The name Michelle Serna might not ring a bell to barrel racers, but the social media handle “@BrokeAssHorseGirl,” just might.
This 25-year-old modern cowgirl from Vacaville, California, has created a social media presence that inspires thousands of horse lovers across the world to start from where they’re at and set big dreams.
With over 330,000 followers on TikTok and 30,000 followers on Instagram, Serna is using her platform to show that there’s no need to be afraid of being an “amateur” or an outsider in barrel racing.
“It’s crazy that it happened because of TikTok, which seems like a silly app,” Serna said. “There’s just so much more meaning behind it. Now, I kind of want to make myself that face of the amateur barrel racer that comes up and achieves the things that they want to achieve because I think there’s a lot of people out there that the only thing standing between them and accomplishing the things that they want to accomplish is simply that they’re afraid to do it.”
Why Michelle Serna?
What makes this horse girl fit for the task? First off, she doesn’t come from a traditional rodeo family.
Born and raised in Salinas, her parents—Manuel and Lael—owned and operated a feed store in the tiny town of Aromas, California, that had a boarding facility attached to it. And that’s where her love for horses was born. As a kid, she spent her time in the gymkhana world, but when some customers threw out the idea of high school rodeo to Serna’s parents, they jumped at the chance because they believe in the values of the Western industry.
“My parents really wanted me to be around the people of rodeo, and I think that’s why I still am able to have a very positive mindset on wanting to be involved in it no matter what,” Serna said. “Because the very beginnings of it were my parents just wanted me to be involved in the sport because they thought it was going to be good for raising me up as a person; rodeo wasn’t even about running barrels or roping or anything like that for them, it was how can we turn our kid into a good person?”
Serna was a member of the NHSRA for five years, starting in eighth grade competing until she graduated high school. She served as the 2013-2014 CHSRA District 4 Rodeo Queen and stayed actively involved on the association side, not just showing up as a competitor. After high school graduation, Serna found herself slightly burnt out on the rodeo scene. She decided to switch gears and see what the world could hold for her life outside of rodeo dirt.
Serna stepped away from horses and moved to San Francisco in 2016 to attend San Francisco State University. She lived the city girl life and worked in the technology world. She decided to give the hunter/jumper barns a try—it was the trend in the area, but stayed away from barrel racing until a global pandemic brought her right back to the world she loved.
In 2020, Serna was one of many horse-crazy gals who found herself able to get back to the arena.
“I think it was always my intention to get back into it one day, but I always thought that my getting back into it was probably going to be when my (future) children did it,” Serna said. “But then COVID changed that because I no longer needed to work in San Francisco; my work went remote. And it was honestly like an accident.”
That same year, fate stepped in once again to support Serna’s dreams in unorthodox fashion. California experienced horrible wildfires that devastated the Bay Area. Serna sprung to action, helping haul horses of a local ranch who were actively threatened by the fires to the owners’ winter home in Arizona.
That one trip sparked Serna’s interest in the desert life. After a trip to try the now 7-year-old palomino mare Bam Bam Chic, who Serna now owns and runs barrels on, she decided to take the leap and move to Arizona with the goal of running barrels again.
The road less travelled brought Serna right back where she belonged—on the back of a barrel horse, a transition easier than most expected.
“I love it,” Serna said. “Falling back into it has felt really natural and easy because the great thing about it is even though I fell off the face of the earth for five years, coming back into it and going to barrel races was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re back. Where have you been? What are you doing here?’ Just really getting to know people again and getting to know old friends again. And then what really changed a lot of it was TikTok.”
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Thank you, TikTok
Like most 20-somethings, Serna took to TikTok for pure entertainment. But when she started making comedic videos about her experiences in the horse world, she found an audience that could relate. And it even further reignited Serna’s love for the industry.
“I think some people, they’re like, ‘Oh I’m going to be a TikToker,’ but that was not the intention,” Serna said. “I made Vines in high school—I’ve always enjoyed that. So, it was just very natural to start talking about the comedy of the horse world, and then it just really took off from there. It kind of re-sparked in me that absolute love that I have for horses and making my entire life about it.”
It wasn’t long before Serna found herself with a large following on TikTok and Instagram. Serna has worked hard to take the shame out of learning in the horse industry—something that sets her apart from many influencers in the horse world.
“I started talking about just being an amateur rider and getting through the bumps and messing up riding, and people found relatability in it,” Serna said. “I think so much of the time people are really afraid to talk about their failures online and to talk about their insecurities, especially in the horse world where I feel like everybody wants to put up a front that they have it all together and everything’s going well. And that’s where the angle of me starting to talk more candidly about wanting to be a better barrel racer, even though I don’t have a six-figure horse. I’m working with what I have, and I want to improve as a rider. I’m just kind of doing anything that I can.”
Using her platform for bigger things
“For me, inclusivity is really important as somebody who doesn’t come from a super rodeo family,” Serna explained. “So, making sure that other people get involved in the lifestyle is really important to me because I think there’s so much beauty in it. I think it is probably the best way to live your life, being involved in the Western industry. I want people to feel included.”
Serna doesn’t take her social media following for granted. With each post, she’s using it to aspire the changes she’d like to see in industry, including even more inclusivity. Her time in the technology sector helped arm the California cowgirl with the tools to find and use her voice in a public space.
Horses, horses and more horses
Thanks to a TikTok gone wrong, Serna left the tech world and is now able to focus more on the things she loves. Serna has since founded her own company—Bridle, an all-in-one equine management platform that officially launched Aug. 1. She also stays busy curating relatable social media content. Oh, and running barrels.
Serna has stepped up her entering game, going to as many jackpots as she can. Thanks to TikTok, she’s also gained a superstar mentor and friend—Fallon Taylor. The 2014 World Champ followed Serna on the platform one day, and the two hit it off. Taylor offered her expertise and continues to help guide Serna in her journey to becoming a better barrel racer, all while fostering a friendship between them.
Between “Bam Bam” and a futurity mare she recently acquired, Fire Turnin Streak, she stays busy working toward her goal of becoming a better barrel racer and using that journey to inspire others.
“It’s not perfect—I’m not always winning,” Serna said. “I’m placing in the 3D, but that’s more than I had convinced myself that I could do. I tell people just enter. Who cares? If there’s somebody standing on the sidelines who has something unkind to say, that 100% is an issue with them. It’s no reflection of you. You cannot let it impact your fun because while I have had a couple people say unkind things, I’ve had thousands of people be incredibly supportive.”
And as far as being an inspiration for thousands of people through her internet presence, the whole experience is still surreal to this small-town girl.
“it’s really emotional, honestly, in a way that I didn’t think it would be,” Serna explained. “It’s really motivating for myself. Obviously, I am on my own individual journey to becoming a better barrel racer—that’s the ultimate plan. I want to run in the 1D at these super shows, and that’s a huge goal of mine. Now I have this huge community behind me that is rooting me on, and I’ve given myself this responsibility of showing others that you can do it. And it’s so motivating where I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this now because I have other people to help.’ It’s probably been the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”