Bettis Blew Away the Field to Win Rookie of the Year
By Kristen M. White
Taci Bettis had a season that little girls and young women alike dream about, a season where the outcome was even greater than she dared to imagine.
Bettis, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, claimed the title in fine fashion. She not only blew away the rest of the field, winning a whopping $97,023 in her first year, but it was three-and-a-half times as much as runner up Holly Wright of Gruver, Texas, with $27,462. And, Bettis staked claim to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth too.
Bettis, of Round Top, Texas, finished the regular season in 8th place in the barrel racing standings, easily securing herself a place in Las Vegas. Everything that’s happened this season is still a bit blurry for Bettis.
“My plan was I was going to try and win the Rookie, and to make the Texas circuit finals. That’s what I wanted to do … and God had other plans for me!” she said. “I didn’t want to set goals so big that it was too hard to attain, and I thought those were big goals that I had to work for. I still don’t have words for this. I really don’t. I’m speechless!”
Bettis had been off her horse, Smash (registered Bogie Is A Smash) for more than six months, after he sustained an injury, and before she ventured fully into the pro ranks. Although she said she was “pretty sure” he’d be fine, she couldn’t exactly know what the 9-year-old gelding would be like when she climbed back in the saddle.
She got him when he was 5, but she had largely stopped racing for a couple of years when she got married and pursued other things. Deciding she wanted to truly try her hand at pro rodeo, she and Smash ventured into it together.
“He needed to be seasoned – and so did I,” she said simply. “So each milestone we’ve made together this year, it’s been even more special to me, looking at coming up together on all of this. Learning from each other.”
Bettis knew she wanted to try and win the Rookie award, and hoped to make the Texas Circuit Finals, but she knew she’d have some tough competition in both realms. When she left Texas for the summer run, she had less than $20,000 won. She set out to “see what it was like.
“I was just rolling with it, and with each week I was winning some money,” Bettis said. “$10,000 here, $12,000 there. Over the Fourth of July, I won $10,000 and by mid-July I was thinking, ‘This is crazy!’”
She said she never wanted to say that she doubted she could accomplish what she did this season – but it was simply a giant unknown.
“It was a black wall. I couldn’t visualize it or play it out in my head,” she said.
Bettis found herself pretty homesick mid summer, but she said she knew she was winning and couldn’t afford to go home. She asked around at what seemed to be a “safe” number if she was looking to the NFR, and $90,000 seemed to be the magical target.
“I thought that was going to be impossible,” she said. “But then all those weeks of winning, and then the week of Caldwell put me at $90,000 and I said I was going home!”
She and Smash were both tired and she wanted to give him some rest. He received a month off before they finished the Texas rodeos and started gearing up for the NFR and circuit finals.
Knowing that with a good round – or several – at the NFR, Bettis could easily surpass $100,000 for the year is exciting, but she said she has no hard goals or expectations for her debut at the big show.
“I’m just going to roll with it, take it all in and experience it,” she said. “It’s every little girl’s dream.”
Bettis travels with Tammy Fischer, who has been a huge mentor and coach in her life, and from whom she purchased Smash. Bettis has been riding with her for more than a decade and said she’s learned valuable lessons that helped her achieve what she did this season.
“You can’t learn this stuff in a year,” she said. “Tammy knows where to enter and where to go and what to do. She’s the reason why we made the NFR. She knows the ropes and that helped me immensely, just all the little things that a rookie doesn’t know.
“Watching her make the NFR six times, I think it makes it a little less nerve racking, knowing she knows the ropes there, too. I know I’ll be nervous when they open the gate and I run down the alley, but I have all my faith and confidence in Smash to run there.”
Wednesday, Nov. 15 - Tammy Fischer on Taci Bettis
Wrangler NFR and WPRA veteran Tammy Fischer talks about her barrel racing student that she has seen rise to the occasion in 2017 to win WPRA Rookie of the Year