By Jolee Jordan
Longview, Texas — Baseball and barrel racing.
Normally, it would seem that these two sports don’t really go together but don’t’ tell that to Lisa Thornton and her son Brendan. Nearly all of the Thorntons’ time is devoted to one or the other.
“He doesn’t really care about the horses at all,” laughs Thornton, who trains horses for the public and runs barrels professionally in the WPRA. “He plays baseball so I try to schedule my rodeos around his baseball tournaments.”
Thornton grew up on a horse, competing since the ripe old age of three. Her family was into the sport of rodeo but they gradually left competition while Thornton went the other way.
“They grew out of it and I never did,” she says. Competing in youth and high school rodeos in her native Texas, Thornton was an all-around cowgirl, noting that pole bending was her favorite event. “I roped and goat tied . . . really anything they would let me do. But poles were my favorite. I thought it was so cool if you could make it through the pattern clean twice [at a rodeo].”
After having Brendan, Thornton decided to sell her horses and focus on being a stay at home mom but the barrel racing bug just wouldn’t let her go. When Brendan was seven, she went on the hunt for a new prospect.
That’s when fate intervened.
“I didn’t go to buy him,” she says. “I went to look at a three year old and that horse had possible soundness issues. I had driven all the way to Louisiana with a horse trailer and I wasn’t coming home without a horse.”
Thornton went through the entire barn, looking at the two year old Straight Toasted. Then she drove a mile west to the track and went through everything they had there as well.
“I didn’t want a two year old because you have to wait two years before you can futurity them,” she notes. “But after going through everything, I said ‘I’ll take that two year old sorrel colt.’ And I drove an hour back east to pick him up.”
“I truly believe God put him into my hands. It was kind of fate.”
Straight Toasted is by Straight Talker, a son of First Down Dash, and out of A Dashing Toaster. He was “race track broke” when Thornton brought him home to Plum, Texas. She trained him and took him to the futurities, doing well as a four year old.
“He was one of those you just kind of know,” she says. “I knew when I was just loping him around the pattern as a three year old that he was a special horse.”
For a barn name, Brendan took to calling the colt Hunter. Thornton balked.
“I didn’t like it but Brendan wouldn’t let it go. He kept calling him Hunter so it stuck,” she says. “I finally said ‘ok, he’s a barrel hunter.’ And he knows his name. If you go out there and call him, he picks his head up.”
Hunter carried Thornton to her first Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2015; the duo finished fourth. They also won a go round at the All American Pro Rodeo Series Finals in Waco in October. Both rodeos are on her list of goals for 2016.
Thornton took a step toward both on the Tax Day Weekend, after a brilliant showing at the Longview (Texas) PRCA Rodeo.
Although she lives just over four hours away, Thornton had actually never competed in Longview before and decided to do some pre-rodeo research about the conditions. Everything she heard led her to believe it would be a good set up for Hunter.
“It really was his kind of set up. The ground was deep sand and it was a long way to the first barrel,” she says. Running in the slack after the Friday night performance on April 15, the now seven year old Hunter proved Thornton knew her horse.
Her run of 15.81 seconds set the pace by a wide margin and would end up winning the rodeo by almost two tenths of a second.
“I can always tell when he’s going to fire,” says Thornton. “I can feel it in the warm up. I rode up to the arena during the bull riding and they starting playing ‘We will Rock You.’ The fans started stomping their feet on the grandstands and I thought he would come unglued. It pumped him up and made him run harder.”
Thornton pocketed $1,029 for the win, moving to 16th in the Texas Circuit standings and 20th in the All American standings.
The Longview PRCA Rodeo is produced by a partnership between Andrews Rodeo Company and the Greggton Rotary Club. Andrews Rodeo is led by Texas Rodeo Hall of Famer Sammy Andrews, who provides the stock for the rodeo. The rodeo is the largest fundraiser for the Greggton Rotary Club, which annually provides over $40,000 to local organizations. In fact, since taking over the production of the rodeo in 1997, the Rotary Club has donated $900,000 back to the community.
Meanwhile, Thornton says she will continue to juggle baseball and rodeo until the baseball season ends in May. Then, she and Brendan are planning to hit the road north.
“We went last year to some rodeos,” says Thornton, who also produces production reports on oil wells, a “100% mobile” job that just requires her to have her phone and laptop. Of her first rodeo trip in 2015 she says, “it was just experience and hopefully we’ll do better this year.”
Thornton hopes to try out some summer rodeos in Colorado as well as Cheyenne Frontier Days again. Plus, her son enjoys the travel.
“He likes to be on the road,” she says of Brendan. “We get to see things we normally wouldn’t.”
For more information on the Longview PRCA Rodeo, please visit them on-line at longviewrodeo.com.