By Blanche Schaefer

BrandonCullins eventbox

Competing against the top cowboys and cowgirls in the nation for a slice of a $2 million pie has set the bar high for many rodeo contestants since RFD-TV’s inaugural The American Rodeo in 2014. Each year, hundreds of barrel racers enter various qualifiers across the United States, gunning for their shot at a run under the bright lights of famed AT&T Stadium. In the end, only four will remain. The path to Arlington, Texas, is crowded with the nation’s BrandonCullins qualifierbox fastest horses and handiest riders, but the qualification process gives anyone a chance to outrun them. Barrel racers run at designated qualifier races throughout the fall and winter to advance to The American semi-finals in Fort Worth, Texas, from February 15–17, 2017, where they will compete against several “exemption” riders invited by The American. A slack round followed by a shootout round determine who advances to AT&T Stadium in Arlington for The American on February 19, 2017. Qualifiers compete in the long round against the top 10 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racers in the country, who receive an automatic invitation to The American. Out of the long round, only four will advance to the final shootout match to battle for a hefty championship purse: $100,000 if the winner is a rider invited by The American or $1 million to a champion who qualified through the semi-finals. With qualifier season well under way, we spoke to several winners who’ve solidified a spot in The American semi-finals.

You’ve ridden Foxie Stinson since she was a 3-year-old; what has she been like to train? She’s always been really gritty. She fell down a couple times her futurity year just because she won’t quit trying even if the ground gives way. She doesn’t have any quit in her and gives everything she’s got every time. She’s been a really fun mare with a big attitude—you don’t really make her mad, you just stay out of her way.

BrandonCullins Monroe webBrandon Cullins rode Foxie Stinson to a 14.045 to win The American qualifier in Fletcher, North Carolina, on November 12, 2016. Photo by Blake Monroe.What made you decide to run “Foxie” in the qualifier? I was going to run my 4-year-old [CP Medina], but we’re trying to sell Foxie. Tim, Robin Weaver’s boyfriend, talked us into running Foxie since we’re trying to sell her, because it’d be better for her to do good there than the black filly (CP Medina). Tim talked us into that, so I’m glad he did because it worked out pretty well.

How did your qualifying run go? She did really good in spite of me. She was rolling and running hard. We had a really good first, and then at the second, I can’t tell you what happened because I’m not really sure, but I just dropped my reins for no reason. I’ve watched the video 20 times and can’t figure it out. I got up on her neck trying to get the reins back, and then she came over quick and dragged the barrel over, so I dropped my reins again setting the barrel up. Going to the third barrel, my glasses were falling off my head so I had to reach up and fix them. I can’t take credit for that run; she was just on. I was trying to stay out of her way and stay on.

How do you prepare yourself for big races like a qualifier? I just try to treat it like you’re running barrels at home or like any other jackpot. You can’t win playing it safe, so ride the horse like you know they’re going to work and trust your training.

Blanche Schaefer is associate editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments on this article to [email protected].



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