By Ted Harbin
It’s been a couple of years, but Dona Kay Rule can point directly at the time when she realized she had something special in High Valor.
“I went to Waco (Texas) to a big D and D event, and as I looked at the draw and saw who was there, I thought, ‘I’m going to have to drop the hammer and ask him for everything,’ ” said Rule of Minco, Oklahoma. “We won all three rounds that weekend, and I knew I really had something.
“But I don’t think you can know until you go on the road and see if they can take the road. Last year, he showed me he could run with the high-quality horses.”
Rule wasn’t the only person in the WPRA to notice. Valor, a 10-year-old sorrel gelding out of Rare High by Valiant Hero, has been voted as the 2019 Horse of the Year presented by the American Quarter Horse Association.
Possibly the main indicator of Valor’s ability has come with the Oklahoma cowgirl’s first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo after she finished the regular season ninth in the world standings with $96,507. That and a couple of other things have made 2019 an emotional run.
“I lost my dad this year, and I wish he could see this,” Rule said. “I’m going to take my other horse that I had rehabbed and put my dad’s saddle on for a grand entry horse. It’s just triple special and amazing.”
Rule’s love for her father and her passion for running barrels have truly culminated into an incredible season. Having a talented gelding take the top horse honors is just icing on the cake.
“It’s pretty stunning; I’m just blown away,” she said. “There are just so many nice horses. I’m honored they selected Valor for that.
“It’s unbelievable that the other ladies voted this way. I’m an outsider. I’m not really in the group for years like some of them, but I’ve been in the background. I’ve trained about 100 horses and never had the opportunity to go (on the rodeo trail) because of business obligations.”
For years, Dona Kay and John Rule owned National Saddlery in Oklahoma City, all while raising a family. John Rule is a decorated saddle-maker, and from 1989-99, he produced the world champions saddles for ProRodeo.
“We were completely honored by that and felt very strongly toward all the tradition for rodeo,” she said. “It was important that we made a saddle they could be proud of and have a saddle they could use if they wanted. John worked many hours to do it, but we were proud to do it and be part of it.”
It’s been probably 20 years since she’s been in Las Vegas, but she will return to the City of Lights to etch her name on the history books in the game she loves most. Rule has gone from presenting the saddles inside the Thomas & Mack to racing after them, and times are exciting in the family’s home.
“I’m more in the planning stages of that trip instead of the excitement stages,” Rule said. “I’m really anxious to run down the alley.”
While there, she will be joined by 14 of the very best barrel racers and their talented horses from the 2019 season. Among them are the other horses that received top votes in the horse-of-the-year ballot: KN Fab Gift of Fame (JLo), ridden by Ivy Conrado-Saebens and owned by Kenny Nichols and James Barron, the No. 2 horse, and two horses that finished in a tie for third, Freckles Ta Fame (Can Man), ridden by Shali Lord and owned by Joe and Carla Spitz; and An Oakie With Cash (Louie), ridden by Lisa Lockhart and owned by her and husband Grady.
“The big thing for Valor was probably his consistency in big arenas and small arenas,” said Rule, who will be awarded $5,000 and an AQHA bronze trophy during the PRCA Awards Banquet on Dec. 4, the night before the opening round of the NFR. “He’s just gotten better and better as the year went, which is atypical for our industry. He just maintained his strength and improved as he went.”
After spending most of the past couple decades at home, she hit the rodeo trail hard this year, competing at 64 events across the country. She had some big wins along the way and had the opportunity to show her talented horse.
“It was really fun, interesting and really educational,” she said. “I learned a lot about how to rodeo, where to go, where to park and what arenas I like. I enjoyed seeing different parts of the country, seeing the agriculture expanse out West. I had no idea about the different crops in the different areas.
“I also didn’t mind dodging the 110-degree weather in Oklahoma when it was so beautiful out West.”