Milestones for the members of these families include winning championships, learning how to drive the family truck and trailer, and for some, starting their own barrel prospect.
The Wise Family.
“Kassie and I were born to be riders.”
When 17-year-old Kassie Wise needs help with her mare, Sixums Lady Luck, she turns to her favorite trainer, her dad. A top barrel-horse trainer and rider, Carl Wise practically raised his youngest daughter on barrel racing.
“It’s all Kassie has ever known,” he admits. “Some people are good at some things, and some people are good at others. I think barrel racing is kind of what Kassie and I are the best at.”
The high-school junior has come a long way since those early lessons spent riding in front of her dad in the saddle.
To this day, Carl says his daughter pays attention and rides hard.
“Kassie thinks,” he explains. “She doesn’t just sit up there and let the horse do everything.”
The dedicated teen juggles a multitude of responsibilities during an average week: home schooling Monday through Thursday, working at a private barn in the afternoons, exercising her horse daily and running barrels with her dad each weekend. Gina, Kassie’s mom, also rides but knee problems have limited her ability to compete.
“It’s nice to be able to do something together,” says the high-school junior. “Dad trains, Mom announces, and we all ride.”
And, according to Carl, it takes a heap of patience to race and raise a barrel-racing kid.
“A horse doesn’t work perfect all the time,” he says. “You can’t get aggravated. You have to have patience and do it over and over.”
The same holds true for the parent who is coaching his child.
“I never tell Kassie what not to do,” he says. “Before she runs, I just tell her to do the best she can and to come out smiling.”
In the end, quality time for the family doesn’t always happen in the home.
“My wife gets aggravated sometimes because she thinks Kassie and I stick together too much,” he confides. “We can’t help it if we prefer to spend more time at barn than at the house.”
The Griffin Family
“Barrel racing has never gotten “old.””
Larry and Tina Griffin were bitten by the barrel-racing bug nearly 17 years ago. At the time, Larry’s daughter, Tanya [Carter], was forging her way through the high school rodeo ranks. One horse led to another, says Tina, and soon the rest of the Griffins were beating a path to Mississippi’s fertile barrel-racing grounds for some family fun. Erin, the youngest of the clan, made her debut on the scene when she was 9.
Florence, Mississippi, trainer Paul Cooper has kept the family fine-tuned and well mounted over these many years. Tina’s mare, Miss Cash Anne Carry, and Erin’s gelding, Ryons Vapor Trail, have been longtime members of the successful Griffin barrel-racing team. Erin began riding her Taipan Pie San-bred palomino in National Barrel Horse Association and open shows when she was 11.
The Griffins continue to adjust their barrel-racing schedule to accommodate life’s changes. Tanya is now married with children, and Erin, 18, is tackling her first year of college.
“We don’t go near as much as we used to,” says Tina. “The dynamics have changed a little. Erin’s no longer 85 pounds, or mounted on a 5-year-old horse, but we still enjoy doing it.”
Erin says her “want-to” is just as strong, but finding the time to barrel race is a little more difficult now.
“It was a lot easier in high school,” she explains. “Sometimes my teachers piled more homework on me, but they understood for the most part. In college, if you miss too much, they’ll drop you from the class.”
When the Griffins run together now, says Tina, it’s an even bigger family event as Tanya and her family now join the group. It’s not uncommon to see the family’s trailers parked together for the weekend as they share responsibilities, meals, and stories.
According to Erin, all is fair in family and barrel racing.
“This past weekend, I went in and made a pretty decent run to become the new leader,” she says. “My mom went in afterwards and outran me. She still does that—and, she’s riding a 17-year-old mare. I love it! It makes it all the more fun.”
The Wolfe Family
Flora Vista, New Mexico
“It’s Haley’s turn now.”
Some grandmothers bake cookies and take their grandkids to the park on weekends. Cookie Pickens breaks horses and runs the barrel-racing circuit with hers. According to her daughter, LeAnne Wolfe, the retiree is an integral and inspirational part of the family’s three-generation team. Haley, LeAnne’s daughter, is the youngest of the trio at age 12.
“Mom starts working with the colts from the time they’re born,” she says. “She’s very good with that. She likes the slow work. Haley and I like to go fast.”
Six years ago, LeAnne backed off her professional rodeo schedule to support her daughter’s barrel-racing dreams. The focus now, she says, centers on competition at a handful of amateur rodeos and the big divisional races where all three can run.
Mom and “Granny” have worked tirelessly to keep Haley well-mounted over the years.
“She’s been on 8 to 10 horses so far,” notes LeAnne. “I’ve kept moving her up the ladder. I’ve never put her anything she wasn’t ready for.”
The 7th grader had to retire her good gelding Spur due to cataracts last year, but has managed to replace him with an equally talented horse named Tuff Casey Doc.
Barrel racing is a full-time job for this family, even for LeAnne’s son, Tyler, and veterinarian husband, David, who don’t barrel race. Tyler is involved in making sure the trio’s truck and trailer are road-ready, while David uses his veterinary expertise to keep their mounts in top shape.
“My husband, David, backs us 110 percent,” says LeAnne. “He is truly the success of us. When you have the caliber of the horses we have, there’s so much maintenance on them. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be going down the road.”
When she’s not balancing school, choir, and 4-H, Haley also competes in junior high school rodeo in barrels, poles, goat tying and break away roping.
“Hayley’s just like every other little girl—she’s determined to go to the National Finals Rodeo,” says LeAnne. “She’s seen me on the pro circuit and thinks that’s real cool. Maybe I’ll haul with her some day—if I’m not too old.”
The Leavitt Family
Blue Grass, Iowa
“We set goals for the horses and the girls. If they win in the process, it’s an added bonus.”
At the time, Richard and Heidi Leavitt tried talking her out of it. But the then 7-year-old aspiring barrel racer, Mesa, wouldn’t budge. After sitting arena-side at her first NFR, she was determined to be a barrel racer. The same determination still drives the teen, some six years later, as she establishes herself as one of the sport’s youngest, most prolific racers of all time.
Shiloh, 10, has followed her older sister’s lead, until recently. Last year when the youngster won the Josey Jr. World Championship, she surprised longtime mentors R.E. and Martha Josey by telling them she didn’t want to go to the NFR—at least not as a competitor.
“I just want to go to the NFR and sing the National Anthem when Mesa goes there,” she replied.
Shiloh likes to ride, notes Richard, but she only likes to ride one or two horses.
“She’s more into school and music these days,” he says of his youngest daughter. “She’s enrolled in real school now [Mesa is still home schooled] and only runs at the big events.”
Mesa, on the other hand, can ride 10 horses a day and think nothing about it. Like Shiloh, she does all her own horse therapy, stall cleaning, feeding and conditioning.
“Heidi and I have been sticklers from day one that if we’re going to tackle this as a family, the girls were going to do it,” explains Richard. “There’s no way we would do what we do if they weren’t so dedicated.
“People think you just go out and buy a high-dollar horse and you automatically go to winning on him. It’s a lot more than that. We never started out to do what we’ve done. We’ve been extremely blessed and fortunate.”
Richard’s occupation as an osteopathic physician and chiropractor has gone a long way in keeping the family’s older horses, like Junior, going.
“If I ever get caught up [with barrel racing and my private practice] I want to go to vet school, and then open an equine rehabilitation center,” he shares. “I’m just waiting to see where Mesa goes. If she wants to rodeo professionally, we’ll head west. If it’s futurities, we’ll probably head south.”
The Steinhoff Family.
“It takes a lot of juggling.”
They don’t call themselves Team Steinhoff just for the heck of it. Barrel racing in this family really does take a team effort, says patriarch Gary Steinhoff. He and his wife, Debbie, raise cattle, ranch horses and barrel racers on their Vinita, Oklahoma, ranch.
Tanya, 18, and Tyrney, 15, paid their dues in playday events before making the move to NBHA and divisional shows. Meanwhile, Taylor, 11, went straight into “the big leagues.”
“Taylor only knows big barrel races,” says Debbie. “When she was born, we were already heading to the big ones. So, if it doesn’t have $5,000 added, she doesn’t know why we’re going.”
The youngster doesn’t feel slighted by not attending a wider range of races.
“I like what I do,” says Taylor. “Why win a ribbon when you can win a check?”
There’s no time for sibling rivalry for these sisters. The girls are busy with their school work, respective athletics, ranch chores, and of course, barrel racing.
Horses within the Steinhoff string are campaigned by the rider who suits them the best. Tyrney continues to make the rounds on Hotshot, while her little sister, Taylor, is changing things up with Little Dude Ditto.
“Bad luck” continues to shake Tanya’s career and challenges her to rise above tough times. Her recent loss of Be Boppin Bobby [to a left rear fracture at the 2008 NBHA Youth World] was particularly difficult as the pair were preparing for their first WPRA circuit run.
“I’ve definitely had to learn how to take the good with the bad,” says Tanya. “But I guess if winning was easy, it wouldn’t be so sweet.”
Tanya’s new horse, Bully, was a bittersweet surprise from her parents who fully support their eldest daughter’s entry into the pro ranks.
Purchased just three weeks after the loss of Bobby, the 11-year-old mare seems to have just the right mix for the rodeo world, says Tanya.
“The easy part to having a good horse is to buy him,” says Gary. “The hard part is to keep him there—to keep him physically and mentally able to do what he’s supposed to do.”
The girls have always done all their own horse conditioning.
“We don’t have an arena,” says Gary, “but we do have miles and miles of pasture.”
No matter how hectic their schedules become, there is one Steinhoff tradition that is non-negotiable. Every morning and every evening the family gathers for a sit-down, television-off, home-cooked meal.
Quarrels are also kept to a minimum in the Steinhoff household.
“They’re going to have their sister quarrels, don’t think they don’t,” shares Debbie. “But it’s usually going to be over who gets the bed by themselves in the RV.”
Jennifer Zehnder is a contributing editor for BHN’s sister publication, Western Horseman. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected].
This article was originally published in the October 2008 issue of Barrel Horse News.