Fort Worth, Texas’s Bayleigh Choate is having one of the most dominating rookie regular seasons ever witnessed in professional barrel racing.
Just like budding barrel racers across the country, the now 19-year-old has been dreaming about the potential of running through the alley way that separates those iconic yellow bucking chutes at the Thomas and Mack Center arena for as long as she can remember.
“When I was little, I would set up feed buckets in my living room and take my little stick horse and run barrels during the NFR, pretending I was riding every horse those girls were riding on TV,” Choate said. “I’ve always been obsessed with making the NFR and getting to compete with the quality of horses and riders going right now.”
However, even she’s in shock at the season she’s had.
“If you would have told me any time before May that I could have a shot at going to the NFR or be near the top 15, I probably would have just laughed,” Choate said. “I never, ever would have expected this.”
So, how did a standout jackpot barrel racer from Georgia end up on track to win the Resistol Rookie title and secure her first NFR qualification in 2022?
Many fans began following Choate’s journey in June when she made major moves up the world standings to where she sits now at No. 9 with $86,454. However, her journey began after winning Denton, Texas, and earning an exemption into the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo—on her permit.
“I wasn’t even going to Denton, but a friend forced me to get out of the house and go,” Choate said. “So I qualified for Fort Worth (Stock Show and Rodeo) but I had to buy my card to go. I didn’t think I was ready, but everybody behind me kept pushing me to go.”
Choate recalled some of her early days on the ProRodeo trail after Fort Worth.
“I remember killing myself to get ready for rodeos with my horses in the practice pen, thinking I had to be so ready and so sharp,” Choate said. “I’ve never felt more prepared going into rodeos to do so terribly and look so unprepared. They were little rodeos, but to me they were a big deal.
“When I started out here, I just had (TJR Stinson Blue, ‘Boozer’) and he was only 4,” she continued. “He had to learn how to run in different setups and on different types of ground. The first six months, I either fell down or hit a barrel mostly. Then he lost his confidence and we had to work on that. When Dash came back in June, he was just so strong and he’s been my rock ever since. Boozer has gotten a lot better, too. At first—I mean, I had zero experience, they had zero experience—it was a huge learning curve in those first six months.”
As Choate struggled to find her way on the rodeo trail, Josh Brawner at Delicious Horse Treats shared a piece of advice with her that she has held onto all season long: “Be water.” Choate credits much of her mental turnaround to that simple phrase.
During this time, Choate had additional encouragement from more veteran barrel racers—including one who knows very well what it’s like to be a newbie on the trail with big dreams.
“I was sitting at my house before Reno and just looking at the trade lists for all these big rodeos that I wasn’t entered at, crying my eyes out and I called (three-time NFR qualifier) Emily (Beisel) and said, ‘I don’t know what to do! I’m not in any of these big rodeos, I’m not going to have a shot at anything, what do I do?’ She said, ‘It’s okay, you have to do the best you can with what you have, and Hailey (Kinsel) and I hardly ever go to Reno, anyway!’ She made me feel so much better and like it would be alright.”
Trusting the Process
“It’s hard because I don’t really know where to go,” Choate said. “We chose to come up to Canada, but it’s hard to stay up here and see how much money the girls are getting a chance at in the states. I have a feeling it’s going to work out, I’ve just got to get out of my head.”
Choate has had veteran Ann Thompson entering her throughout the 2022 season and made the decision to spend the majority of her summer north of the border. Folks have speculated at this decision, but make no mistake—Choate didn’t enter off the beaten path for hopes of hiding from the sharks.
“When I pull into these rodeos, I like to pretend that all the girls I would be running against in the States are there—Brittany, Stevi, Hailey–that everyone is here and I’ve got to make my best run,” Choate said. “I do better under pressure, so I do like to imagine that. I like competing with those girls—the competition, the pressure. I can make the worst run at the smaller rodeos, then go to the bigger ones and make a great run, where I’m even surprised with myself.”
How It’s Going
Once Choate got her confidence up—and her horse, Hail To Be Famous, “Dash,” back, she hit the dirt running.
Choate was the high money winner over Cowboy Christmas, earning the Ponoka Stampede win and more while in Canada. She took that momentum and steamrolled through the rest of the summer, placing heavily at seemingly every rodeo she’s entered. Choate laughed at the thought of fans thinking that a winning summer means an easy summer.
“On social media, all you see is what went right, you never see all the stuff that went wrong,” she said. “I mean, who wants to talk about the blown tires, lame horses—all the all-night drives? They don’t want to hear about that.”
Through it all, Choate noted that she’s having the time of her life, and her inner child couldn’t be more thrilled at the year she has had. She thanked her sponsors and support system for always pushing her through the lows, and enjoying the highs alongside her.
“All the girls have been super supportive out here,” Choate said. “And of course my mom and dad are great. I’m so thankful to have a great support system.”
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