2009 Flashback: PJ Burger’s Lessons Learned and Winning Tips

PJ Burger shares the details of her 2009 NFR qualification and what she learned from jockeying unique horses throughout the year.
PJ Burger Barrel Racing on Lulu at the 2009 NFR.
PJ Burger and Lulu at the 2009 NFR. Image by Hubbell Rodeo Photos.

This article originally appeared in a 2010 edition of Spin to Win Magazine, the precursor to The Team Roping Journal Magazine.

It’s safe to say PJ Burger has learned something from virtually every horseback event that exists.

The tiny cowgirl (she’s not five feet tall) from Pauls Valley, Okla., actually grew up in Minnesota showing Western Pleasure horses and doing hunt seat competitions before going to work for several years for trainers in cutting and other cow-horse disciplines.

She moved to Oklahoma a decade ago to work for world champion reining horse trainer Doug Carpenter, and six years ago married Joey Burger, with whom she has a small child. But Burger never lost touch with barrel racing, and 2009 was her career year in that event.

Making the 2009 NFR

In her third season competing on Dan and Sue Rudy’s 6-year-old Dash For Perks gelding, Fancy Man Perks (“Perky”), Burger hit pay dirt at the Reno Rodeo and swept the first two rounds and the average at Puyallup, Wash., to punch her ticket to December’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo alongside her mother-in-law, Mary Burger. Perky had actually been started by Mary Burger and then trained for almost a year by Sharin Hall before PJ finished him.

“He has a lot of try, and he has the speed to make a mistake and still clock,” Burger said. “There’s not many of them out there like that.”

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Horse Changes

Burger had been ecstatic to learn she’d squeaked into her first-ever NFR, but a day later was scrambling for horseflesh when it was determined she wouldn’t be riding Perky in Las Vegas.

Instead, she borrowed two look-alike seasoned horses-a gray 15-year-old Mito Paint-bred mare named Cody Lea Coaltown (“Lulu”), and a gray 14-year-old Master Hand/Sticks An Stones gelding named The Stone Master (“Stoney”).

Lulu had been Burger’s mother’s Western Pleasure horse before being trained on the barrels by PJ and her sister, Ivy Sondergard. The mare was then sold to current owner Jana Jarreau of Greenwell Springs, La.

And Burger had first ridden Stoney while giving lessons to his owner, Lauren Underwood of Meeker, Okla. Underwood lent the gelding to Burger for the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in November, where the duo placed in every round and earned a trip to the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo.

“I didn’t really have enough time to get confident on either horse,” Burger admitted.

“But I can’t complain; it was a blessing just to be at the Finals.”

In Las Vegas, Burger barely tipped the first barrel to place second in the first round on Lulu, and later placed in the fifth round during one of the toughest NFRs on record.

“The chips didn’t fall where they needed to in Las Vegas, but I’m okay with that,” Burger said.

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5 Barrel Racing Tips for Readers from Burger’s 2009 Season

  • “I try not to handle a horse a lot in competition. I want to do my training at home, and then just sit and let one turn.”
  • “I look where I go next (when turning a barrel) because it helps my horse finish the turn. I have short arms, and I ride my reins short—in pictures you can see that I have a little outside rein pressure in the turn—because it helps me get up over a horse when I leave a turn.”
  • “(The Stone Master) “Stoney,” was used to being run with a whip, so I carried it, but never did use it. And I don’t ride spurs at all. With my short legs, when a horse sets, it can tip me forward and my feet can get back near the flank, so with spurs that wouldn’t turn out very well.”
  • “I only want a horse to take three steps around a barrel—although it doesn’t always work with all of them. (Fancy Man Perks) “Perky,” is so ratey that I had to wait until he reached this spot before I asked him to follow my hand.”
  • “Perky’s rear really drops as his inside hind leg drives underneath to prepare for the turn. His style is to run full-tilt in there and when he gets to this spot, he buries up and then swaps directions and is gone. That move is the point when I’m just starting to ask for the turn with my inside hand. I’m too little to manhandle horses. As soon as I pick up an inside rein, they’d better be following my hand and stepping over themselves.”

PJ Burger