By Blanche Schaefer

 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 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.Kiser Classic results box

KricketGintner qualifierbox

How long have you and Dial A Little Fame been a team, and what is he like?

We’ve had “Jax” around three years. My mom and sister and I have all rode him, but through pregnancies and such, I’m the one on him now. I actually wish I had 10 of him. He’s one of the easiest horses to run, but one of the hardest because he does everything you want him to do. Since he’s so big, on the ground he doesn’t really try to be mean, but he can be a little bit of a beast because he’ll mow you right over if you’re in the way and he wants to get somewhere. He has a heart of gold—he tries his hardest every time he goes out there, and with more experience, he’s even getting good on bad ground. He’ll take care of himself, especially now doing rodeos, he’s easier to trust on bad ground now that he’s paying attention to what he’s doing.

How much experience did he have when you got him? My mom initially had him to sell for someone; he was about 7 years old then. At the time, my mom and sister were going to rodeo, so they asked if they could ride him to help sell him. With his prior owners, he went to NBHA races and some open shows, but he was not run tons and tons. When we got him for the rodeos, we didn’t do much barrel work, but he wasn’t fully seasoned. He needed to be seasoned and was definitely green at rodeos and afraid of cows. He’s not fully over that stuff—we’re still working on that. He was not finished in that aspect.

Take us through your run that won the qualifier. It couldn’t have went any better. I rode a horse earlier in the class, and I tipped. We were one of the last horses to go in the qualifier, so I needed to not think about my other horse tipping. Jax runs best when you don’t safety up and try to get far from the barrels. I knew I needed to go in and let him work close enough to the barrels to let him do his thing. I needed to not worry about playing it safe.

Did you think you and Jax could win the qualifier? I know [the Minnesota Equestrian Center in] Winona is one of his favorite pens to run in. I knew he could do really good, but I never dreamt that with my nervousness and wanting to play it safe that we would ever really win it. He totally has the capability of doing all that, but I didn’t go in there thinking I was going to win. I knew I had a good chance to get up there; they had a lot of good times in the last couple drags right before me that were hard times to get in that pen. The second barrel is the one I can sometimes knick coming out of it, but once I was past second I knew it was going to be pretty good coming up to third. Third usually isn’t my worrisome barrel, so as the run was building, I thought I had a pretty good chance to be up there.

KricketGintner BraunworthwebKricket Gintner and Dial A Little Fame winning the American Kiser Classic qualifier September 24, 2016, with a blazing 14.555 worth $1,687.5. Photo by Al Braunworth

What does it mean to you to make it to this point; not only qualifying, but also winning a qualifier? It means everything. We were taking it as a one-time shot because it was so c l ose to home—we had to enter and try it. There was no thought process of, “Oh, we didn’t make it this time, we can just haul to another one.” We weren’t thinking about it that way; it was a one-and-done type thing. The fact that we were able to pull it off, I was just so relieved and so happy I could do that for my mom because my mom always wants us to do really well. I knew she was on pins and needles the whole day, but she didn’t tell me that until afterward. I like that Jax can go to something so prestigious and do good when he’s not a rodeo horse. The rodeo horses with the people who go 24/7 are the ones that can get their horses recognized, and we just don’t do that kind of hauling with Jax. He’s definitely a one-in-a-million horse, and it’s nice that he, himself, can get some recognition in a different way. I wish I had 10 or 20 of him to get me through my whole barrel racing career.

How do you prepare for a big race like this? I, personally, don’t do much because we usually bring my two kids along, so I’m busy doing that kind of stuff. Usually with Jax, we use Equiresp (respiratory nebulizing therapy) on him and try to make him comfortable when the shows run long and he’s in the stalls—nothing out-of-the-world crazy, just taking care of him. What is your strategy for the semi-finals? My mom is planning to take Jax down early. We’d like to get him in the pen, and with our winters up here, the cold doesn’t help much with trying to keep horses conditioned. A lot of time at home, we don’t do any barrels, we just do breezing. It’s hard to breeze in an indoor. We want to get him down to Texas to get him used to the pen, and hopefully the weather is nice so it’ll be better than up here. We want him comfortable; my mom said the semi-finals pen is more like a rodeo pen, and that’s not Jax’s favorite at the moment. In order to get him comfortable with it, we’ll make him think it’s just another jackpot or barrel race—that would be the best thing for him.

What is your goal for the semi-finals? I know the caliber of horse I’m on, and I know he’s capable of making it to the finals. I have to say, in order to get that goal, you have to feel confident you can do it. My goal is to make it to the finals—just go in there and let him do his thing, because I know he’s capable if he can do it.

Who has helped you along this journey? Thanks for sure to my whole entire family; my husband has been there through thick and thin. My parents, especially my mom, who is the one who goes to all the shows; Jax is her horse and she’s allowing me to ride him, and obviously that means the world to me. We also have our sponsors to thank: Cowgirl Tuff, which is awesome to have their support, Nutrena Feeds and Formula 707.

Blanche Schaefer is associate editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments on this article to [email protected]. For more information on qualifiers, results and race calendar, visit Better Barrel Races.


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