At 21 years of age, First Frontier Circuit rookie barrel racer Karlee Benincasa has a lot of irons in the fire. Benincasa spends her days assisting cardiac nurses at Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs, New York, and her nights chasing the First Frontier Circuit Rookie Barrel Racer of the Year title. The New York native who resides in Gansevoort is among the top-seated rookies in the First Frontier Circuit and is ranked No. 12 in the overall circuit standings.
After coming up through the high school rodeo ranks, Benincasa purchased her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association permit in 2019 and began seasoning her now 11-year-old mare, Frenchmans Jet Flair, whom she calls “Nellie.” She eased into the world of professional rodeo by attending both WPRA approved jackpots and entering rodeos close to home. The permit process helped her feel less anxious about buying her card and competing against the professionals.
This year Benincasa began campaigning Diva On Firewater. “Diva” became Benincasa’s main mount while Frenchmans Jet Flair was on hiatus to raise her foal. Benincasa notes that seasoning and riding one horse while chasing the rookie title has been a challenge.
“Nothing comes easy or is handed to you out there,” she said. “Having my rookie year on top of trying to connect with a new horse has been a lot of hard work. It’s been tough because I have to pick and choose which rodeos to go to and make those count so that I can do what’s best for Diva. I went through a slump where I hit a lot of barrels, and I was really hard on myself because I was putting a ton of pressure on myself to win every time.”
Without her loving parents supporting her dream every step of the way, and the guidance of her trainer, veteran barrel racer Judy Dahoda Taylor, Benincasa says she would not be where she is today. Her parents are not involved in rodeo but have always made sure that Benincasa had the tools to be successful if she was willing to put in the work.
Working on the front lines during the pandemic in a state that has been hit hard by COVID-19 has been a challenge for Benincasa, but she is proving that through careful scheduling, she can still chase her dreams.
“This year has taught me a lot. I had to learn how to balance my normal hours in the hospital, picking up extra shifts thanks to COVID, and keeping my horses in shape. I had to learn quickly how to manage my time,” she related of her hectic summer schedule.
So, what would it mean to Benincasa to take the rookie barrel racer’s title home in 2021?
“Winning the first frontier rookie title would mean a lot to me. It’s also been a goal of mine ever since I could remember. I was able to win the permit standings buckle in 2019, so if I could also win the Rookie now that I have my card, it would be cool. It would be even more special to win it on Diva after such a crazy year, because she came into my life unexpectedly and is already helping me achieve my dreams.”