In this Throwback Thursday we re-visit Tami Purcell Fontenot’s legacy as not only a Quarter Horse racing jockey, but as a barrel racer, too.

Written By Cheryl Magoteaux, Published in the May 1998 issue of Barrel Horse News

Tami Fontenot competed in barrel racing in junior high and high school, but for the last 18 years, like many people, she’s devoted herself to her career. A few years ago, she began toying with the idea of getting back into barrel racing.

Her words echoed the thoughts of many people whose schedule prevents them from becoming involved.

“It’s something I’d been wanting to do, but I’d just never had enough time,” she said.

It has been only recently, after declaring her “semi-retirement,” that Tami has been able to pursue this new activity.

For most people, a return to barrel race competition after a lengthy absence is a tough proposition. The idea of competing for the larger purses that are up for grabs these days gives a lot of people performance anxiety.

That won’t likely be a problem for Tami.

In her other career, Tami is a Quarter Horse jockey and she’s still known by her maiden name, Tami Purcell. She’s not just any jockey, either. Purcell has been the leading female Quarter Horse jockey in the world for nearly two decades and has earned over $2 million.

In 1997, she rode Corona Cash to win the world’s richest race, the All American Futurity, in Ruidoso, N.M. That earned Tami another place in the history books. Not only is she Quarter Horse racing’s all-time leading woman jockey, she also was the first woman to win the All American.

That victory earned the racing world’s biggest cash award – a million dollars for first place – and Tami’s share of that take was $100,000.

So, it’s not likely that she’ll be intimidated by the purses at barrel races – however big they grow in the next few years. It is likely that she’ll enjoy every minute of her time in the arena.

These days, Tami races only at major futurities and derbies, rather than staying at the track full-time. That extra spare time has finally given her more time to devote to her goal of getting started in the barrel futurity business.

Originally from Dripping Springs, Texas, Fontenot was a gymnast in high school and college who started exercising race horses for some friends while in college. Soon, an agent recognized her talent and the rest is history.

Four and a half years ago, Tami and her husband, Keith, a former PRCA rodeo clown, moved to Ethel, La. According to Tami, they are enjoying the time together that her amended race schedule affords.

“Going to the barrel races is great,” she said. “It’s so much fun for the two of us to be able to do this together.”

And, although barrel racing is different, she finds similarities with racing.

“It’s still exciting; still racing, but it’s nice that it’s just me and my horse in the arena and not 10 other horses and riders,” she said.

Another similarity is her choice of mounts.

“I select my barrel horses with an eye to their breeding based on what I’ve learned on the track from riding the different bloodlines,” she said. “Some families of horses are able to withstand pressure better than others. I tend to lean toward the Dash For Cashs because of that and because they’ve been good to me.”

She also likes the Strawfly Special colts she’s ridden.

 “They are willing to learn and they’re good under pressure,” she said. Her choice of horses and her care of them is affected by her tenure on the race track. “I think my way of caring for my horses – working with vets and shoers – has been very much influenced by my track experience,” she said. ” I’ve learned to cope with different problems better because I’ve had the benefit of really knowledgeable people to learn from. Also, working with trainers has helped me learn how to get a horse into top physical condition.”

Tami Purcell Fontenot
Top photo: Corona Cash (1A), ridden by Tami Purcell Fontenot, captured the richest event in Quarter racing, the 1997 All America Futurity in Ruidoso, N.M.

And, Tami is still on a learning mode, when it comes to barrel racing, in spite of the fact that, in her short time back in competition, she’s already won a saddle and other awards and is training · both her own and some outside horses.

“I’ve been attending clinics,” she said. “There is so much offered right now in barrel racing. I think it’s neat that in this industry, people who’ve been successful offer their skills and talents to help new people.”

Tami belongs to the NBHA District No. 4 in Louisiana and has enjoyed competing at the NBHA events, although she still has to work her schedule around her racing obligations.

“I’m just getting into it a little at a time,” she said. “I’ve got an open horse of my own and an outside horse I’m taking to some futurities. And I’m keeping the door open to either get some more of my own or take some more outside horses.”

For most people who know her, the bets are on that Tami will be just as successful at barrel racing as she has been in the racing world.

After all, the barrel racing world has seen a lot of equine champions who had successful careers on the track, then went on to greatness in barrel racing.

Maybe it works for people, too.

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