The Challenge I Chose

 photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

During the Fourth of July run, you become more than just a girl who runs barrels.

by Taci Bettis
 
 

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Last year was my rookie year. Last June, I set out on my first Fourth of July run. The challenges started on Day One, as we were pulling out of Greeley, Colorado, for St. Paul, Oregon, twenty hours away.

I was traveling with Tammy Fischer, my coach and rodeo partner. We were in her truck and trailer hauling five horses, including Smash, my good horse; Tammy’s good horse, Ziva; and three green jackpot colts. St. Paul was going to be our first rodeo of the Fourth. It was an important one, because it paid just a tick over ten thousand dollars, and I really needed the money.

I needed the money because I got a late start in 2017. I was planning to buy my pro card in October of 2016, after three years of finishing Smash, and make 2017 my rookie year. But during a Labor Day rodeo in Uvalde, Texas, Smash bucked me off going to the third barrel. I knew something was wrong. Sure enough, we found a bone spur, and Smash was out for the next eight months. I didn’t buy my card until March of 2017. By the start of the Fourth run, I had nineteen thousand won and a lot of catching up to do. So St. Paul, with its big payout, was an important first stop.

Tammy and me had just left Greeley, when we looked in the rearview mirror and saw smoke. It was coming from the trailer bearings. They were burnt up.

I called my husband, Jeremy, back home in Round Top, Texas, and asked him to head our way with my rig, because we didn’t know how long the repair was gonna take. That’s when you’re thinking, Holy cow, this is what people go through during the Fourth? All these things were going through my mind, like, I’m a rookie out here. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Luckily, I was with a veteran who’s been around the rodeo world for years and years. Tammy kept her cool, so I didn’t panic or wanna give up.

But we had to turn out of St. Paul, our very first stop of the Fourth.

They got the bearings fixed in a day. So we loaded up the next morning and headed to Livingston, Montana, and started our Fourth of July. I placed at Livingston. We were back on track.

Along with the burned-out bearings, we had six blow-outs in maybe two weeks. That’s when you think, Okay, is God testing my strength? That’s when you realize you can’t be weak during the Fourth. You drive all night, get by with no sleep. You become a mechanic. You become a fast tire-changer. You become more than just a girl who runs barrels. You learn not to give up. I don’t think people see all that you go through.

Things got smoother as the week went on. It helped that I was winning. I won ten thousand during last year’s Fourth and went on to win seventy-one thousand that summer. That was enough for me to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo—and win 2017 Rookie of the Year.

 photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen


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More of the Same

This year, the struggles have already started. Same as last year. We had a rig break down in Greeley. It needed a new axle. The transfer switch was going out on my trailer, so we had to get that fixed on Tuesday. We’ll pick it up in Montana.

Luckily, we all take care of each other when we’re out on the road. You never have to worry about somebody not coming through for you. Last year, when we were blowing tires every four hours, we borrowed a spare from barrel racer Jana Bean to get from one rodeo to the next. When Jana showed up later, we thanked her and returned the spare.

I’m no veteran, but I’ve been out on the road and know what I have to do. I know about the long hours and no sleep, but that’s the challenge I chose.

I’m lucky that Tammy does all the entering. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but I’m learning.

We were blessed enough to find a trade at Greeley, which gave us an extra twelve hours to haul up to Ponoka, Alberta. Before that, we would have had twenty-four hours to drive nineteen, and that’s not counting fuel stops. We were going to be sliding sideways to get there on time.

When you stop, you have to walk the horses and water them and all that. It’s literally a forty-five-minute ordeal at the gas station. You’re like chickens with their heads cut off. I’ve come to realize that rodeo is a rush and then you sit. You rush, and then you sit.

The Fourth is important because there’s so much money up for grabs. This year, I started with a cushion—around seventy-four thousand won during the winter and spring. I don’t have to go so hard this year. In fact, after Cody, I’m headed to Calgary for the Stampede on the Fourth, and I’m staying put for a week, something I’ve dreamed about doing. I’m not going to run Smash’s legs off.

But at the same time, I need to stay focused and in the game. And keep Smash healthy. That’s first and foremost. I don’t want to make a dumb mistake that might hurt me in the long run.

 
 photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen


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Starting from the Bottom

Meeting Tammy and getting Smash were the best things that ever happened to me, to be honest with you. This horse has changed my life so much.

Me and Smash started from the bottom. I came from a split family. My parents got divorced when I was young. My mom always had to work two and three jobs for me to be able to go do this stuff. I got my first horse when I was three years old. He followed me around. I’d crawl up that horse’s legs to ride him. I never played with Barbie dolls. I always just played with the horses. When I was four or five, I started watching the National Finals Rodeo on TV every December. I would set up cups in our living room and run the barrels on foot.

You’re going, going, going. I remember last year we drove all night, got to Cody, Wyoming, at 6:00 a.m, ran at 8:00 a.m., and then left. So, I can’t tell you I got to enjoy that town.

We’re hauling six horses this year, but I’m only riding Smash at the rodeos. I sold my backup horse, Bugs, for some life-changing money. My thinking is, Just roll with the punches on the good horse, and if I’m supposed to make the NFR again, I’m supposed to make it. If not, I’m not scared to go back down where I started.

So that means I won’t drop a horse anywhere and catch a plane. We’re driving everywhere.

I’m seasoning a five-year-old that I just got a couple months ago. Her name is Shiner, and she’s green, green, green! She’s boogering at everything—snorting at the signs and horseflies.

 
 photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

 
 
 

On the Road

It’s always an adventure. And it’s dangerous. I’m the fretter. I’m the one that goes to the gas station with the gun in my pocket, especially when it’s three or four in the morning. We’re two girls, you know, and we’re stopping at so many gas stations at all hours of the night. I don’t worry about it that much, but I like to be careful. I’ve got a concealed handgun license, and we keep guns in every truck and trailer. You’d think we were gun collectors.

During the Fourth, you don’t get a lot of chance to look around. You’re driving through beautiful country, but you’re going, going, going. I remember last year we drove all night, got to Cody, Wyoming, at 6:00 a.m, ran at 8:00 a.m., and then left. So, I can’t tell you I got to enjoy that town.

At Livingston, after we ran, we finally had time to eat real food. We went to the steakhouse. You appreciate those restaurants way more when you can’t ever stop. Mostly, you eat at the gas stations, when you’re filling up with diesel. You hope there’s a Subway in there. It beats chips and cookies. You can get some actual meat in your body.

 
 photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

 

There are times when you just have to stop and take it all in. Last year, Tammy and me were headed to Reno from Monticello, Utah. We stopped for the night in Moab. It was almost midnight, but instead of going straight to sleep, we walked up one of those big rocks. The stars were so bright! You could see clear as day up there. You never know what the next day will bring, so sometimes you just have to stop and see the world.

My goal is making the NFR again, and the Fourth of July run could secure that spot. Of course, you always want to win the gold buckle. It could be my year. But just being there in Vegas, competing for ten nights in a row—that’s a thrill I live and work for. I’m thankful for every dollar.

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 photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

 
 
 

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