Amanda Welsh is a familiar face among the circuit rodeos surrounding her home base of Gillette, Wyoming. She’s about to become a lot more recognizable now that she’s joined the elite club of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association top 15 and embarks on her first trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Armed with her multiple American Semifinals-qualifying small-pen specialist 11-year-old gelding Frenchman Fire Fly (Frosty Frenchman x Princess Bar Dash x Hot Dasher), Welsh is excited to show off the horse that is a homegrown product of her parents Bob and Peggy Welsh’s breeding program. She’s also got a reliable backup on the trailer in the form of her parents’ 2013 stallion Frostys Tri Star (Frosty Frenchman x Bright Penny Star x Carlas Watch).
Barrel Horse News caught up with Welsh about her journey to her first Wrangler NFR.
Barrel Horse News: I know you’ve been rodeoing for some time. Tell me a little about your career up to this point and what your goals have been like leading to the Finals.
Amanda Welsh: “Up until this year, I mainly stayed close to home and circuit rodeoed. I made Circuit Finals in the Badlands and the Mountain States, and until this year it didn’t quite feel like everything was in place to go like we did this season. Last year at Circuit Finals, he did really well there and it gave us momentum going into the winter rodeos. My parents and I decided that as long as he would keep winning and staying sound, then we would keep entering and going.”
Was there a turning point in the year where you felt like the NFR might be reality?
Welsh: “I tried not to let myself think too early on the year, even going into the rodeos in the Northwest. We had just a little over $60,000 won, and even then in the middle of August, I wasn’t too confident with the money that we had won. Once he started picking up a few bigger checks out in the Northwest, it was like, ‘Oh, we’re really doing this.'”
Were you running another horse as well or just him?
Welsh: “I only ran two other horses at two rodeos. One was my dad’s stud horse at the Rapid City rodeo in August, because I had to fly from Kennewick back to Rapid and then back to Kennewick, and then I actually ran a half brother (Frostys Tri Star) to Firefly in North Platte. So Firefly ran at all rodeos but those two.”
That takes a pretty special horse to be able to do that all year long.
Welsh: “Yes, he stayed pretty tough for me, not just running-wise, but we drove a lot of miles this year and he never, ever backs down.”
So you’ve had him for quite a while. Tell me a bit about his beginnings with your family.
Welsh: “My dad actually owns both his dam and sire. We’ve raised him and had him ever since he was a baby. My dad started him on barrels, hauled him to a few jackpots his 5-year-old year, and mentally, he just wasn’t ready as a 5-year-old to be a futurity horse, so Dad didn’t push that at all. Late fall of his 5-year-old year, Dad let me hop on him and start taking him.”
Was there a moment you knew he was the real deal and that you could accomplish your goals on him?
Welsh: “He’s always had that confidence about him when you step on him that you just knew he was special. His first rodeo was the Black Hills Stock Show in February of his 6-year-old year, and he had never been to a rodeo prior to that, and he pulled a check there and then made Circuit Finals that year, his first year rodeoing.”
Did you have a favorite win this year?
Welsh: “I guess probably at that Circuit Finals, he won all three rounds and the average up there. I would say Lewiston, Idaho, is a really close second, because I always wanted to run a 16-second pattern on a standard pattern. He did that and set the arena record in Lewiston.”
What was the biggest struggle being on the road?
Welsh: “My biggest struggle was just being away from my kids. I have a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. I questioned myself every time I left home if I was making the right choice. Other than that, Firefly stayed real consistent for me. The Fourth of July was a bit of a struggle. It was like, ‘Do I keep going or do I go home and let him rest?’ He had an abscess, so we got that figured out, and then after that it was back to back to normal.”
What pushed you to keep going whenever it got hard?
Welsh: “I truly believe this is what God called me to do. I can’t imagine my life doing anything else. And my kids; my mom and dad, they have their own breeding program. Just my whole family has been amazing and supportive, and to get a horse from my mom and dad that they bred, raised and trained to the NFR is so awesome for us.”
Was the NFR a childhood dream of yours?
Welsh: “As long as I can remember. I’m 33 years old, and as long as I can remember, you know you’d watch it and be like, ‘Gosh I want to do that someday.’ My oldest brother Bobby made it, and we’d go out there a few times. He made it in the bull riding and it just made you want to get there a little bit more.”
Now that your ticket is finally punched, what would you tell your younger self?
Welsh: “Just do it wholeheartedly. You’re going to have ups and downs, but keep going, because when you get to a certain point in your life, you don’t want to look back and be like, ‘I really wish I would have done that,’ and it might be too late by the time you come to that idea.”
What means the most to you about this qualification?
Welsh: “Probably that Firefly deserves it a little more than I do. He loves his job and he does 100 percent every time, anywhere I take him. And just for everything—for my parents, for Firefly, for my kids. It’s helping me set up to provide for them, and in a huge way, so it’s definitely a life-changing deal.”
“I also would like to thank all my sponsors and the committees this year at the rodeos. A lot of of them toward the end of the year started dragging for us halfway through, and that makes such a big difference for our horses.”