By Tanya Randall
Members of the WPRA’s Montana Circuit have found a way to change all that by creating a rodeo horse statistical program using the Internet. Spurred to development by Jill Lane, Kitty Herrin, Lana Tibbetts, Donna Johnson and Denali Hauck, the program has record of nearly every member’s rodeo horse that they’ve won money on at a circuit rodeo or co-approved event. Only one member chose not to participate.
“We figured with the Montana Circuit being one of the smaller circuits, and with all the girls knowing each other, we could keep each other pretty honest on saying which horse we rode at the rodeos because we know each other’s horses,” says Lane, a circuit member who raises and trains barrel horses. “We got copies of the horses’ papers and put down the horses’ names with the results.”
At the conclusion of the 2009 Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will be held in January, the circuit will post their rider standings, as well as their tabulated horse data. Not only will they know who the leading sires in the circuit were, but they will also be able to break the horses down by age and sex, and which horse was home-raised or a Montana-bred.
Just a quick glance at the results they have so far, which can be found at www.montanawpra.com, show that there are two Dash Ta Fame’s among the top horses, as well as two sired by Another Feature.
“There are a lot of rodeo horses that aren’t bred special; the horse is just special,” says Kitty Herrin, who runs the circuit’s website and is in charge of tracking earnings and horses. “There a lot of people in our circuit that raise and train their own horses. We have a lot of ranch horses that aren’t registered. We think it’s going to be fascinating once we start putting everything together.”
Filling a Void
Without doubt, the biggest mark against barrel horse statistics is the lack of rodeo horse earnings from all levels—from youth rodeos to the professional ranks.
“Everyone that raises horses gets very frustrated because you have all these horses with rodeo earnings, but you can’t say it because it can’t be substantiated,” says Herrin, who produces the Barrel Of Gold Futurity in Montana along with operating Arrow Graphics.
Lack of substantiation is one of the reasons for earnings estimates in stallion advertisements because their owners can’t emphatically prove the rodeo earnings of their stallion’s offspring. When a racehorse stallion ad says offspring earnings of $2.5 million, you can go look that number up from a secondary source. For barrel horses, it’s not so easy. How often does the industry hear of a horse with earnings over $100,000, and the only thing available to prove it is what the rider wrote down in a notebook?
“You can’t just go to one source, like the American Quarter Horse Association, and look up your horse’s earnings and points,” Lane says. “With barrel horses, it’s not that simple. I think that’s a big disservice to the barrel racing industry when it comes to marketing your horse. How are you going to sell your horse when you can’t prove what he’s won?”
The problems with tracking rodeo horse earnings are numerous, with the foremost being simply how to go about it.
The Birth of Concept
“Jill Lane approached me with the idea about two years ago,” Montana Circuit Director Lana Tibbetts says. “I hadn’t been director very long, about four months, maybe, and at the time, we had no way to do it. We couldn’t police it. There was no way we could track horses’ earnings and prevent girls from lying about the horse they were riding. When we got our website up a year ago, we finally had an avenue to do it.”
Donna Johnson, a stallion owner and circuit competitor, originally suggested that the circuit have its own website. That task fell to Herrin, who designs Lane’s website and print advertising.
At the 2008 Montana Circuit Finals, Herrin made a point to get all the horse’s names for the finals’ contestants and the fledgling program was about to test its wings.
“What I do for our circuit is track all our members’ earnings to make sure the main office is correct,” Herrin says. “We figured if I was keeping track of all our members’ earnings, we could come up with a way to track the horses and be the official outlet for that information for our circuit.”
The Montana Circuit, with its 147 members, seemed to be the perfect place to attempt what many in the industry have deemed impossible.
At the beginning of the 2009 season, Lane sent out a letter explaining that the circuit was going to try to track the horse’s earnings and requested that all the members send in a copy of their horse’s papers.
Of course, several girls didn’t at first, but by the end of the year, nearly everyone in the circuit has complied.
“Everybody’s been really excited about it,” Herrin says. “A couple of people, who have older horses that they’ll probably never sell, said ‘I don’t know if it will help me, but it’s a good idea.’”
Grade and unregistered horses are also tracked.
“We do have one girl, Maddie Matelli, whose horse is half-Arabian, so he’s not registered,” Herrin says, “but we have his name, and we know how old he is and what color he is. She’s going to try to find out some of the breeding information for us.”
Once a rodeo is over, a horse’s name is added to the results. It’s up to the barrel racer to notify the webmaster if she rode a different horse than the one listed. The results are posted on the website for all to see, essentially leaving the members to police themselves.
“For example, Morgan Knudson was running three different horses,” Lane says, “and I asked her which horses she won money on, and I was at those two rodeos and saw her run the horse she said she rode. We police ourselves that way. If the other girls question it, we check into it. It’s not like we have videos or anything. Montana’s such a small circuit that the girls keep each other honest.”
By tracking the rodeo horses, the use of registered or “official” grade names has carried over to other co-sanctioned events.
“We just had our Montana WPRA Finals, and we had 113 in the open and almost all of them used their horse’s (registered) name,” Tibbett says. “The girls are just doing it (using registered names when entering). Last year, if I had looked at the results, it wouldn’t be like this. The girls have just gotten in the habit of doing it.”
Lane says they still need to get a lot more people on board first before the program could even begin to be mandatory.
“You have girls that say they’re never going to sell their horse,” she says. “I don’t agree with that because no one’s a fortune-teller. Well, how do they know that? They could get pregnant. They could get cancer. You never know what’s going to happen. They could have a good reason to need to sell that horse, and it’s a whole lot easier if they’ve been tracking earnings. It’s terrible business sense not to be doing this.”
The ultimate goal is to have similar means of tracking horses in other circuits or on a national level.
“Hopefully, other circuits will see how successful it is and follow suit,” Lane says. “Maybe one day someone will start a central reporting office that we could send it all to.”
Like the 38 women who met nearly 62 years ago to create the first American sports organization for women—the Girls Rodeo Association—the women of the Montana Circuit are working together for something greater than themselves, something that will help the barrel horse industry as a whole, and most important, give our equine partners the credit they deserve.
Tanya Randall is an avid barrel racer and frequent contributor who resides in Texas with her husband, Matt, and young son, Colton. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected]