By Neal Reid
First-Year Wrangler NFR Qualifier Rule Picks Up Round 2 Victory On Horse of Year
Dona Kay Rule waited a long time for a night like Friday night.
The 61-year-old Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookie from Minco, Okla., kept the streak going for first-timers by winning Round 2 in front of 16,809 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Rule piloted her 2019 Purina Horse of the Year, 10-year-old gelding High Valor, through the cloverleaf pattern in 13.69 seconds to take the second round and a check for $26,231.
The go-round win propelled her from 10th to fifth in the WPRA World Standings with $132,738 and was quite a thrill for the grandmother of two.
“Oh, it’s incredible,” said Rule, a longtime horse trainer. “I never doubted my ability, but I never had a good opportunity like I do now with the beautiful, wonderful horse I have and all the extras he comes with that you need.
“I envisioned myself doing this years ago, and I remember being at the Cow Palace in the early ’70s or late ’60s and Sammy Thurman riding by, and she turned and winked at me. I thought, ‘I want to be her some day.’ It just took me 60-something years to get there.”
Rule and Valor finished out of the money in Round 1 with a time of 14.08, but rebounded well on Friday night.
“We had a little trouble last night and stumbled, and I just knew I needed to hold his hip in on barrel one,” Rule said. “Boy, he took it.”
Hailey Kinsel and her prized horse, Sister, finished second in 13.73 seconds after an impressive run at the bottom of the ground a night after turfing a barrel, while opening-round winner Emily Miller and her horse, Chongo, kept the average lead with a third-place finish in 13.74 seconds.
Miller is fourth in the world and tied for first in the RAM Top Gun Award standings along with bareback rider Richmond Champion with $51,885 apiece through two rounds. Ivy Conrado-Saebens was fifth in the round at 13.83, and Lisa Lockhart’s sixth-place finish in the round kept her $1,716 ahead of Kinsel atop the world standings list.
With a horse like Valor, Rule knew it was only a matter of time before he carried her to a Wrangler NFR berth.
“I knew he was special, but it took me a long time to train him because he’s pretty busy-minded,” Rule said. “I’ve really enjoyed him, and he counts on me a lot. It’s been kind of fun having a real friend and an ally.”
Rule shared a special moment with her son, Marshall, during her victory lap.
“My son is not really a rodeo boy, but he’s really been behind me,” said Rule, who also has a daughter named Kayla. “I saw him and his family when I came through (the alley), and it was like the Star Spangled Banner all over again.”
She also has felt the presence of another family member so far in Las Vegas.
“My dad (Don Frederickson) loved the NFR his whole life, and we lost him this year in April,” said Rule, who met her husband, John, at the National Saddlery shop in Oklahoma City. “I feel like he’s here with me.”
The even-keel veteran horsewoman is more concerned about keeping her horse’s emotions in check than her own the next eight nights at the $10 million rodeo.
“I’m pretty good at focusing on what I need to do, and I’ve been a horse trainer my whole life,” Rule said. “I’m just focusing on keeping him together, keeping him quiet, letting him know everything’s OK and just asking him to do his job.”
Having a strong support staff has been a great comfort for Rule at her first Finals.
“I’ve got a really good girl helping me, and my husband’s with me, so I’m very, very happy to have them to lean on,” Rule said. “It was easier to qualify (for the NFR) than it has been to prepare to come here, but it’s been wonderful. We really have enjoyed it, and it’s special.”