Originally planning to attend the Memorial Barrel Race from May 26–28 to get a run in before the Texas High School Rodeo Finals, the trip to Hamilton, Texas, proved to be a profitable weekend for Bella Skinner and her 12-year-old faithful gelding Stylish Especial (Stylish San Badger x Peppy Especial King x Peppys Rosebud), also known as “Grayman”.
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The dynamic duo made a clean sweep at Circle T Arena, running a 16.448 on Saturday to dominate the High Stakes as well as running a 16.501 on Sunday to win both days of the Open and over $10,000 in cash and $5,000 in prizes, making Skinner the highest-money earner of the race.
“Grayman is a very all-business type of horse. He doesn’t love to be doted on, so I try to keep his routine as simple as possible. I don’t work him on the barrels much during the week; I just keep him exercised. Before his runs, he wears a Bemer blanket, and I always give him a bath due to his light color. Otherwise, he is pretty easy and low maintenance,” Skinner said.
The cow-bred gelding and 15-year-old jockey from Wills Point, Texas, are no strangers to the winners circle, having won second in the Showdown Round at the 2022 All In Barrel Race in Las Vegas. However, Skinner claimed that her win at the Memorial was the biggest of her career thus far aboard her teammate of nearly two years now.
Skinner started barrel racing competitively at age 6 after getting her start in barrel racing at a Martha Josey clinic in Marshall, Texas.
Now a freshman in high school, Skinner is home-schooled to allow more time and flexibility to go to barrel races and rodeos and pursue her dream of becoming a professional barrel racer when she graduates.
Skinner credits the advancement of herself as a rider, along with her and Grayman as a team, to her coach and mentor, National Finals Rodeo qualifier Cassidy Kruse Deen, also native to Wills Point, Texas.
Deen explained that her experience going down the road successfully for years put her in the position to help youth barrel racers who need the guidance and assistance of a veteran barrel racer.
“I have been helping Bella for close to two years now, and I have noticed such a big improvement in her riding and jockeying. I think the hard work she has put into improving herself really shined bright in the arena, with her success at the All In last year, and then her recent win at the Memorial Barrel Race,” Deen said.
With a high demand for knowledgeable teachers and coaches in the barrel racing industry, the skill Deen has worked years to perfect has proved to be invaluable to Skinner’s recent success in the arena on Grayman.
Aside from physically helping Skinner with her riding, Deen has been monumental in developing Skinner’s confidence inside and outside the arena.
“I am as encouraging as possible to my students. I always let them know that I believe in them and their capabilities, and I keep their spirits up whenever they feel like they haven’t performed as well as they’d like. There’s always another barrel race to go to, so don’t dwell on what happens in one run,” Deen said.
Not only does Skinner take lessons from Deen, but Deen also tunes Grayman on the barrels as needed.
The correlation of a youth jockey receiving consistent help from a successful veteran barrel racer has proven to be a winning combination — many other youth jockeys today are also contenders against the best in the industry including professional barrel horse trainers, NFR qualifiers, and more.
“I am just overjoyed whenever my students win. It is so cool to see their hard work and dedication to the sport shine through in their performance in the arena,” Deen explained.
Skinner has a goal to qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo, and her next race aboard Grayman is the All American Youth Barrel Race in Jackson, Mississippi, from June 14–17.
Skinner credits Dr. Reese Hand, DVM, of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery and farrier Lee Olsen of Olsen Equine for keeping Grayman feeling his very best going down the road. She also thanks her family, friends, and Deen for the countless hours of help and support she has given her and Grayman.
2023 The Memorial Barrel Race High Stakes Results
1st: Bella Skinner Stylish Especial 16.448 $6,700
2nd: Tessa Arnold Ditto 16.493 $5,480
3rd: Jennifer Driver Famous French Socks 16.525 $4,060
4th: Mindy Holloway Heavens Got Credit 16.601 $2,640
5th: Jackie Jatzlau Jack Fame 16.610 $1,420
1st: Ashley Gray DD Hard Cash King 16.964 $4,020
2nd: Jackie Jatzlau Last GunAttha Fiesta 16.975 $3,290
3rd: Jordan Kirkes Firen For Jack 16.999 $2,440
4th: Abby Fields Gonna Sting Ya 17.000 $1,580
5th: Montana O’Donoghue-Kent Cashin In The Fame 17.032 $850
1st: Lola Parnell Mr JB 0921 17.475 $2,680
2nd: Cheryl Audas Muchacho 17.484 $2,190
3rd: Rylee Hardin Miss Vital Eye 17.493 $1,620
4th: Arena Garza Blackjack Bay 17.494 $1,060
5th: Brenlynn Hill Jasper The Pony 17.904 $570