Marlene McRae Joins 2024 ProRodeo Hall of Fame Class

"It's where you hope you end up."
Marlene McRae, Martha Josey and Charmayne James at the Olympics.
Marlene McRae (center) stands with Charmayne James (left) and Martha Josey (right) at the 1988 Olympics. Image courtesy WPRA.

Marlene McRae already had one of the most unique resumes in ProRodeo barrel racing and on July 13, it will get just a little more stacked as she will be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in its 2024 class.

“It’s definitely an honor and icing on the cake, the last part of the equation,” McRae said. “It’s where you hope you end up.”

Already highly decorated in youth rodeo, Marlene McRae exploded into the awareness of ProRodeo fans in 1983. Riding Dutch Watch, a renegade former race and reining competitor that McRae introduced to barrel racing, she qualified to her first of ten National Finals Rodeos (NFR).

Competing in Oklahoma City, then the home of the NFR, McRae placed in nine go rounds, including four round wins. In an epic conclusion, she won the 10th go round to clinch her first NFR average and claim the World Championship.

What followed was a string of eight consecutive NFR qualifications and an epic rivalry with the legend Charmayne James and her Hall of Fame horse, Scamper. 

En route to those NFR qualifications, McRae and Dutch won nearly every major title available, some multiple times. She dominated in Calgary, winning the famed Stampede five times, still the most of any barrel racer in history. In fact, she was honored in 2018 by Calgary’s Pioneers of the Rodeo with induction into their Hall of Fame.

McRae was the first American woman, and just the third American, to be so honored.

And it was in Calgary, but not at the Stampede, that she solidified one of the most unique accolades owned by any barrel racer, that of being both a WPRA World Champion and an individual Olympic Gold Medalist.

McRae reigned over the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games, which were held indoors. She won six of seven rounds aboard Dutch to pick up the gold and helped Team USA win team gold as well.

Stateside, McRae would push James to the limit numerous times during the latter’s run of ten straight World titles.

McRae was reserve world champion three times and picked up another average title in 1988, making her one of just three cowgirls to win NFR averages in two different arenas after the NFR moved to Las Vegas in 1985. She also belongs to the rare group who’ve earned an NFR Fast Time award in different arenas.

McRae also donated her time back to the WPRA, serving two stints on the Board of Directors, first as a circuit director beginning in 1990 and returning to the Board in 2016 as the Futurity/Derby Director.

While she continued her excellence inside the arena, McRae also launched a successful career as a clinician, an endeavor that would take her around the world. In fact, several of her students will be in attendance during Hall of Fame weekend in Colorado Springs.

“I’m definitely blessed and honored.”

Marlene McRae

“We’ve got people coming from Belgium, Australia,” McRae noted, adding with a laugh. “We’ve got a wide array of friends from our clinics and internships over the years.”

Serving as a clinician for more than 25 years, Marlene McRae enjoyed teaching abroad, particularly in Europe.

“They had a lot of reiners so they were easy to teach, good horsemen,” she explained. “We met a lot of great friends [with the oversees clinics] because you spent some time there unlike the clinics here where you’re just there a couple of days.”

Expanding her reach as a teacher, Marlene McRae released a book, Barrel Racing 101, and a video series.

She also launched World Champion Designs, a saddle and tack company. One of the innovations of World Champion Designs was the first carbon fiber saddle tree for a barrel racing saddle.

“World Champion Designs is still going,” McRae said. “We sold it about ten years ago to another friend, another former student.”

McRae earned her final NFR berth in 2000. Riding the black stallion Fols Classy Snazzy, she won the first go round and finished eighth in the World Standings.

Now retired for several years, McRae and husband Doug live in Texas. She recently sold her last personal horse.

“We have some cattle, axis deer and a garden . . . it keeps me busy enough,” she said. The only remnant of her previous life exists in her tack room, which is still full saddles and awards, all tied to great memories.

“My husband calls it my Barbie playhouse,” she laughed. “I’ve given some things to friends but it’s hard to decide what to do with it all.”

McRae limits her involvement in barrel racing today to brokering horses.

“I do very, very few private lessons but I still enjoy selling and brokering horses,” she said. Speaking to the increase in top level horses thanks to changes to breeding programs she says, “it finally got specialized for barrel racing. It warrants it, there’s plenty of opportunity out there.”

That conversation lends to one about the changes in the industry since her earliest days of Little Britches Rodeo.

“All of them,” she laughed when asked which were the best changes. “The added money, the prices on horses. I think of all the horses I sold that should have brought more money . . . I mean, the hours spent riding and training are the same.”

Already a member of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, induction into ProRodeo’s Hall of Fame has the Colorado native reminiscing about her time in the sport.

“Oh my gosh, you do forget but this brings up a lot of great memories,” she admitted. “The people who crossed your path. This lifestyle we choose . . . I love the family you create through rodeo.”