By JimiBeth Myers
Behind the Scenes
Practice Makes Perfect, Even at the Wrangler NFR
The barrel racers at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo run hard and fast for 10 back to back rounds in the Thomas & Mack Arena. They have all spent a lot of time going down the rodeo trail and even more time in the practice pen seasoning their horses to be ready for the opportunity to get on the dirt here in Las Vegas.
Once they get to town they have one mandatory barrel practice on Tuesday morning. This is followed by 4 additional early morning practices where they have an optional hour of barrel practice that are spread throughout the 10 days of competition.
There are some rules that have to be followed when the barrel racers are in the Thomas & Mack. Like, only one horse is allowed in the arena at a time, only the WNFR contestant is permitted to ride in the arena, and the one-hour time frame booked for practice is strictly adhered to.
In the WPRA Rule Book Rule #9.3.20 says that “Horses shall not be worked around official pattern with or without barrels. Barrels shall be set not less than fifteen (15) feet off markers.” However, it is permissible for ground rules to take precedence and at the National Finals Rodeo barrel practice is held on the official pattern.
The reason Rule 9.3.20 is in place is to keep things even across performances and not allow anyone to have an undue advantage in competition. The National Finals Rodeo is such a unique competition where there are 15 contestants who compete in the same arena for 10 rounds and each of the contestants is offered the same practice opportunities. This mitigates any uneven advantage, so the ground rules waive this rule at Finals.
Three-time WNFR Qualifier Stevi Hillman says that practicing on the official pattern is beneficial. “It is especially helpful in a small pen like this because it makes a big difference knowing where the first barrel is.
Tracy Nowlin said that the side alley entry had her horse on the wrong lead going down the alley the first performance. But doesn’t feel practicing on the competition barrel pattern really helps all that much saying, “These are really seasoned horses at this rodeo and they should really go where we tell them to.”