By Jolee Jordan
Pendleton, Oregon—Barrel racers are most assuredly some of the biggest adrenaline junkies in the equestrian world, always looking to run as fast as possible aboard their horses while successfully navigating the cloverleaf pattern. Some would say it’s an addiction and those afflicted are always looking for another hit.
The ultimate fix? A turn on “the Green Mile,” the nickname given to the course at the World Famous Pendleton Round-Up.
Pendleton’s set up is like no other in the world. The rodeo is held on a football field, complete with beautiful green grass. In 2000 the WPRA Board worked with the committee to bring professional barrel racing to the historic Eastern Oregon rodeo. To ensure safe footing for the horses in the turns, the pattern is set up on the dirt track which encircles the field; runners turn in the dirt but must cross the grass, making Pendleton the longest pattern in the WPRA. It often takes close to half a minute per competitor.
Because of the unique set up—and the heritage and atmosphere of the 106 year old rodeo—the Pendleton Round-Up is now the ultimate “bucket list” rodeo for professional barrel racers. The gigantic committee purse of $35,000 added doesn’t hurt either.
One cowgirl who made Pendleton a priority for 2016 was Texas barrel racer Stevi Hillman. Hillman is enjoying the best season of her career, ranked seventh in the WPRA World standings before the Round-Up kicked off with slack on Monday, September 12.
“Finally get to do this!” Hillman posted on her Facebook prior to her run. “Have been wanting to do this for four years, one on the bucket list for sure.”
Pendleton’s format is one long round with the top 12 fastest returning for the finals on Saturday, September 17. Close to five dozen barrel racers took their shot during the slack and Hillman choose to ride her five year old palomino mare, Morning Traffic, for her turn at the Green Mile.
Hillman made a splash early this summer, winning the silver spurs at the Reno Rodeo aboard Cuatro Fame, aka Truck. But Martini, as Hillman calls her, has been proving she’s more than a back-up horse as the summer closes out. Hillman trained Martini, who is owned by Michelle Darling, and the mare is by PESI stallion Frenchmans Guy and out of the Dash thru Traffic mare Evening Traffic.
Hillman and Martini just finished winning third at the Justin Boots Playoffs held in conjunction with the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, Wash., about 24 hours prior to her run in Pendleton.
Once aboard and ready to run inside Round-Up Arena, Hillman experienced the jitters that afflict many barrel racers staring down the infamously huge pattern.
“I was so incredibly nervous, wanted to back out and wanted to throw up but this is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve done,” Hillman said on Facebook.
“What a rush!”
The enormous course is actually a bit bigger than normal in 2016 thanks to a broken underground water line that created boggy conditions where the first barrel normally sits on the track. Attempts to fix the line were unsuccessful so rodeo officials decided to move the first and second barrels up the arena about 30 feet, leaving the pattern the longest it has been in its 16 year history.
Running 25th in the slack, Hillman and Martini looked born to run here. Their time of 29.64 seconds took the lead at the time by seven tenths of a second.
“Feeling so blessed . . . Martini simply amazes me,” Hillman posted. “I love her heart.”
Running in the next drag, reigning Pendleton champion Kimmie Wall raced to second, just a tick behind Hillman with her time of 29.77 seconds. She is hoping to become the fourth barrel racer in Pendleton history to win more than one title here.
There are 36 WPRA barrel racers still to run, beginning in the first performance on Wednesday, September 14. Besides Wall, the only other former champion who will run here is Nikki Steffes Hansen who claimed the title in 2011. Two WPRA World Champs are slated to run as well, Fallon Taylor (2014) and Mary Walker (2012) on Thursday’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink Day.
For more information on the Pendleton Round-Up, visit them on-line at www.pendletonroundup.com and stay tuned to www.wpra.com for continuing updates.
Current Leaders (after slack)
- 1. Stevi Hillman, Morning Traffic, 29.64 seconds
- 2. Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 29.77
- 3. Jana Bean, UR One Famous Rebel, 30.28
- 4. Darby Fox, Always on Go, 30.29
- 5. Sydni Blanchard, Mr. Famous Jess, 30.33
- 6. Cayla Melby, Docs Frosty Blue Bar, 30.39
- 7. Paige Willis, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 30.45
- 8. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 30.59
- 9. Jordan Minor, Docs Genuine Leo, 30.59
- 10. Tobi Richardson, SumBunnysPerky, 30.63
- 11. Jerita Belyea, 30.64
- 12. Helen Brown, 30.70