Dillion because he is a lot like Babyflo or Sarah Rose’s horse (Bling). They are just so cute and cool horses. Both horses are rock stars and I love that.
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Cassidy Kruse
Cassidy Kruse

#8 CASSIDY KRUSE
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I always try to go to the rodeos that add the biggest amount of added money but I also look at the miles between rodeos because I did a lot of it by myself. I wanted to go to as few of rodeos as I could and still make it because I thought it was better for my horses.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Puyallup was my biggest accomplishment. When I went to that rodeo I was on the bubble (for making the NFR) and when I won, that pretty much secured my spot for going to the Finals.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was definitely Ellensburg. I went into the short round winning the average but during that run my horse hung her toe going around the first barrel and jerked the reins out of my hands and I crossed the finish line before I got them back. Then I almost fell off going around the third barrel. Everything was going so great going into the short round and then it all went real bad.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? Knowing that my horses had a chance to make the NFR and staying as mentally strong as possible through the highs and lows of competing because there are many of them.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? It would probably be Louie or Dillon. They are both pretty awesome. You know pretty much that anytime you throw a leg over them you have a chance to win it.
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Taylor Jacob
Taylor Jacob

#9 TAYLOR JACOB
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? My strategy was to go to rodeos that added good money and weren’t too far out of the way from the rest of the rodeos I was entered at. I tried really hard not to drive in circles. I did have to fly to a few Canadian rodeos, only because I was trying to get to my rodeo count in order to guarantee my spot at the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? My biggest rodeo accomplishment was winning the Ponoka Alberta rodeo. I won about $14,000 and that boosted me up in the standings.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was probably Cody WY, although I did place, I had really high hopes of winning that rodeo because two years ago, he ran exceptionally well there.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? I traveled with my mom, Robyn, most of the time. Also Alicia Stockton and Kaley Bass.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? First and foremost a good horse and then you have to be able to be gone from home for long periods of time.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? Louie!!! Because he is just so awesome and consistent!
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Michele McLeod
Michele McLeod

#10 MICHELE MCLEOD
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? This particular year I traveled more and went to more rodeos. I leave the entering to Ann Thompson! Without Ann I don’t think I could make the finals!

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment this year was winning Austin TX. I rode Skye (Kellies Chick) and in Austin you go through a lot of concrete and have to stay on concrete until you go in the alley. Skye can be a little difficult in the back and I was a little nervous getting through all that and making multiple trips and runs there but she worked awesome and we got through it and won the rodeo!

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was Calgary. I struggled in Calgary with the first barrel and with the ground conditions.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? I traveled with my daughter Katelyn this year and had so much fun !

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? The transition from amateur to professional is just being able to handle all the long hours and miles in the truck.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? I would pick Louie to make a run on as I really like his style!
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Carley Richardson
Carley Richardson

#11 CARLEY RICHARDSON
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I tried to plan it where I wasn’t back tracking much, and I entered less rodeos over the Fourth and just stuck to one rig all summer. I went to 65 rodeos, most of which were bigger, but hit some little ones too. I flew from Reno short round to Colorado Springs qualifier earlier in the summer, and that was the only time I flew.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Winning second in Austin in the winter got my momentum going and helped get things started. I also won second at Greeley this summer which moved me into the top 15. My favorite run of the summer was on Boy in Kennewick, Wash., where I was a 16.9 on a standard and won the rodeo by three tenths.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was tipping a barrel on Radio in Salinas to have a good lead in the average.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? My friend Sterling Coomer helped me all summer

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? I feel like the mental aspect of it is different. It becomes more of a job at the professional level. I feel like you have to learn to control your emotions and be as business like as you can. Day in and day out you have to minimized your mistakes.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? I would say Taylor Jacob’s horse Bo. To me it’s an easy choice. He has been faster than anybody else in that arena. I might fall off, but he looks fun!

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Jackie Ganter
Jackie Ganter

#12 JACKIE GANTER
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? Ann Thompson entered me this year because she has entered many people in the past to qualify for the NFR. I went to the big rodeos that I was eligible for, but I also went to smaller ones as well. Teri and Alan Dufur flew me several times when needed.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Wainwright, AB was my biggest win this year, however my win in Stephenville, TX was personally my favorite. I have had a lot of success in that arena in the past before I started rodeoing and I feel like that is the arena I grew up in and was first recognized in so that win was very special to me.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was going to 11 straight rodeos and not winning one check or even coming close to a check during this summer. I was very discouraged and felt like my dreams of making the NFR my rookie year were gone so that just goes to show that anything can happen if you just keep going and never quit.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? My mom was with me every single step of the way.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? I have had to make a lot of adjustments this year, but my mindset was the biggest. You have to train yourself to run for first every time you go down the alley and if it doesn’t go your way you have to leave it behind like it never happened. It is much easier said than done but it is a major key in the sport of rodeo.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? I would definitely choose Lisa Lockhart’s horse Louie to make a run on if I had the chance.

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Vickie Carter
Vickie Carter

#13 VICKIE CARTER
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I didn’t. I just went to everything I could. Then, midway in the summer I hired Ann Thompson to do my entering and she put the strategy together. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have gotten to the NFR. I thought I could do it myself but when I missed the entries for Casper and Cheyenne both I knew I couldn’t. That was so costly and it really stung when I had to drive through Casper twice right then. I couldn’t get into the big rodeos since I was on my permit so I had to do it the hard way.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? Winning Fort Mojave was the turning point for me. It really jumped me in the standings. Then midway in the summer winning Greeley and Moses Lake back to back put me way up.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was Caldwell, Idaho because he fell in the short round. Blaze kind of fell there and he came back up on the wrong side of the barrel and I got a no time. That was very costly at that point in time.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? Actually, mostly it was just me. At times I would find someone to just go with me to ride along.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? The biggest thing is having the horse that has the talent for it and the mental ability to do it. Hauling is such a hard thing. It takes an extremely tough horse to handle it.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? I don’t know Lisa Lockhart but if I had to pick one I would have to pick Louie. He is so honest. He looks fun to ride.
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Jana Bean
Jana Bean

#14 JANA BEAN
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? had my “not to go to” list from last year. I knew I wasn’t going to the California or Canadian rodeos because I didn’t think I had horses for any of those rodeos so I had to plan around those. I was hauling my 5 year old until I got Hammer in the middle of the year. Then I kind of let the horses dictate where we went. Hammer was a good building horse rodeo, so I made sure I had him for those.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment was Fort Worth. I was reserve champion there on my 5 year old who had never been to a rodeo before.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? My biggest disappointment was hitting the third barrel at Salinas to win the third round and go into the lead in the average by a half second. I have always wanted a Salinas buckle.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? Brittany Pozzi

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? I think it is getting enough experience at the amateur rodeos or open barrel races to realize what are realistic attainable goals and then believing in yourself. Mental preparedness is what will make the biggest difference.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why? It would have to be Lisa Lockhart’s Louie. He is the coolest.
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Deb Guelly
Deb Guelly

#15 DEB GUELLY
Did you have strategy for entering rodeos this season? I pretty much have the same rodeo trail I go on each year. I usually only have one horse each year, so I don’t try to wear myself or my horses out. I’ve always believed that if it is meant to be it will happen.

Which rodeo resulted in your biggest accomplishment? The biggest accomplishment was the last rodeo of the year for me, which was Stephenville, Texas, because it took those last few for me to secure a spot at the NFR this year.

Which proved to be your biggest disappointment? Why? The biggest disappointment wasn’t any specific rodeo – it was that I wasn’t able to go to the northwest and compete at any of the rodeos over the Fourth of July run because my horses weren’t well.

Who did you travel with majority of the season? I travel by myself all the time.

What do you think is the key to transitioning from amateur barrel racer to professional? The mental part is big and many people just don’t understand that. When you see people that can ride a lot of different horses and can make it back to the top year after year they have the mental part down pat.

If you could make one run during the NFR on one of your fellow qualifier’s horse, which one would it be and why?
I would have to say Callie’s horse Dillon. That line of buckskin has a mental toughness that I love.
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