NFR 2020
NFR 2017
NFR 2020-Horse of the Year
rule Dona Kay Rule's
"High Valor"
Named Purina Horse of the Year

By Josie Fladager

The 2020 Purina Horse of the Year presented by AQHA is a prestigious award designed to honor outstanding equine athletes throughout the industry. Recognized by fellow contestants, one horse per year is voted as a standout above the others. Only four horses in barrel racing history have been honored twice in a row, two of which (Scamper and Bozo) are in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame: Gills Bay Boy “Scamper” owned and ridden by Charmayne James won the award 1989-1993, French Flash Hawk “Bozo” owned and ridden by Kristie Peterson held the title from 1995-1999, Firewater Fiesta “Fiesta” owned and ridden by Kelly Yates 2000-2001, and most recently DM Sissy Hayday “Sister” owned by Dan and Leslie Kinsel and ridden by their daughter Hailey Kinsel 2017-2018.


Dona Kay Rule and "High Valor"
Photo By Kenneth Springer

That is, until now. High Valor “Valor” owned and ridden by Dona Kay Rule won the title for the first time in 2019 and was voted top barrel racing horse again in 2020.

“We all spend our lives trying to emulate those amazing horsewomen and those amazing horses and it is beyond me to even fathom that Valor is in the same category,” said Valor’s 62-year old jockey Rule, who is astonished at the company she and her 11 year old gelding have now joined.

One possible reason Valor might be back-to-back Horse of the Year is his consistency. In both 2019 and 2020, Valor averaged winnings of just over $1,500 per rodeo, even through the challenges that came with COVID-19. Valor and Rule are going into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo sitting third in the WPRA World Title race with 2020 winnings of $67,453 from 43 rodeos.

“Valor doesn’t really mind [any setup],” said Rule, who is excited about the NFR moving to Arlington, Texas and says she and Valor are ready for the unique setup at Globe Life Field. “I spend a lot of time with him daily letting him know [what I need] and building his confidence. So whatever venue I put him in he seems to thrive. As long as he understands what I need, he gives me all he can.”

This extraordinary effort and heart is a common theme recognized by other competitors that earned Valor the Horse of the Year Award.

“He got in the trailer and just went,” said the Minco, Oklahoma jockey, who is proud of the fact that Valor has stayed completely healthy all year and was her sole money earner throughout the year. “He has been so healthy all year and found his niche. He was completely confident and calm all year.”

The saying ‘it takes a village’ rings true when it comes to keeping Valor at his best.

“He didn’t have any ulcers, thanks to Kool Speed Feed and he’s kept his weight on thanks to Kentucky Equine Research products,” noted Rule when she reflects on the year. “With the help of these products, Valor has been a standout in the industry.”

While Rule and Valor have been making headlines the last couple years, this is far from Rule’s first rodeo. Rule has spent most of her life being a mother and running National Saddlery with her husband, John, the company based out of the Oklahoma City Stockyards and the one that made the World Champion saddles for the PRCA for 11 years (1988-1998). While she was a horse trainer all along, only in recent years has Rule had the opportunities to chase her dreams as a professional barrel racer with Valor in her trailer.

“Once my kids got older and moved onto their own lives, we sold our saddle shop,” noted Rule. “When we sold that and bought the house in Minco, Oklahoma, I still trained [barrel horses] and Valor came into my life.”

Rule bought Valor from Lana Merrick as a late four year old. Valor’s amazing future was unforeseen by Rule at the time, as he was her backup horse behind her ace, Juice, at the time.

“Once Juice got hurt, Valor had to step up. I asked for his heart and he gave it,” said the very proud owner. “It’s amazing. When you work hard and you win something, you are proud and you know you did it. But when other people vote for you, it’s another feeling. You feel invisible as you go down the road.”

Rule hauls by herself with Valor and “Rosie the Rodeo Dog” to keep her company. She continued by expressing her surprise at the honor from her colleagues by saying, “You feel invisible and I guess you’re not. It really is an honor.”

Rule wants to thank her team that has helped her and Valor through her journey, including 5 Star Pads, Kool Speed Feeds, Classic Equine, Kentucky Equine Research, Owl Manor, Deanna Harrison, and Express. Amy Jergens Equine has helped her to find out what makes Valor feel his best to compete at the highest level and will be at the NFR as well. Rule says her support team, including her husband John, daughter KK, son Marshall, and two grandkids, have been outstanding encouraging her to do her best on the rodeo road.

“I could go on and on naming those who have supported me and helped me get down the road,” noted a very humble Rule. “I am very appreciative and I feel everyone’s goodness and good wishes, I promise you.”

AQHA Horses of the Year

1.    HIGH VALOR "Valor;" ridden and owned by Dona Kay Rule
2.    BIDDIN ON FAME "Beau;" ridden and owned by Emily Miller
3.    LEAN MEAN BLUE DEAN "Blue Dean;" ridden and owned by Jill Wilson