Photos by Jackie Jensen courtesy Jill Lane
Jill Lane is completely devoted to her horses. Retired from a demanding pharmaceutical sales representative career, she is raising a herd of barrel horses that are making their mark. Lane has her hand on every aspect of her business—breeding, training and showing. Lane is all in, and she’s making it work raising one baby at a time.
Lane grew up on a farm in north-central Nebraska. Her dad, the late Russ Miner, always wanted to rodeo and be a cowboy, but he chose to farm because it paid the bills. The Miners owned cattle, but horses were a part of the farm, too.
“Dad always made sure we had horses and that we learned how to ride,” Lane said.
Together with her older brother, Jess, and sister, Holly, Lane competed in gymkhanas and small local shows. She moved up into junior rodeo and high school rodeo, eventually qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo. Her mother, Ethel Miner, was her faithful transportation to competition.
“She knew how to ride, but she didn’t get more involved for herself until after we all left and got our own careers,” Lane said. “She just made the boxing finals at the American Quarter Horse Association Amateur Select World Show this past fall (2016)—she’s over 80 years old.”
Lane remembered a defining moment in her early years, crediting her mother for the important life lesson.
“I was at a gymkhana preparing for an event,” Lane said. “I was really shy when I was younger, and I didn’t want to do it because it was new to me. I wasn’t comfortable with it. But my mom entered me anyway and told me I had to do it. She coached me into doing it, and I ended up winning the event. That taught me you don’t know how good you’re going to be at something unless you try.”
Back to the Ranch
After graduating high school, Lane wanted to pursue rodeo, but her dad knew the difficulty of finding a stable income along that path, so he advised her otherwise.
“He basically told me he would pay for college, but it wasn’t so I could go rodeo,” Lane said. “I needed to give up the horses and go to college. So I was out of it for about 10 years.”
Straight out of graduating from the University of Nebraska, Lane began working for a pharmaceutical company that placed her in Montana in 1991. She didn’t know anyone but put down roots, met John Lane, got married in 1993 and moved to his ranch. Although the two divorced in 2001, she returned to horses during her years of full-time employment.
Lane’s dad prided himself on taking in problem horses—outlaws that were sometimes not very fun to ride. When Lane had the chance to pick horses for herself, she wanted an improvement.
“I just wanted to get horses that were better bred—I wanted to buy something I could afford, and I was willing to spend more money, because I was making more money,” Lane said. “I learned to buy the best I could afford. I wanted to try some of those own sons and daughters of the great horses you read about. I wanted to see if they were really different than the horses I grew up riding.”
Breaking into Barrels
Though she got her feet wet with reining, Lane was drawn to barrel racing for multiple reasons.
“There’s just something about the sprinting horse I was always attracted to,” Lane said. “With barrel racing, you don’t have cattle charges or a trainer, though I probably could have benefitted from one of those. It’s just more affordable, and more people can do it at the entry level.”
A chance encounter altered the course of Lane’s barrel racing journey. In 1996, Lane and a co-worker had a regional meeting in Los Angeles, and her friend Shaun Pichler asked her to fly in a week early to look at some performance stallions.
Lane enjoyed their excursions, but she was interested in raising Quarter Horses. The next year before the meeting in California, when Pichler asked if she wanted to see more stallions, Lane agreed but asked to see speed horses. Pichler gave her the reins to plan the weekend, and Lane again pulled out magazines and planned their tours.
“The first farm we visited was Vessels Stallion Farm, and we got to see First Down Dash,” Lane said. “It was neat to see the horses you read about in person. It really made an impact on me.”
When they pulled into Blane Schvaneveldt’s ranch, Lane walked in expecting to visit with a manager as they had at previous farms. But Schvaneveldt himself was on hand to show her his horses. The legendary trainer of Refrigerator, Dash For Speed, First Down Dash, Cash Rate, Super Sound Charge, Town Policy, Denim N Diamonds and Miss Thermolark introduced himself and showed Lane around.
“My jaw dropped open,” Lane said of meeting the AQHA Hall of Fame inductee. “He’s trained all these great horses, and there I was actually meeting him.”
Lane found Schvaneveldt kind and patient, teaching her about all his horses and how they were bred.
“It was amazing, because I could get a real feel for what each stallion was throwing because I could just walk up and down and see how each horse was built and the commonalities between the bloodlines,” Lane said.
Lane and Schvaneveldt became good friends, and he trained several horses she acquired off the racetrack.
“Every year I had a meeting in California, I’d go out and visit Blane and his family,” Lane said. “He really impacted my life and helped me step up my program.”
Starting Her Band
As time went on, Lane wanted to have more foals she’d bred herself as well as finished barrel horses. On that trip to California years ago, Lane also met a filly sired by Band Of Azure, a sire with offspring earnings topping $3 million and more than 300 Registers of Merit on the track. Lane was captivated by the bay mare.
“She was just so beautiful,” Lane said. “She turned a lot of heads, because she just had an air, a quality about her. She was so athletic.”
The mare was Solara, a 1998 bay mare that became a cornerstone of Lane’s breeding program despite a knee injury early in her post-racetrack barrel career.
At their first meeting, Schvaneveldt introduced Lane to a Thoroughbred stallion named Red who came straight off the track. Red’s offspring have earned nearly $426,000, according to Equi-Stat. His most successful offspring is Christina Richman’s rodeo mount Xtrared (“Stitch”), bred by Schvaneveldt, with earnings in excess of $286,800.
“He was beautiful—I just didn’t have anything to breed to him at the time,” Lane said. “He always stuck in my mind because he looked so much like a Quarter Horse.”
Years later, when Schvaneveldt began having some health issues, he leased Red to a couple and sold part interest of him to another owner.
Lane and her friend Alexia Mehrle-Willis went to one of Schvaneveldt’s yearling sales in August 2008 and out to dinner with him and his family afterward.
“Alexia asked [Schvaneveldt] what he was doing with Red, and he told her where he was and that he wasn’t doing much,” Lane said. “Alexia asked him if he’d ever consider selling him, and I had never even thought to ask that.”
By October 30 of that year, Red was standing in Lane’s barn. Lane only had a handful of mares, Solara included, so she stepped up to the task of buying more broodmares. Lane bred Solara to the legendary Dash Ta Fame, producing a colt—JL Sirocco. It was immediately apparent he was exceptional, so Lane decided to keep him intact.
“At that point, I had no idea I was even going to have a stud,” Lane said. “I always thought I would breed a handful of mares to stallions that crossed well. But then I ended up with Red, and I figured I needed to buy more mares that crossed well with Red.”
Lane crossed Solara with Dash Ta Fame several times, Frenchmans Guy, Red, and most recently, French Streaktovegas and Judge Cash. Solara was unfortunately put down in the fall of 2015, but Lane flushed her embryos, so the foals born in 2017 are the last of Solara’s offspring.
Building the Whole Package
In 2010, Lane quit her job with the pharmaceutical company and began working on her breeding program full-time. Lane’s goal for her program is to raise the best barrel racing horses she can run herself—horses she enjoys both training and riding.
“I take pride in my program, because the majority of the broodmares in my band are mares I have trained myself. I thought so much of them that I wanted to get colts out of them,” Lane said. “The ones I haven’t ridden, I’ve ridden their colts, so I know what their colts are like. I really like that. I like having beautiful horses that when you look at them, you go ‘wow.’”
Other horses that have made their mark in Lane’s program include Delta Doc Star (Runnerelse x Koak x Docs Oak), and her daughter JL Antares (Red x Delta Doc Star x Runnerelse). Unfortunately, Lane has lost some of her best horses, such as Delta Doc Star and Cut No Slack—the dam of JL Roc Paperscissors—who died due to foal dystocia.
“I can’t tell you how heartbreaking the breeding business can be,” Lane said. “You can lose these baby colts—I think the toughest part of breeding can be the foaling. It can be heart wrenching. I can also tell you that even on my worst day, doing this horse thing is still better than my best day with the company. I feel so lucky to follow my passion.”
Alexia Mehrle-Willis of Maysville, Oklahoma, met Lane in 2008 at a rodeo, and the pair have been friends ever since. She recognized a passionate love for horses, and they bonded over the ups and downs of breeding and raising horses and owning barrel horses.
“Jill had a vision for what she wanted to do with her breeding program,” Mehrle-Willis said. “It’s one of the most impressive things I know about her. I don’t know if people even realize how much time and thought she’s put into this.”
Lately, Lane has been flushing embryos from her younger mares, and with a band of about 15 broodmares, she continues to work to improve her production.
“I’m trying to make my herd more uniform,” Lane said. “I’m taking Red daughters and crossing them on ‘Sirocco’ (JL Sirocco). I’m excited about the possibilities.
“What makes JL Sirocco stand out is not just Dash Ta Fame, it was his mother,” Lane said. “She was a ‘blue hen,’ and if it wasn’t for my inexperience, she would have been a lot more successful. She is really what gave him his look.”
Mehrle-Willis says Lane’s horses have a distinctive look, because she’s found certain characteristics she likes and cultivated them.
“She’s put a lot of time into it, and she’s never given up on this vision of what she thinks her breeding program should be,” Mehrle-Willis said. “She doesn’t give into fads very easily, and there’s not a lot of gimmicks in her program. I have a lot of respect for that.”
Lane says one of her favorite accomplishments in the barrel pen was the first time she placed at a futurity.
“That always stays in my mind. You can run somewhere for a long time, and it seems like you’re never going to be as good as your competition or there’s always something you have to learn,” Lane said. “Winning a futurity makes you feel good and think maybe you are on the right track and headed in the right direction.”
Another memorable time for Lane was when her colt JL Roc Paperscissors, now ridden by Mark Bugni, placed third in the 2015 BFA Juvenile World Championship and won the Future Fortunes slot race and more than $52,000.
“That really meant a lot to me, because I raised that colt and I owned the stud and the mare as well,” Lane said. “I showed the dam, Cut No Slack, as well.”
According to Equi-Stat, Jill Lane Quarter Horses-bred horses have earned more than $271,000 in competition— a big chunk of that thanks to JL Roc Paperscissors, who earned more than $89,000 in 2016.
Visions for the Future
Lane keeps some horses on pasture in Fairfield, Montana, and the rest at the 1,000-acre ranch she shares with her partner, Andy Taylor, near Fort Benton, Montana, along the Teton River. With 16 years on the road as a sales rep behind her, Lane treasures her time at home with her horses.
“I don’t enjoy traveling as much as I used to,” Lane said. “Maybe some of that is because I have so much responsibility at home with the mares and colts, but I love working with colts and starting them is like they are put in your hands—it’s up to you how you want to form them. I think those first 30 days you work with a colt affects them for the rest of their lives— that’s how much of an impact you have.”
Lane has a couple stallions besides JL Sirocco. One, JL Sheriff, is a maternal half-brother to JL Sirocco, sired by Judge Cash and out of Solara. The other, JL Reddy To Charm, is a replacement for Red—sired by Red and out of BF Silver Charm by the Dash For Cash son Takin On The Cash.
Lane’s advice for building a successful program is to pay attention to what your buyers want and develop patience for the process.
“There’s a reason why those bloodlines are popular,” Lane said. “It’s because that line wins or it’s very trainable or athletic. It’s hard to market a horse without a recognizable pedigree. Be willing to work really hard and face a lot of disappointment along the way. Try to breed for what the market wants.”
Lane says her program is unique, because she has a hand in every aspect of the business.
“You see a lot of breeders, you see a lot of trainers—but you don’t see very many who do both,” Lane said. “That’s what I take pride in. For example, with JL Roc Paperscissors, I was the breeder, the owner and the rider. I think that’s what sets me apart. I’m riding what I’m breeding—not just selling it—so I know what they’re like. That’s what’s fun.”
Abigail Boatwright is an award-winning journalist based out of Texas. Email comments on this article to [email protected]. This article was first published in the February 2017 issue of Barrel Horse News.