Behind every champion barrel racer is a parent or mentor who’s been there every step of the way with sage words of wisdom, horsemanship lessons, help down the alleyway, a high-five after a winning run or a shoulder to cry on during inevitable failures.

Several champions with strong family ties shared their advice with Barrel Horse News for young riders and their parents to find success long after their youth rodeo years are over.

Jennifer and Jordan Driver

family taking christmas photo
Jennifer Driver says although she and Jordan are most noticed in the arena, husband and father Dane is the backbone of the Driver family and a huge part of the motherdaughter team’s success. Photo courtesy Jennifer Driver

Hometown: Garden City, Texas
Accomplishments: Jennifer is a two-time American Quarter Horse Association World Champion Amateur Pole Bender, and her 16-year-old daughter Jordan is a two-time AQHA Youth World Champion Barrel Racer. The pair has qualified multiple times to RFD-TV’s The American Semifinals in barrels, and in 2019 both qualified in breakaway roping.

Advice for Kids
“Just take it all in. It’s fun, you’re going to have the days where it’s not good, but you’re always going to have the love and support of your family, and you need to take advantage of that, because if you go out and pro rodeo someday, they may not come with you. It’s fun to have your mom here right now, or your dad right now, to support you as you go along.” –Jordan

Advice for Parents
“Enjoy the ride. We all want to win, but we don’t have them here forever. We get so caught up in our kids, we know what their abilities are, we know they can go out and win, we practice and practice, and when something goes wrong, as parents we get frustrated. Especially now that Jordan and I do it together, I go out there and make the same mistakes, and it’s woken me up that you don’t need to be so hard on your kids. At the end of the day we’ve got to hug our kids and hug our family and be blessed that we’re able to do this together. Let our kids know we’re proud of them, win, lose or draw. Instead of pointing out Jordan’s mistakes when she comes out of the arena, we focused more on what she did right. The one thing I would tell parents is step back and enjoy it, praise your kids for the good things and they’ll want to continue to do it.” –Jennifer

Nellie Miller

Hometown: Cottonwood, California
Accomplishments: Nellie is a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, the 2017 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Barrel Racer and multiple pro rodeo champion—all accomplished riding horses raised and trained by her father, Sam Williams.

Nellie Miller and her dad at the NFR
Nellie Miller and her father, Sam Williams, with her 2017 world champion barrel horse and WPRA/AQHA Horse With the Most Heart, Rafter W Minnie Reba, whom Sam raised and trained. Photo by Kenneth Springer

Advice for Kids
“I think kids are hard on themselves. I wish kids knew there was a long time to rodeo, besides just in junior high and high school. There’s always another level to reach up to and strive for, and it’s not necessarily over at the high school level.”

Advice for Parents
“Less is more in my opinion. It’s good to expose kids to different things, like sports or other activities, to figure out what they like and what they’re good at. Once they figure out what they want to do, let them go toward that instead of confusing it with things they’re not really into. “My dad was big on horsemanship. He taught me how to ride before he ever taught me how to barrel race. That’s important for kids to have a good foundation. He taught me how to be a competitor and how to be a loser. Parents can get wrapped up in winning and losing, and he believed more in just have a good time, make things happen. If you win, great, if not, go on to the next one. It’s important to keep your head on straight. Kids are there to have fun, so keep it fun instead of ruining it for them.”

Leslie Kinsel

Kinsel family at 2018 NFR with world champion saddle
The Kinsel family celebrates Hailey’s world championship at the 2018 National Finals Rodeo. Hailey’s mother Leslie (center left) played a monumental role throughout Hailey’s development as a horsewoman and trainer, and the two continue to train together and compete alongside each other. Photo by Kenneth Springer

Hometown: Cotulla, Texas
Accomplishments: Leslie Kinsel grew up competing in a variety of events through her local 4-H club. She developed her love of barrel racing in her teenage years, working as an apprentice for Stanley and Wanda Bush and serving as Miss Rodeo Texas in 1980. Leslie has since trained a string of successful horses throughout her life, most notably having a hand in her daughter Hailey Kinsel’s world champion DM Sissy Hayday.

Advice for Kids
“Have fun first. Second, be serious about caring for your horse. Be responsible about their needs, put them first—feed, water, grazing, get the horse out of the stall multiple times a day. Have fun but be organized about it—here’s my time for fun, here’s my time for my horse, here’s my time to practice whatever my skill is, whether it’s tying a goat or another event. Enjoy it daily. Have some goals, but make them very achievable goals so you’re not frustrated. Be the best you can be that day. “With Hailey, I emphasized doing it the correct way. There’s not always a single correct way, but always strive to do the best you can with what you’ve been given and to pursue excellence. What worked for one horse is not the same thing you’re going to do with every horse, every day, every year. There’s adaptability, but always pursue the excellence of it. Early on, I emphasized correct pattern and placement—hands, feet, and seat—and never speed. Do it quietly and well, strive for consistency, and speed will come.”

Advice for Parents
“If your child wants to grow and learn, help them get with the right people. Even if it’s a job where they go work, even if it’s a volunteer job where they work without pay, if they’re serious about wanting that experience, they’re willing to make the sacrifices, too. The parents shouldn’t just make pocketbook sacrifices. That would be my largest tip to parents—encourage your child to seek help and make sacrifices. I was a 4-H volunteer leader because I sought out kids I could help. Look to those sources, the local 4-H clubs, the youth rodeo association. There are people with knowledge, talent, skills and experience in every community. Maybe they aren’t a world champion, maybe they haven’t been to the NFR, but if they know more than you, you can learn from them. Don’t try to learn from too many different people because there are so many different styles—be consistent in sticking to one style that works for you. “Many, many times I had the ability to counsel the younger parents coming up behind, because Hailey had success early on. I reminded them that they didn’t know us back when she was 6, 9 or 12 and still riding the 25-second pole horse. It’s what I believed was important—safety first, never putting her on more horse than was safe and never putting her on too much horse. I always wanted to challenge her, but never sacrifice control for the win. The win for me was that my child came back out of the arena safe. Let rodeo be part of the development of character. They’re not all going to be professional rodeo athletes, but they can all be better people because of their experience. This is just a sport. It’s supposed to be fun. Sports should be a part of the whole development of a well-rounded child—emphasize academics, music, character-building activities, and sports are part of that.”

Sherry Cervi

Hometown: Marana, Arizona
Accomplishments: Sherry Cervi is a four-time WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer, 19-time NFR qualifier and $3 million Hall of Fame cowgirl. She’s accomplished much of her success aboard home-raised and –trained horses from her family’s breeding program Potter Ranch, headed by her parents Mel and Wendy Potter.

Advice for Kids
“Learn good horsemanship so that when you get older you have something to fall back on, because you have a good foundation. Youth events are so competitive, and I see at some of my youth events kids put a lot of pressure on themselves, and if it doesn’t go well they may take out some frustration on their horse. The older you get, you learn there is going to be another event, and it’s not always your horse’s fault—you may have to change yourself and be better. Being more aware of that will help you. “I also see a lot of kids who don’t have as much time to ride, because they’re in other sports and activities in school, so get somebody to help you and have a really good mentor so you don’t start bad habits and have to work out of them when you’re older. It’s important to ride with somebody who can help you get a really good foundation as a kid.”

Advice for Parents
“Because it’s so competitive, so much pressure is put on those kids. Parents can help their kids learn from their run and move forward and not be so upset if it doesn’t go exactly how they want it to—make it a positive experience so they learn from it. My parents were very influential in my career, and I’d go and ride with different people when I was younger, different styles, and I’m really appreciative of that because they put me with good hands, different styles to where I could take something from everybody. Everyone is really busy, and if the parents didn’t come from a horse background or rodeo background, that’s okay, but don’t be afraid to let your kids learn from people who have been there and done it. “If your kids are involved in other sports or activities, [encourage them] even to go ride their horse—just put your kids on the horses. Even just exercising, doesn’t necessarily have to be competing or working the barrels, but the more you can be on a horse’s back, the more you’re going to learn.”

This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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