Jeana Day Makes Hall of Fame 50 Years After Winning World Championship

She hung up her spurs many moons ago, but Jeana Day's taking her rightful place among rodeo's best career cowgirls.
barrel racer Jeana Day and her horse, Excuse
Jeana Day and Excuse. Image courtesy WPRA

When the ProRodeo Hall of Fame came calling, World Champion barrel racer Jeana Day was simply not ready.

“I was so stunned,” Day said of joining the Hall with its 2024 induction class. “I just wasn’t expecting it. I’m so excited and overwhelmed.”

Words escaped the Oklahoma cowgirl, who won the 1974 Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) World title and made six trips to the National Finals Rodeo (NFR).

“I’m not good with words . . . I’m a math teacher!” she joked.

In fact, Day spent several decades teaching high school students, a second career she launched after ending her rodeoing days.

“I had a 3-year-old filly flip on me for no reason,” Day said. “She landed right beside me. I was lucky she didn’t land on me and I thought, how would I support myself if I got hurt?”

Jeana Day
Jeana Day. Image coutesy WPRA

“I decided I needed an education, I couldn’t ride colts for the rest of my life,” she continued. “So I went to college at 32 years old and quit barrel racing.”

Fortunately, Day had already packed in a Hall of Fame career by that point, culminating with the World Championship when she was just 20 years old.

While her championship was hard fought and appreciated, Day cited her Reserve titles as among her favorite memories.

“Probably the four runner-ups (in 1970-1973),” she said “Those are very, very special to me because they showed the consistency of Excuse.”

Poco Excuse was the $300 prospect Day’s father bought her when she was 12 years old.

“The peak, naturally, was when we won. That was quite a high. Like how I’m feeling now . . . stunned and excited,” Day laughed.

Day credits her career to her Aunt Helen Reilly, who let her nieces pull her old barrel horse from the pasture to compete.

“He really taught my sister and I how to run barrels because he was automatic. He was such a good horse,” she said of Roanie. “That’s where I got hooked.”

Excuse came from her father’s brother, who sold the four year old gelding because he bucked.

Saying he crow hopped—but never bucked—with her, Day rode Excuse in the pasture to warm him up before heading to the arena. She showed him the pattern on the sly as her father didn’t believe the 14.1 hand, 1,000 pound gelding had the speed for barrels.

“Dad said I should train him on the poles but he hated it,” she said. When Day finally had her father come watch Excuse work on the barrel pattern, he was shocked. 

“He about fell off the fence. He was much quicker and faster than Dad thought.”

Without the benefit of jackpots for seasoning, Day jumped right in at the amateur rodeos, winning the first where she and Excuse competed. After three years of dominance, the pair moved into the ranks of the then-GRA.

“I filled my permit in 1969 and decide to buy my card to go to Albuquerque and the fall rodeos,” Day noted. “I didn’t know about the rookie deal or I probably would have waited.”

The next season, Excuse and Day qualified to their first of six straight Finals and earned the first Reserve title behind World Champion Joyce Burk Loomis.

Excuse was known for his grit and heart, best exemplified by an incident that occurred during the pair’s world title season.

“Talk about my best memory . . . the scariest was when he got a little cut above his eye and we had the vet sew it up and headed out to Colorado Springs, where we placed in the first round,” Day recalled. “The next morning, he was laying down and his eyes were swelled shut so he couldn’t see.”

Another vet visit and “loading by faith” because Excuse couldn’t see helped the Days get him back to Oklahoma where they took him to Dr. Fred Rule in Elk City.

“He told us, just leave him here and I’ll figure it out,” Day remembered. “He laid him down several times and finally, in his probing, found a piece of a board that had gone in above his eye and lodged into that space and was buried inside his cheek bone.”

“He would have died had Fred not been so determined to find out what was wrong.”

Leaving the wound open to drain and heal, Day hit the road again and Excuse won his first rodeo back, placing throughout the fall to eventually win the world championship.

“Excuse was all heart,” Day said. 

Jeana Day barrel racing
Jeana Day and Excuse. Image by Kenneth Springer, courtesy WPRA.

Day lost Excuse in 1976 in a tragic pasture accident, prompting her family to create the WPRA’s Horse with the Most Heart Award in his honor. The first recipient in 1976 was Gail Petska’s Dobie, who had battled for the championship with Day for several years.

“It came from so many different aspects of Excuse’s career,” Days explained in a Women’s Pro Rodeo News article featuring World Champion Horses.  “Being so small and not bred to be a fast horse, running so good no matter how many runs or miles, the incident with the wood in his head was probably the main reason for the award.”

“We felt it was a great way to keep his memory going.”

Though common today, the award was groundbreaking at the time and is given annually during the National Finals Rodeo based on a vote of the qualifiers.

Day also left her marked on the Association by serving on the Board of directors for a dozen years, first as an At-Large Director and later representing the Prairie Circuit. She was part of the Board who worked and achieved equal money for the barrel racers throughout ProRodeo in the early 1980’s.

“That was a big high,” Day said. “It was a big process to get that accomplished. It wasn’t easy.”

“Some of the ones [rodeo committees] who fought the most, the few who did not have an approved barrel race the next year, the caliber of the barrel race they had without the WPRA, they could tell the difference and it hurt their rodeo,” she said. “So there was some satisfaction there, that we presented an event that they wanted to come back.”

Today, Day has retired from teaching and spends her days caring for her cow herd and for her mother, who will excitedly watch the induction ceremonies on July 13th on the Cowboy Channel.

“I have six cows,” she laughed. “But it gives me some peace to have them. I really had withdrawals when we lost our last two horses.”

She remains tongue-tied over the inclusion in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, an honor only extending to WPRA members since 2017.

“It’s a highlight,” she said. “It just couldn’t get any better. I’m thrilled.”