One of the hallmarks of a great trainer is if others can win riding behind them. Florida barrel horse trainer Kim (Miller) Thomas has had a lot of people ride behind her and win, from Women’s Professional Rodeo association world champions to youth winners.
“I think that’s my gift,” Thomas said. “I didn’t grow up in a horse family. For whatever reason, I get horses and they get me. I don’t know how to explain it.” While she had a gift for making solid, consistent horses, Thomas also had the gift of leadership. Although many people know her for her part in the history of WPRA world champion and blue hen producer Dynas Plain Special, few know about her many contributions to the sport of barrel racing outside the arena.
She’s been a trainer, a competitor, rodeo and futurity producer, and most importantly, an innovative thinker. Today, Thomas continues to give back to the sport that’s provided her with a livelihood for nearly 40 years.
Thomas grew up in the agricultural cowboy town of Wauchula, Florida. her father made sure she and her sister Tamme (Fussell) had a horse early on, because he always wanted one for himself.
“We rode bareback all the time,” said Thomas, who manages the Parrish Equestrian Center in Parrish, Florida. “I remember asking my dad, ‘Why can’t we have a saddle?’ he told me we couldn’t afford one, so I was thinking a saddle probably cost more than our horses did.”
Thomas started out competing at gymkhanas and progressed to high school rodeo, where she ran barrels and poles. Thomas says she didn’t get serious about running barrels though until she graduated high school.
“After high school, I bought a little $500 horse and trained it for barrels myself. I placed at the amateur rodeos and filled my [WPRA] permit,” Thomas said.
Thomas won enough money at her first professional rodeo on her permit to buy her card in 1980 and qualify for her first Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo, since permit earnings carried over at the time. Thomas sold her horse, which started her on the path of training horses.
“I sold my horse for $10,000, which back then was a pile of money,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I bought another horse and did it all over again. That’s what I did; I’d make a horse and someone would come along and want to buy it.”
Rodeo to Futurities
Thomas, who has 13 circuit finals qualifications and two (then Dodge) Ram National Circuit Finals qualifications under her belt, rodeoed hard for many years.
“I’d been in the top 20 a couple of times,” Thomas said. “It was like I either had the horses or the opportunity, but not both at the same time. [The NFR] just wasn’t in the cards for me.”
Thomas says rodeo was a little different when she was going. During the 1980s and 1990s, most competitors only had one good horse. Now, competitors have at least two top horses in the trailer. Before, if you were fortunate enough to have two good horses, one was sold to pay your way down the road.
“Honestly, I don’t know how I did it back when I was younger,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I can remember washing my hair in a bucket, getting a room one day a week so I could get a really good shower and eating on $5 a day. If I didn’t win, I had to go home.”
Her first big lick came with Wonders Betty, a Wonder Otoe mare out of a daughter of Joak. She purchased “Roxy” from Squeak Huber, who introduced Thomas to aged-event competition.
“She was a tough horse,” Thomas said. “I won the sweepstakes at Denton, Texas, on her. That was my first big win out West. It was in that deep, old sandy pen at the Denton Fairgrounds. I probably won it because I was on a Florida horse.”
Thomas was still mostly focused on making rodeo horses for herself rather than training futurity horses.
“I kind of did it backwards from everyone else,” Thomas said. “I dabbled in it and had some success in it, but I didn’t consider myself a trainer. I was training myself rodeo horses. I’d start winning on them and people would want to come buy them, so I’d end up buying me another young one. Then Florida Flit happened.”
Bred by Kappy Nelson, “Goldie” was a 1986 daughter of Fire Water Flit and out of the Clab’s Bar Leo mare Leo Bar Belle. Kim purchased the mare as a 3-year-old after selling her Wonder Otoe gelding Wonder Bar Cash that had done well at the futurities and derbies.
“Florida Flit was the horse that ended up changing my life,” Thomas said. “She was a 30-day wonder, basically. She just made. In a month, she was a barrel horse. I can remember hauling her and exhibitioning her, and she was right there with a time to win the open. She was a meant- to-be barrel horse. I don’t even feel like I can take credit for training her. I think she was just born for barrels.”
Goldie paved the way for Thomas to start a training business.
“She opened a big door for me,” Thomas said. “I decided to enter the futurities with her, and I think I placed at 11 or 12 of the 13 futurities I entered. She is what made people think I was a futurity horse trainer, and people started asking me to ride their horses.”
With her training business taking off, Thomas went to work for the late Bill (“Runt”) Combee. She furthered her aged-event credentials through the success of This Gals Got Credit (“Gal”), a daughter of Cash Not Credit and out of Distinguished Gal by Distinguished Man, and the Cash Not Credit gelding Thinkin Of Cash (“Tink”), out of Inaminut by Aforethought (TB).
Gal placed third at the 1991 Barrel Futurities of America World Championship Futurity and was a finalist at many others before placing in both the sweepstakes and derby at the 1992 BFA World Championships. Think won the 1992 BFA World Championship Futurity and Nutrena Futurity.
Other top aged-event earners under Thomas’ saddle at the time were Krimps Flash, Mr Moon Flash, Bound To Be A Wonder and Dontblockmypath.
In early 1996, Thomas crossed paths with another Wauchula local, Gary Jones. Although Jones’ gritty, young mare ducked a barrel, Thomas could tell the mare really wanted to work. After talking to Gary, Thomas crawled aboard Dynas Plain Special.
Bred by Gary and his wife, Linda, “Dee Dee” was by their Special Effort son Special Feelins and out of Dyna Snow, whom Talmadge Green rode to a BFA Derby Reserve Championship.
“She and I just fit,” Thomas said.
Barely a month after the first time she rode Dee Dee, the duo was placing at the Country Boys Futurity and Open in Asheville, North Carolina. They won the 1996 Barrel Extravaganza Futurity and were finalists at the Southern Barrel Racing Association Futurity and the BFA World Championships.
As fate would have it, Dee Dee was outshined that year by Kathleen Starr’s Fire Water Bugs. The daughter of Fire Water Flit and out of the Bugged Moon mare Bugs Gay Moon earned almost $30,000 at the futurities and won the Florida Barrel Racing Association Futurity.
At the BFA World Championships, Jud Little approached Starr and Thomas about buying Fire Water Bugs and Dynas Plain Special. Starr kept Fire Water Bugs, but the Joneses agreed to sell Dee Dee. She arranged the sale of two of her other futurity horses to Little—Nonstopwithcredit and Nosey Jet Bar.
In 1998, Thomas moved to Oklahoma to work for Little full time. In addition to training futurity horses, Thomas hauled her kids and others under the Little banner to youth rodeos, competed at the major Quarter Horse shows, such as the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, and rodeoed when she had the chance.
When she left in 2003, Thomas started training outside horses again but focused on her daughter Marsee Ferguson’s competitive career.
“I went to a few futurities and still trained horses,” said Thomas, who also partnered with world champion Joyce Loomis Kernek on clinics. “I didn’t go as much as I used to.”
She trained several nice horses, including past WPRA Rookie of the Year Emily Efurd’s Doras Special Dream as well as her college and pro rodeo winner Perks Alive In 75 that recently did well at the Junior NFR in Las Vegas with her new owner.
“I still ride a few young ones, but if they’re not really broke I send them home,” Thomas said. “I’m a little more picky and a little more choosey. Now, I manage an equestrian center and do clinics, so my plate is full.”
Outside the Arena
While Thomas’ horses will have a long impact on the barrel racing industry, her contributions outside the arena—though not well known—may be as important, if not more so.
Not long after joining the WPRA, Thomas was taking leadership roles within the association. She was instrumental in the formation of the Florida Chapter of the WPRA (FCWPRA), which helped grow the association and professional barrel racing within the state in 1986.
“I was president of the FCWPRA and chairman of the futurity committee,” Thomas said. “We got together as a group and went to all the rodeo committees, and one by one we got them all WPRA-approved. We also had futurities.”
Their Florida Sunshine Classic, held the first weekend of October in Ocala, was huge. Not only did it have a well-paying futurity, it also had NFR implications through three WPRA-approved barrel races.
“Back then, the WPRA-approved barrel races still counted toward the NFR,” Thomas said. “All those girls on the bubble trying to make the NFR came to our barrel race. It was tough.”
The FCWPRA also produced the Wauchula Rodeo in 1987. Leroy Mason and Troy Weekley of Five Star Rodeo, Inc., approached the group about handling everything for the rodeo, while he and Mason served as stock contractors.
“We talked it over and decided we’d do it as a fundraiser for our chapter,” Thomas told Kenneth Springer in the May 1987 issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News. “But I can’t begin to tell you how much work it was. I guarantee you every one of our girls who helped put that rodeo on has a greater appreciation for what a rodeo committee has to do to put on a successful rodeo.”
The endeavor provided a $5,000 profit for the FCWPRA that year.
Thomas’ event production experience proved invaluable when she served on the WPRA Board of Directors during the tumultuous feud between the WPRA and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
In late 2006, the PRCA announced the formation of the Professional Women’s Barrel Racing that essentially eliminated the WPRA’s involvement at PRCA rodeos. To help keep the oldest women’s sporting association afloat during 2007, the WPRA relied heavily on the futurity and derby program, which was spearheaded by Thomas.
“Our goal was to build rodeo horses,” Thomas said. “When we started, we wanted to promote the consistency in the horses you see like Louie (Lisa Lockhart’s An Oakie With Cash) by having the futurities be a three-run average.”
Thomas was also instrumental in the production of the first WPRA World Finals and the first $100,000 WPRA slot race for open horses.
Thomas, who served as Prairie Circuit Director for four years and later the WPRA Director for two, says she believes the board of directors during the lawsuit years did the impossible.
“I don’t think anyone thought we’d win,” Thomas said of the $6.875 million judgement in favor of the WPRA over the PRCA in early 2008. “It was life-changing for all of us. It was hard on our families, and we were spending our own money. It ended marriages. There were a lot of tears and a lot of prayers. I think that board should go into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame as a group, because that was a huge milestone for women.”
The Next Generation
Now, Thomas is working to get her Youth Barrel Race off the ground. The inaugural event is scheduled for March 31 through April 1 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.
“I remember taking kids to the Josey Junior World and thinking, ‘I’m going to do this one day,’” Thomas said. “This is where my path is leading me now. I’m doing more clinics and schools.”
The $10,000-added event for riders age 20 and under will have two age groups and consist of two runs with a short round in a 4D format.
“I think it’s time for me to give back,” Thomas said. “I love barrel racing, and I love giving back to it. I can’t imagine it not being apart of my life, but do I actually want to do it? Not really. I can still ride one and I can tune with the best of them, but do I need to hear my name called and run down the alley? No. Now, I get my enjoyment from watching the people I help do good.”
This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News.