Julie Thomas knows how to work hard and play hard, winning her third International Professional Rodeo Association Barrel Racing Championship in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Jan. 15, at the 53rd International Finals Rodeo with $38,340 earned throughout the year.
The 51-year-old assistant principal from Ranger, Georgia, uses rodeo as an outlet after nine- to 12-hour days at the school.
“I do love my job,” Thomas said. “Our school has first-, second- and third graders so I call them my littles. I love working with them and my teachers because you feel like you’re giving back to your community. It’s really rewarding because we have cowgirl day, and they get so excited to see my videos. They want to know how I do at rodeos.”
With a team of “littles” cheering her on, Thomas arrived in Guthrie with a more than $10,000 lead over her competition. She’d won the world championship in 2021 and 2022 but would need to win some more cash to guarantee her three-peat title.
Riding The Cool Zippy Zevi or “Amos,” Thomas finished out of the money in rounds one and two, running a 16.610 and 16.682, respectively.
“I feel like he made good, honest runs the first two rounds, but he didn’t really fire super hard,” Thomas explained. “Before the third round, I warmed him up a little bit differently, took him off by himself and made him pay attention to me and use his back end a little more. On the third and fourth rounds, he went in a little harder and was more focused.”
Her schooling worked, and Amos dropped his time by about three-tenths of a second. By the time round four came, the two of them were ready. Running a 16.331, Thomas nabbed a fourth-place aggregate check worth $1,111.
Thomas and Amos’s partnership goes back 10 years, and she’s ridden the gelding to each of her three IPRA Championships. After taking about a year to get together in the beginning, the two of them clicked and have been easy partners ever since.
“He’s such an honest horse and he wants to do well all the time,” Thomas said. “He’s pretty sensitive but he wants to please as well.”
Picking Up Wins in the South
Thomas’ method for qualifying for the IFR each year starts with sticking close to home.
“Most rodeos around here are two to three hours from my house,” Thomas said. “I’m very lucky there is always a lot to go to, so I can pick and choose around my schedule.”
Thomas says that her horses’ health and happiness is her top priority and will go back to the basics with Amos if it’s needed.
“Whenever we have a slump, we go back to riding in the pasture and flexing him,” Thomas said. “He uses his back end a lot, you really have to push him into his turns, and he’ll roll back on his back end. He’s got a long stride for no bigger than he is—15.1 hands or so. The only time I really have to help him set is on a bigger pattern like at the IFR.”
Looking ahead in 2023, Thomas is planning on running Amos in more IPRA-sanctioned and co-sanctioned events, as well as starting to enter mare “Missy.” As for perusing a fourth IPRA Championship, Thomas says she’s taking things one step at a time.