By Tanya Randall – Photos by Kent Soule
It’s a proven fact that genetically engineered barrel horses will find the barrels no matter where they are—even if they’re more than 50 yards apart as they are the Pendleton Round-up, held Sept. 14-17 in Oregon.
Nikki Steffes and the talented 6-year-old mare Dash Ta Vanilla (“Nilla”), owned by Alan Woodbury of Woody’s Feed, made short work of the long-demanding Pendleton course in which barrel racers have to traverse the famed Pendleton football infield to turn the barrels located on a dirt track that surrounds the field.
“She was just awesome both runs,” said 24-year-old Steffes, who hails from Vale, S.D. “She’s in such great shape. She wasn’t even winded after either one of those runs.”
The duo won both the qualifying round and the short go en route to their average win. Their clean sweep was worth $11,421 of the $49,878 total purse of which $30,000 was generously added by the Pendleton Round-up committee.
Steffes was the last gunner, 12th out, in the performance on her first run.
“They bring everyone in on the grass and you just have to sit there,” explained Steffes. “She just stood there in the corner all relaxed and watched everyone else run, like she was analyzing it. A lot of girls chose to start on the dirt going to the first barrel. I chose to stay on the grass because of the angle I needed to go into it.
“I was walking up the grass and she was just looking around. I was getting a little nervous because she wasn’t really paying attention so I tried to move her a little. I thought about circling her, but I didn’t know if I could do that without getting disqualified. I was getting pretty close to the timer, so I thought, ‘Shoot, I better just go.’ She just took off.
“She had me fooled. She was locked on and wrapped the first barrel beautifully. You turn the first barrel and then look for the second barrel and it’s this little tiny speck against the bucking chutes. She was just so focused throughout that whole run. Nothing fazed her, not the running from the grass to the dirt. The third barrel’s kind of tricky because it’s a white barrel with red writing against a white fence with red writing, so a lot of horses won’t see that. Plus you run up hill to the third. She saw all of them. She was just flawless.”
Steffes and Nilla pulled up in 28.55. Unlike running a WPRA standard pattern where you can determine how well you did by your time, Steffes hadn’t a clue how she did when she crossed the timer.
“You don’t really know when you cross the eye because you’re going so fast,” said Steffes, one of the most decorated rodeo athletes in the history of the University of Wyoming. “I couldn’t really hear my time. A few people clapped and I thought, ‘Dang it, I must have not been very fast.’”
Steffes and the daughter of the all-time leading barrel horse sire Dash Ta Fame out of one of the highest-earning barrel futurity horses in history, SX Frenchmans Vanila, a daughter of Frenchmans Guy, turned in a 28.47 to win the short round.
“I probably ran her a little harder to the first because I knew what to expect,” she said. “She ran so hard across the grass into the barrels. She was just amazing. She couldn’t have done anything any better I don’t think.”
The win is just one of many pleasant surprises for Steffes, who set out earlier in the year to season two rodeo horses for Woodbury—Nilla and Tell Em Belle (“Belle”). She had planned on working the two mares into the smaller rodeos while she ran her college champion Captain Mitos Legacy, a home-raised Frenchmans Guy, at the bigger more challenging events. Nilla started outrunning Captain right off the bat at the jackpots, so Steffes chose to run the best horse in the trailer.
“I ran her at Odessa,” she said. “She did great there. I alternated between her and Captain at the winter rodeos because some of them can be pretty scary with all the stuff that’s going on. When I came home from Laughlin, she had done really well and got some checks at some of the bigger rodeos. I decided to let my sister take Captain and ride him at the high school and amateur rodeos in South Dakota, and I was just going to focus on her.”
During the summer, Steffes ran Nilla at the some of the bigger rodeos like Cheyenne and started working Belle into the rotation.
“For the most part, I just stuck around the circuit just getting them seasoned,” said Steffes, who is deferring the start of dental school until the fall of 2012.
She has Woodbury, a longtime family friend, to thank for her amazing rodeo journey.
“Oh my gosh, isn’t it the best?” she said of her job as his jockey. “I kind of got lucky really. Last year, I stayed at his house over the Fourth of July when I was up there for the Dickinson pro rodeo. He’s got like the most unbelievable horses at his place. We were looking at them and I asked him, ‘What are you going to do with all these horses?’ He said, ‘Oh, I might try to find a jockey to ride them.’ Fortunately, I got to be the lucky one to ride them. It’s just been a fabulous opportunity.”
Steffes and Nilla will have the Badlands Circuit Finals and pro rodeos in Billings, Mont., and Kansas City, Mo., before ending their Cinderella season at the AQHA World Show. The duo will take a break until next year’s winter run of building rodeos.
Barrel Racing Results:
First round: 1. Nikki Steffes, 28.55 seconds, $4,713; 2. Nicole Deason, 28.61, $4,040; 3. Angie Meadors, 28.67, $3,367; 4. Jane Melby, 28.76, $2,918; 5. Sydni Blanchard, 28.64, $2,244; 6. (tie) Jill Moody and Sherrylynn Johnson, 28.85, $1,571 each; 8. Natalie Deking, 28.87, $898; 9. Kendra France, 28.88, $673; 10. Jody Sheffield, 28.92, $449. Finals: 1. Nikki Steffes, 28.47 seconds, $1,995; 2. Jane Melby, 28.56, $1,496; 3. Jade Crossley, 28.82, $998; 4. Jody Sheffield, 28.89, $499. Average: 1. Nikki Steffes, 57.02 seconds on two runs, $4,713; 2. Jane Melby, 57.32, $4,040; 3. Kendra France, 57.80, $3,367; 4. Jody Sheffield, 57.81, $2,918; 5. Jade Crossley, 57.87, $2,244; 6. Angie Meadors, 58.05, $1,796; 7. Jill Moody, 58.92, $1,347; 8. Natalie Deking, 58.09, $898; 9. Nicole Deason, 63.17, $673; 10. Sydni Blanchard, 63.21, $449.