EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appeared in the December 2013 issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
When Shelby Janssen competed at the 2012 Ram Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo, she learned a few lessons inside Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.
“Last year I won the first round, then I hit a barrel in the second round,” said Janssen, 22, of Austin, Minn. “I came back and won the third round, so I told myself I wasn’t going to let that happen again.”
Riding Hot Playboy Chick, a bay mare out of Bingo Express Miss by Hot Dasher, Janssen was runner-up in the opening go-round, then won the following two to win the average race with a three-run cumulative time of 47.39 seconds.
In fact, she dominated the rodeo, bettering year-end champion and average runner-up Laura Kennedy by seven-10ths of a second. In all, Janssen won $5,929 during her three days in Louisville, and capitalized on a fantastic run by claiming the 2013 average title during the regional championship on Nov. 14-16.
“It was a great accomplishment for me, and it meant a lot,” she said. “I came up from Texas, and they came from Minnesota. Having them there was really special to me.”
Janssen made the 17-hour drive from Lubbock, Texas, where she is a senior at Texas Tech University, but it was worth every one of the 1,100 miles. Now, by riding the horse she calls Bunny, Janssen is qualified to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which is scheduled for next spring in Oklahoma City.
“I ran another little horse in the beginning, Little Red,” said Janssen, who credits her parents, Pride Farms, EquiPride, Equi-Sure and horse-shoers Sean Mulligan and Mike Jacobson for helping her get up and down the rodeo trail. “I won second at Bellvue (Iowa) and third at Edgewood (Iowa) on her. For Bunny, I got her back and won Fergus Falls (Minn.).”
In fact, Janssen and Bunny rounded the cloverleaf pattern in 17.97 seconds, the only tandem to post a sub-18-second run. Overall, they had a strong season, finishing the regular season with $9,558. That was enough to put the cowgirl among the top 12 to play in the regional finals.
Not bad for a cowgirl who was raised in the horse show business.
“I started out showing Western pleasure when I was little before I ever got into running barrels because my parents showed,” she said, noting that she first started riding a pony around the pattern before graduating to a full-size horse.
“I told my mom that I didn’t want to do the pleasure; I just want to go fast.”
She’s done that pretty well, qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo before moving on to the college ranks. Through five events in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Southwest Region, Janssen is in 10th place and part of Texas Tech’s second-ranked women’s team.
“The college season has just been alright,” she said. “I’ve had a few ups and downs, but our women’s team is doing really good, so it’s exciting to be part of that.”
It’s also exciting to be on Bunny’s back. She gave the mare a little time off earlier this season because of a slight injury, she also plans to utilize Little Red in order to give Bunny some needed breaks throughout the season.
“She’s got a huge attitude,” Janssen said of Bunny. “She loves attention, but she’ll also let you know when she wants to be left alone. She has an attitude that I’ve never seen in another horse. When she gets to a rodeo, she’s all about going in and working, and she gets super excited.
“I know she’s going to give me 110 percent. You can tell she loves running barrels. I’ve never had a horse so powerful.”
Bunny also knows when she’s done well and when she hasn’t.
“When she makes a good run, she’ll lift her head up and let you know she’s done well,” said Janssen, who has owned the horse since 2009. “When she hits a barrel, you can just tell by her demeanor.
“Every time I get on her back, she’s going to want to go out there and try to win first.”
Janssen finished the year-end standings as the reserve champion, finishing more than $7,000 behind Kennedy, who earned $22,840 in her first year competing in the Great Lakes Circuit. From Quitman, Ark., Kennedy and her husband, timed-event cowboy Tooter Silver, ventured north more this season than being part of the Southeastern Circuit, and it paid off.
“We were in the Southeastern Circuit, but it was a 22-hour drive to the finals,” she said of the championship, which takes place near Miami in Davie, Fla. “The Great Lakes Circuit Finals was just eight hours from the house, and all the rodeos in the circuit were within 10 hours, so it was closer for us; the rodeos in Florida were really so far away.
“Plus there were a lot of rodeos on the same weekend in the Great Lakes, so that made it easier on us as far as traveling.”
When the couple traveled, they did so most of the time with Silver behind the wheel – “I don’t know if I could find my way without Tooter,” she said – and Kennedy did plenty of winning. In fact, she had secured the year-end championship before arriving in Louisville for the final three performances of her 2013 season.
“I’m really excited about this year, because my horse had just come back from being off a whole year from fracturing a coffin bone,” she said of Lexus Moon, a 13-year-old sorrel gelding out of Cool Approach by Martha’s Six Moons, which was selected the circuit’s barrel horse of the year. “That was very exciting, too, because we have a lot of great horses in this circuit.”
Kennedy has owned Lexus for 11 years and has found him to be the right fit.
“He’s very consistent,” she said. “He makes the same turn every time, and he can run on any type of ground. He prefers a lot of the big, outdoor arenas, since most of the summer rodeos are.
“He’s better during the summer when he can get more runs in a row. He gets better the more he runs.”
He was pretty good the second weekend of July, too. In fact, Kennedy won $7,000 from July 11-14 at rodeos in Spooner, Wis.; Isanti, Minn.; and Hamel, Minn. – she won in Spooner and Hamel and finished second in Isanti.
“That really propelled me up there in the standings,” Kennedy said. “I had an $8,000 lead heading into the finals, so it made for no pressure when I got to Louisville.”
While Janssen dominated the competition, Kennedy wasn’t far behind. She pocketed $3,489 inside Freedom Hall, placing in all three rounds. Now she’s ready to see what the future holds for her and her terrific gelding.
“I’ve going since I was 12,” Kennedy said. “I never went to WPRA rodeos until Tooter and I got married. I wanted to try it. My horse was working good, and I wanted to rodeo more.”
So what does that mean?
“Next year I’m going to try to go a little harder and see how it goes,” she said. “If it goes well, then I’ll keep going. If it doesn’t, then I’ll keep rodeoing in the circuit.
“I don’t like going if I’m not winning.”
Based on 2013, she’s pretty good at winning.