1. Brittany Pozzi
Hometown: Victoria, Texas
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $170,961
NFR Qualification: 9th
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Yeah He’s Firen (“Duke”), Sixth Vision (“Stitch”), Steel Magnolias and her full brother, JJ Bar Jet.
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? My bits that Professional’s Choice makes. I couldn’t go down the road without my vet, Marty Tanner.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? We’re just going to play it round by round.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I’m just keeping Duke legged up. I’ll run him at the world show and Allen, Texas.
Who’s on your team? My vet, Marty Tanner will be out there; my friend, Rana Koopmans will be taking care of my horses; Jo Scarmardo, who owns Stitch and JJ Bar Jet. Samantha Lyne will be out there helping me. My parents and grandparents come out for all 10 rounds.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? A couple of years ago, I would’ve said yes, it’s scary, but not really now. It’s kind of like old hat. There’s always the fear of going and not winning any money and that happens every year to someone. I think that I’m kind of past worrying about losing a gold buckle or worrying about what the outcome is going to be, because I’ve done that, several times. I take it one day at a time, one run at a time, and keep it as low stress as possible, because when you do, you seem to win more.
What is the strongest emotion? It will be difficult this year without Broc (Cresta) this year. That will be the biggest thing that I’m dealing with out there – more of that battle than the actual battle in the arena. Eventually, things will kick in and I will put it in overdrive and the fight in the arena will be on, but my biggest battle will be outside of the arena.
2. Lindsay Sears
Hometown: Nanton, Alberta, Canada
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $136,321
NFR Qualification: 7th
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Sugar Moon Express (“Martha”) and Ima Guy Of Honor (“Moe”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? I love Morinda Care Brace. I couldn’t function without that. It’s a pre- and post-race rubdown. It doesn’t blister or leave a residue. It’s awesome. It smells good and you can use it with your bare hands. That, and my Wade saddle pad and saddle made by Shiloh, those are my three favorite things. Morinda Care also makes my joint supplement. I really do notice a difference with my horses from before I used it and now, and I notice when they go off of it.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? It’s the same as it has been all year, except I’ll have my vets and my chiropractor right there with me. Martha gets heat therapy, ice therapy and a massage every day. My vet puts her through a lameness exam everyday to make sure she’s OK. I focus on trying to keep her legs feeling good and keep any soreness out of her body.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? Martha gets the month of October completely off with no exercise except for the equine vibration plate that she goes on everyday while we’re at home. Otherwise, complete rest. I start riding her the first of November, and each week we build up. I’ll exercise her 1.5-2 miles everyday at a walk, trot, and lope to get her pretty physically fit. She makes her last run at Omaha every year and then her first run back is at the Finals. Moe was off from the middle of September to the middle of October. Now, he’s getting a vibration plate treatment every day. He went to the Canadian Finals Rodeo the first week of November, and then a week off with just vibration treatments. A lot of equine rehab and racetrack places have equine vibration plates. It increases circulation, builds muscle, helps build bone density, increases circulation to internal organs and helps foot growth. It is one of the best investments I’ve made, especially on a horse that you don’t want to physically exercise, you can stand them on that for 10-20 minutes a day and it keeps them fit. I use it everyday on all of my horses. I also have a cold laser machine that Martha gets treatments with each day, too.
Who’s on your team? My two vets, Dr. Bill Brock, Dr. Warren Webber; chiropractor Roger Lewis; my mom and dad, Rick and Sue.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? If you’d asked me my first year, I would’ve said the grand entry. Now, after 2010 NFR, it’s basically getting through all 10 rounds with a healthy horse. It doesn’t scare me, but it’s my main concern.
3. Mary Walker
Hometown: Ennis, Texas
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $127,292
NFR Qualification: 1st
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? Platinum Performance or my Justin Boots.
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Just Perculatin (“Latte”). I have a grand entry horse, they lead the grand entry in Fort Worth with him all 30 performances. He’s just real gentle.
What is your strategy to keep your horse fresh and running through 10 rounds? I don’t know; I’ve never been there! Latte seemed to do great this summer when I had 10 runs in a row. I’ll just keep a close eye on him. Sometimes I say he’s got ADD because he can get bored and play around a little bit. I’ve never been in that situation, so I guess this will be the first time trying to figure it all out.
What’s his exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I’ve never let up on his exercise. I haven’t worked him at all except for the runs I made in Waco (at the All American Pro Rodeo Finals). I’ll go to the stampede in Allen, and the Elite Race in Waco and hit some jackpots to keep him on his game. I never work him a whole lot but I want to make sure he’s sharp and ready to go.
Who’s on your team? I have a whole group of people! Byron is the head of the team. Brenda Barns, who used to be Brenda Tyler, who made the finals back in ’83 or ’84, the first two years it was in Vegas. She’s going to help me take care of him and maybe she’ll see something I’m not looking at. She goes with me a lot here around the house. She’s been around him a lot and knows him pretty good. Christy Loflin, we’re really good friends and have hauled together. There are so many people helping—my vet, Dr. Honnas, and my horseshoer, Charlie Thompson, he’s kept Latte perfect all year round. It’s really strange because you think, ‘oh I can do this by myself,’ but it takes a team of people to get you down the road and get you where you’re at. Even though Byron made it 16 times, I never thought of that.
4. Carlee Pierce
Hometown: Stephenville, Texas
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $124,520
NFR Qualification: 2nd
Who are you bringing to Vegas? Rare Dillion (“Dillion”), Im A Royal Design (“Hammer”), and Kiss This Guy (“Tyson”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? Formula 707 has been a great product. We’ve had really good luck with all of their products that we’ve used.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? My mom will get them there a few days early so they feel comfortable. They don’t see barrels; my mom will ride them and turn them out and let them be horses. We keep them away from the commotion as much as possible, and they don’t have to think about that run until we get to the arena. We don’t use a lot of Bute or Banamine because we’re so hands-on. My mom does equine massage therapy. She’ll ice their legs every night after they run, and about mid-day before I run them. We keep up with their joint supplements and keep them on Icon.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? We start changing our program up the second or third week of October. The horses we take get ridden every single day; I want them in tip-top condition. They’ll be in the best condition, better than they are all year long. During the year, they’re hauling more than they’re being ridden. In Vegas, they’ll be exercised in the morning, just to ride and be a horse. Dillion has been home since Cheyenne, he’s just made a few runs since then.
Who’s on your team? My husband Steve, my mom, Danita, and my dad, Travis, will be hauling the horses out there. Danita does all the equine massage therapy and rehabbing, keeping them ready to go. She even exercises them for me during the day, allowing me to get more rest and do the autograph signings. The girls are going to come out the last three days; it will be their first time to the NFR. Makala would rather go to the futurity in Oklahoma City with Ryann [Pedone]. Jacy just wants to go for all 10 days, but since she’s in public school this year, we kind of have to follow their rules a little bit.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? It’s what we all dream about doing. But 10 runs in a row is a lot of runs for anybody, any horse to keep it all together. It’s scary just being out there and making sure that your horses are staying sound. My biggest fear is that their feet are good; their legs stay good. In reality, we know that everyday is a new day and we have to try our hardest to make sure our horses feel good. That’s first, before everything.
How do you keep yourself fresh? I don’t do a lot of the after parties and things like that. We do the autograph signings and buckle ceremonies and then just try to rest. It’s really important – you’re out there and its fun and exciting, but you’re out there to win, so you have to stay focused and it’s a job. I just have got to have sleep every night – I make it a priority.
What was your hardest time this year, and how did you overcome it? Calgary, running at that closed gate was a learning experience. I felt like I left a lot of money laying there on the table, just not having the right horse there. It just wasn’t Dillion’s cup of tea. I’ve learned from it and next year we’ll go on from that.
What was your pivotal moment? Dillion seems to do that a lot; he gives me a lot of those moments where you just go “Wow, how blessed can I be?” Innisfail this year, it poured down rain, and he’s not a mud horse at all. I felt like I’d wasted all my time up there in Canada in that rain. He went in there and won $11,000. Then, I felt like I really had something special. He knew I was tense and nervous, and he felt I was nervous and he just showed up.
5. Sherry Cervi
Hometown: Marana, Ariz.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $170,961
NFR Qualification: 15th
What horses will you bring to Vegas? MP Meter My Hay (“Stingray”) and MP A Man with Roses (“George”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? I’m very appreciative of my sponsors. I feel like the products I use help keep them feeling the best that they can. It helps, financially, to keep getting down the road.
What is your strategy to keep you horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? Having them prepared, in the best shape, and feeling as good as they can, starting out. I keep my horses off of the grounds so they can rest and feel like they’re at home. You do everything you can, maintenance-wise, keeping them mentally and physically prepared and ready.
What is their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? Keep them in shape. I just ride Stingray to keep her in shape. As it gets closer to the Finals, I’ll take her to some jackpots to get some runs; the same with George.
Who’s on your team? Lots of friends and family – I couldn’t possibly list them all. I feel very fortunate that I have a lot of friends and family that help me get there. Cody Hannah will be taking care of my horses again out there. That’s very important out there, because you have obligations with sponsors, meetings and banquets, but you want them to have the best possible care they can get. It’s good to have someone like that in your corner. My family will be out there watching, too.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? I’m excited, I’m grateful… It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there, it’s still an adrenaline rush to run down that alley. That’s what you work for all year; it’s what I dreamed about when I was a little girl. I don’t feel like I’m scared. I’m definitely excited to be going back again.
6. Nikki Steffes
Hometown: Vale, S.D.
Regular Season Earnings: $86,722
NFR Qualification: 1st
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Dash Ta Vanila (“Nilla”) and Tell Em Belle (“Bella”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? I really believe in Woody’s Feed. The Summer Heat and that whole feed line, it really makes a big difference in helping horses maintain their weight and energy on the road. My horses love it.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? Both of my horses just really love to run barrels, but Nilla is just extremely tough. The more runs she makes, the stronger she gets. She might start off a little slow the first few runs, but she just keeps getting stronger and stronger. They’re going to come off of being home for two months and I think that’s huge. They love to be home as much as I do. I’ll try to get some runs on Nilla in November, but I think when they get to Vegas they’ll have been home and well rested, and they’re going to be glad to be running barrels.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I ride them both in the pasture at home 4-5 days a week. I ride anywhere from half an hour to an hour walking, long trotting, and little bit of loping. I don’t do a lot of tuning. In November, I’ll try to make one run a week on them to keep them both tuned and fresh. I want to keep my routine and their routine the same. When I get to Vegas, it will just be letting them rest and recuperate as much as possible. I’ll be staying off the grounds so they can be in a pen instead of a stall. There, it’s going to be keeping them rested and happy and away from the stress and the pressure as much as possible.
Who’s on your team? A lot of people! My dad, Darrell, is going to go with me and will stay with my horses and take care of them for me the whole time that we’re out there. My mom, Jan, and my sister, Kristi, are wonderful support; they’ll be there. Alan and Connie Woodbury own both mares and they’re a huge part of my team – without them, I wouldn’t have these two great horses to ride. My whole family – aunts, uncles, and cousins – are coming out at some point. All year I’ve had a great support team of family and friends encouraging me. I’ve very thankful for all of them because it’s easy to get down sometimes.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? I’m really excited to go there. I’ve watched it and always hoped that I would be there but wasn’t sure I ever really would. The opportunity to go there is exciting, and it’s a great group of girls going. I’m just excited for the opportunity to go and make 10 runs.
7. Kaley Bass
Hometown: Kissimmee, Fla.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $86,282
NFR Qualification: 1st
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Wonders Cowboy Dan (“Cowboy”) and his full sister, Girl Pal Wonder (“Girl”).
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? Just making sure they’re not sore and they’re out of their stalls as much as possible and in shape.
What’s their exercise program before arriving in Vegas? I mainly just take them out in a big pasture and long trot a lot; I think long-trotting is a lot better on the horses than loping, keeping them really flexible and making sure that they feel good.
Who’s on your team? S’Belle Dymmek owned these horses when they were younger; she and her family and my family, and a few other people that have always been there to help me out along the way. My sister, Kristen, has always been there for me. Cowboy was her high school rodeo horse. She’s 23. My dad got him for her, and now he’s taking me to Vegas. It’s exciting that she gets to see that after she started him and rode him more than I did. That’s why we got his full sister because we used to fight over him. When she didn’t want to barrel race anymore, I high school rodeoed on him. When I turned 18, I bought my card and went, and now in my second year I made the NFR on him. It’s a big deal to both of us because we’ve grown up with him and seen what he’s become.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? None of it really scares me because I’m confident on the horse I’m going in there on. You’re rodeoing in different arenas all year long, and the Thomas & Mack is itty-bitty. It’s nerve-wracking because so many people are watching, and things like that.
8. Brenda Mays
Hometown: Terrebonne, Ore.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $81,799
NFR Qualification: 6th
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Judge Buy Cash (“Jethro”), 13, and Judge My Fame (“Dora”), 9.
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? My sponsors have really helped out a lot.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? Jethro hasn’t run since the second week in September but will run at my circuit finals. Where I stay at the finals, he has a turn out. Jethro will tell me when he needs a break. He’s getting a little older; I can tell if he feels a little stiff. I rely on Kelli Jo Hammack to tell me; she can take readings and tell me if he’s getting a little sore.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I have a high school-sized track at our place and I trot two laps each direction (400 m.), and two laps loping each direction. At the Finals, they don’t get a whole lot. I take both of them in through slow work, but when they’re making runs so their rest is more important.
Who’s on your team? Kelli Jo Hammack brings an acuscope and a myoscope, which is like acupressure without needles. Her two daughters, Taylie and Taitum, help me out quite a bit. They feed, and if I’m really busy I can have Taylie exercise horses. They ice and do all of the little stuff the horses need. There’s always a ton of people that help out—my husband, Andy Easterly, my son, Kyle, and my sister, Vicki, will come help out.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? Nothing – I love it. You can have good times and bad times, and you don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get, so I enjoy every one I have. You never know, it could be your last. I’m just going to go and enjoy.
Different approach this year? No. It’s just knowing that Jethro is getting older. He used to need more runs, but not this year. His first trip down the alley will be his first run since the circuit finals. He’s pretty seasoned and finished, and I don’t need the extra runs to get him ready.
9. Lisa Lockhart
Hometown: Oelrichs, S.D.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $72,461
NFR Qualification: 6th
What horses will you bring to Vegas? An Oakie with Cash (“Louie”) and Fast An Gold (“Chisum”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? For 10 years, I’ve been feeding Woody’s Performance Horse Feeds, and for almost seven years I’ve been with Platinum, which we believe in. When you are confident in something, if you believe in your heart that it’s working for you, why would you change it? My horses love it and that’s very important to me.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? It’s really tough. You do what you can to keep them happy. My horses are used to turnout time at home, so I keep them off-site so I can give them some of that. After half of it, I’m sure they’re starting to think, “Oh no, not this again.” But you just do the best you can and keep them at a place where it’s quiet so they can get out and roll when they want to roll. They’re survivors, or they wouldn’t be where they’re at doing what they’re doing.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I’m very fortunate to live on a ranch so I have a lot of opportunity to ride out. I use it to my advantage. I’m able to exercise a lot and do a lot of long trotting and ride through the cows. They have a lot of turnout time. In Vegas, there’s a lot of confinement, but I’ll have an arena where I can go ride. Everybody needs to do what fits their program and what they’re accustomed to, and everybody does it differently. I try to keep it as close to what home is as I can.
Who’s on your team? First and foremost, my husband, Grady. I couldn’t do it without him. I’ve always had a pretty hands-on program. We continue with our program and it’s a lot of work. He helps me, and he’s just my No. 1 supporter. He knows my routine with my horses. It’s no different for him to be out there with me. My kids usually come out the second week; they can’t miss that much school to come at the beginning.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas and Mack, what scares you the most? You just want to have success. You always have fear in the back of your mind, but you have to keep in mind that you have to do the best that you can possibly do. As long as you’re doing your best, the rest is out of your hands. You just ache for the people that have had no luck. But they were doing the best they could do, and what more could they have done? I tell my kids (Alyssa, Thane and Cade) the same thing – do the best you can do, and be satisfied with that regardless of the outcome.
10. Benette Barrington-Little
Hometown: Ardmore, Okla.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $68,294
NFR Qualification: 2nd
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Two stallions: JL Dash Ta Heaven and Chicados Cash.
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? I use Purina feeds because they’re consistent anywhere in the world. The product that I’m most impressed with right now is the Back on Track products. I was introduced to them a couple years ago when I hauled a calf horse to Canada, and when I saw the results that horse had with those products, I’ve been a fan ever since.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? I’m just going to try to keep them well rested, and ice is my friend. And, my Back on Track products. We usually don’t run 10 nights in a row, but there have been times where I’ve had 10 rodeos in less than 10 days.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I don’t have a lot of rodeos. Chicados Cash is coming to Congress and the World Show. Dash Ta Heaven has been just resting the last part of the year. He’s had almost eight weeks of rest. But he’ll have good exercise each day, I might get a couple of runs in him to make sure he’s got enough wind in him, but nothing extraordinary.
Who’s on your team? I have a big team. There’re a lot of people that help me throughout the year. The people at the Jud Little Ranch help me with my horses and Dr. Robin Johnson. Ann Thompson enters the rodeos for me, she’s unbelievable help for me. People hire attorneys, tax people; I hire someone to enter me. Of course, my sister, Stacey Barrington, and my dad, Ben, will be out there again this year, and Jud. He’s pretty much a rock. Seth Morgan and Christie Davidson are going to help take care of my horses, since they’re stallions. They’re friendly to each other, but you don’t want them too close. It takes more than one person to handle them. Dr. Tyler Troop helps us when we’re at the ranch. You meet people that do random acts of kindness, I’m just grateful to be a part of it.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? It is emotional because it’s something you dream about. When you ride in there for the grand entry the first night—I don’t know who doesn’t do it—a tear is going to come to you at some point or another. During the time that you’re working hard to get there, your focus is on running barrels one day at a time. Then you wake up sometime and you realize all your dreams have come to fruition, and there you are. The first night at the NFR is very emotional. There’s not anything that scares me about the NFR. I thought it would be scary, but it’s not. You’re there with the people you rodeo with all year, and there’s always a few people that didn’t get there that you wish you could take with you. We meet so many awesome people out there, and everybody’s trying to do the same thing.
11. Kelli Tolbert
Hometown: Hooper, Utah
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $63,681
NFR Qualification: 2nd
What horses will you bring to Vegas? RF Firefly (“Cleo”) and Always Carlitos (“Carl”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you feel you couldn’t go down the road without? Equine Pride Horse Feed made a big difference in my horse this year. I started feeding it around the California rodeos and it helped her maintain her weight a lot better. Her being happy and staying on speed helped her digestive system. It made her attitude better. I didn’t give her any Gastrogard this year, which is pretty uncommon for her. It’s alfalfa-based and has a few other things in it, but it’s very, very simple.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? A really big key to having a healthy horse in Vegas is to show up with a sound, really fit horse. It’s a grueling 10 days and they have to be 100 percent when you show up. They have to be iron when you get there. Another thing is I keep my horses off the premises in a bigger pen where they can get sunlight and move around a little bit, and I have access to an arena where I can turn them out and they can move around and just be horses, and just get away from the big city.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? Cleo is on vacation until the last part of October or the first part of November when I start exercising her again. She’ll get ponied off another horse for a week or two, doing a lot of long trotting in straight lines. She seems to be a little better to handle. The majority of legging her up will be off a pony horse. After two weeks of that, I’ll start doing some circles and working her on the pattern a little bit, and I’ll go to one or two jackpots to get her timing back and get her fired up and ready to do some rodeoing.
Who’s on your team? My sponsors and my parents, Bob and Vicky Fowers, are my biggest supporters. My mom takes care of a lot of my personal stuff – bank statements, credit card bills, making sure things get paid on time. My dad and my brother, Scott, are amazing mechanics. Every time I bring my rig back home, there’s a least 10 things that need to be fixed, and they’re glad to get me fixed up and on my way again.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas and Mack, what scares you the most? If you’d asked me the last time, I would’ve told you everything scares me about it. But now I have a pretty good idea, I know where everything’s at, I know what to expect, and I think I will enjoy it more. I’m just going to show up everyday grateful that she got me there and try to have some fun.
12. Lee Ann Rust
Hometown: Stephenville, Texas
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $61,587
NFR Qualification: 1st
What horses will you bring to Vegas? SS Streakers R Us (“Harley”) and Shortys Step Child (“Mule”).
Are there any products that are a part of your program that you couldn’t go down the road without? Everything Harley wears, I muscle test him for. The saddle that I used is a Team Steinhoff with a flex tree; I won’t put anything else on him. The saddle blanket I use is a Saddle Right. I use the Soft Ride boots, and I won’t haul Harley more than 10-15 min in a trailer without them on him. My main deal on the Soft Rides is not so much the extra cushion, it’s that it keeps his bulbs out of the manure. It will blister their bulbs, it’s about keeping their bulbs dry. Anything that has to stop or slow down – and everything but a bucking horse does; even a dogging horse has to stop at the other end of the pen, and he’s going to start shutting down earlier.
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? I’ve got a gal from Canada that does energy work on Harley, Kathy Butkovic, and I ran into her up there last year and she worked on Harley during the year last year, and through the CFR, and this last summer. She’ll be working on him during the CFR this year, and she’s coming to Vegas. Kelley Mills, my energy guru, has clinics in Australia. She leaves the Monday after Thanksgiving and doesn’t get back until the 8th of December, but she can be there by the 10th, which is more critical. Dynamite feed and supplements. I couldn’t operate without them. I feed their pelleted grain rations, eight or nine of their supplements for different things, and without Dynamite I don’t think we’d be where we’re at. Their feeds and supplements are designed to be used together. Some of the times, if you don’t know how to read labels, you’re going to get too much of one thing and not enough of another, and you can end up in a little bit of a bind, too. I hand-mix all this stuff; I don’t buy a supplement with different things in it. You’ve gotta know something about nutrition; you have to study and learn it. You’ve got to invest time in it. There ain’t an easy way; there ain’t a quick fix. I’ve gone the same nutritional route with myself as I have with Harley, and it’s paid off.
What’s their exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? I do a lot of dressage-type trotting, with a whole lot of collection, rocking them back on their back end and lifting their withers to keep them strong. I lope circles with counter arcs, keeping them listening to me, listening to my body. My shoulders control their shoulders; hips control their hips; ribs control their ribs. Harley knows all of that, so it’s just keeping us sharp, but I’m teaching it to Mule. It makes me that much better when I go back to doing it on Harley, because I’m having to exaggerate it, and it’s making me more deliberate on Harley, instead of automatic. I’m just keeping him in shape. Keeping our emotional and psychological bond, physically fit, keeping our energy right. Everybody had told me that rodeo is a whole lot more mental, 80-90 percent, and I thought I understood what they were talking about, but I didn’t. Way better than 50 percent of the time, you end up beating yourself, and you do it with your attitude. Doing this little jaunt of riding, I listen to The Secret. I’ve been listening to it for four years now, and it got me back in the right mental place.
Who’s on your team? Shelly Fair – her job description is to take care of me and babysit me. I’ve got Gena Franklin – her job description is to take care of Harley and babysit Harley and Mule. Gena rode Harley as a 3-year-old; she’s got as strong a bond with him as anybody. I’ll have Kathy Butkovic, she’s got Equi-Sports Therapy, and Kelley Mills.
This time right now is so critical for me, soaking up and developing an excess and a reservoir of mental preparedness, because there’s not going to be any one-on-one time for me and Rhonda Byrne and the Bible. I’ve never been to Vegas, I’ve just heard about it.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, is there anything about it that scares you? I know I’ll come up against things that are new, probably some things I hadn’t considered or thought about. But I’ve got this deal about fear, it just don’t hang out around me much. I don’t know what it is, but they say that perfect faith casts out fear. My faith’s not perfect, but I have a pretty even spoonful of it.
What’s your strongest emotion? Gratitude. I’m so thankful for where I’m at, and like I said, there may be some people in awe of what I got done, but there ain’t none of them in as much awe as I am. But for the grace of God, where would I be? What would I be doing now? There’s no such thing as a self-made man, in my opinion, and I sure won’t ever claim that title. Maybe if I had a fear, and I wouldn’t call it a fear, but my concern would be disappointing the people that are looking at what we’re doing. There are a lot of people on Facebook, and I don’t know where they get it but the word “inspiration” keeps coming up. I guess my greatest concern would be letting them down. But that’s secondary, because if I let them down I’ve let Harley down first. I’m not going to let them put an undue amount of pressure on us. When I came out of the arena at Albuquerque last year, I knew I’d missed it. My ex-husband called me, and said, “You’ve worked hard, gone above and beyond the call of duty, and busted your tail. Not making it to the NFR, I can understand your sadness. I’m going to give you one hour for your pity party, then I’m going to call you back and you can go on and be grateful for what you did get done.” Harley has taken me places I didn’t think I could hang with him to get to. I’m going to shoot for the moon and if I miss, I might hit the side of the barn. Just getting there is big, but every round is another rodeo, and I know how I am, when I hit the alley at the rodeo, it’s really hard not to try to win something. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can by Harley, uphold my end of the deal, expect him to uphold his end of the deal, and let the chips fall where they may.
13. Christina Richman
Hometown: Glendora, Calif.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $60,872
NFR Qualification: 3rd
What horses will you bring to Vegas? Xtrared (“Stitch”) got hurt right after circuit finals, so I have no idea who I’m taking!
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? I stay on the grounds, and not a lot of people do, but I try to get out and walk the horses a lot.
Who’s on your team? My parents, Erika and Larry, and my dog! She’s the only one on my whole team that’s been my travel partner for five years. She’s a Queensland heeler, “Flo.”
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? The first year, the idea of going there and not doing well scared me, that fear of failure. Now I’m more scared in the middle of the year thinking about not making it. You just have to stay positive. I always try to sit myself down and think about what’s the worst possible outcome, and when you think about it like that, it’s not that bad to deal with. I prepare myself for that. I haven’t made the finals before, and life will go on. How will you handle that when it does happen? It’s not that bad. It’s just such a tricky sport, because you do have to win, and you have to stay positive and focused on the job that you need to do.
14. Trula Churchill
Hometown: Valentine, Neb.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $60,777
NFR Qualification: 1st
What horses will you bring to Vegas? A Streak Of Rita (“Worm”).
What is your strategy to keep your horse fresh and running through 10 rounds? He usually gets stronger the more runs he makes, so I’m going to try not to fix anything that’s not broken and just keep after it.
What’s his exercise program before you arrive in Vegas? He gets lots of miles. A lot of walking, and then he gets loped and long trotted as needed, depending on his mood that day.
Who’s on your team? My husband, Linn, will be there with me. My horseshoer will be out there, Brad McGilchrist. Lots of family will be out there with me as well.
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? All of it and none of it. Right now, the strongest emotion is the excitement of going; anticipation. My husband went in 2006 in the bulldogging. He’s been out there hazing for other people. I guess when I get out there I’ll feel different. He went with me the last month, and to the Canadian finals last year, and was there in that role. He’s been my biggest supporter all along anyway. It’s just a different focus.
15. Christy Loflin
Hometown: Franktown, Colo.
2012 Regular Season Earnings: $54,852
NFR Qualification: 1st
What is your strategy to keep your horses fresh and running through 10 rounds? I absolutely have no idea what to expect. Byron and Mary Walker took me under their wing earlier this year and that is the reason I made it to the Finals. Bryon has been there 150 times and it’s going to be a huge help, because he knows how to manage the obligations. I’m sure I would’ve over-extended myself and missed my run. He’s going to help us manage our time. I don’t anticipate it being as stressful as being on the road.
Who’s on your team? Gene Ovnicek, my farrier. My daughter, Randi, is going to be there. My son, Cole, will be there, too. Toni Hardin, my very best friend. There will be a bunch of people, my mom, Evie. Tom Jacobs, who has a huge part of Sheza Blazin Move (“Movin”).
With all of the emotions that come with making it to the Thomas & Mack, what scares you the most? I’m scared I’m going to cry in any interview! No, I’m so pumped to be there, and truly no matter what, it’s a blessing. I’m going to be the very first one to run the very first night. I don’t think I’ll believe it until I get there.