Jessica Routier may be one of the quietest, most consistent forces in barrel racing’s recent years.
Most recently, she dominated the 2022 Badlands Circuit and earned the year-end title with $23,984.05—over $6,000 ahead of No. 2 barrel racer, Nikki Hansen— after competing in 20 rodeos throughout the year on her standout mare, Fiery Miss West, “Missy.”
Routier was thrust into the national spotlight in 2017 after her first Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo win, which led to her first NFR qualification in 2018. Her seemingly overnight rise to stardom led many folks to wrongfully assume that her nearly $850,000 in WPRA career earnings came solely from 11-year-old Missy.
Her path to ProRodeo dominance actually started in high school, when a 3-year-old filly entered her mother, Shelly Mueller’s training program.
A Smoothie Start
Registered Especials Smoothie, “Smoothie,” is a 1995 daughter of Especial and out of a daughter of Smooth Herman by Docs Lil Smoothie. Her reining bloodlines didn’t make her the obvious choice for a barrel mount, and she excelled in other events before settling into her groove in the can chasing.
“We actually went (to the NHSFR) in the pole bending and breakaway,” Routier said. “She was just 5 at that time.”
Beginning in the next year, Routier and Smoothie made four trips to the CNFR in the barrel racing, finishing in the top five on three occasions, and earning the national championship in 2003 for National American University.
“She was only 6 when we started college,” Routier said. “She was ultra-consistent, just so honest. We hardly ever tipped barrels.
In the summers, Routier returned home to Wisconsin and decided to try her hand at Great Lake Circuit’s ProRodeo scene. During 20023, Smoothie helped her earn the circuit championship during her rookie WPRA season. Routier would go on to three more Great Lakes Circuit Finals with Smoothie, and seven in the Badlands Circuit after Routier moved to Buffalo, South Dakota, with her husband, Riley.
“I rode her until she was 20,” Routier said. “Then my oldest daughter rode her until she was 25. She’s still alive in the field at 27, now my backup horses are both daughters of hers.”
Smoothie died on November 23, 2022. Routier wrote on social media, “Especials Smoothie. 6/1995-11/23/2022. She was with me through all of life’s major achievements and disasters, since I was 16 years old. She was a champion, and she built my whole life. If you didn’t know Smoothie, you didn’t know me.
In her prime, Smoothie was tough to beat. But it wasn’t her speed or smooth style that made her stand out, it was the way that her career shaped the course of Routier’s life.
“That horse is probably the reason that I went to college where I did, how I met my husband—it’s crazy to think about where my life would be if I didn’t have her. Those horses make you who you are.”
“I had never tried to venture out and make the (NFR) on Smoothie,” Routier said. “I was content and happy with what we’d done. I thought I’d be done rodeoing after her. Then, the year after I quit running Smoothie, along came Missy.”
Routier and Gary Westergren were in the early phases of their training relationship, when he came to Routier with an idea she thought was a bit wild.
“Gary said it was his goal to have one of his horses run at the NFR one day,” Routier said. “I was thinking ‘Sure, but you have no idea how hard this is.’ A lot of his horses were really nice, but when Missy came along, I knew she was one I wanted to rodeo on, and the rest is history.”
That history looks like five circuit championships—2017, 19, 20, 21, 22—and five consecutive NFR qualifications from 2018 to 2022.
“It was never a thought that I’d be at the NFR within two years (of running Missy),” Routier said. “I always joke that I circuit rodeod my way to the NFR. It all just kind of happened, the first year we won the circuit, went to the (Ram National Circuit Finals) in April, which jumped us up in the world standing and gave us a spot into Calgary. At that point my friends said they were going to start entering me and making me get in the truck if I didn’t do it myself.”
Routier has been on a hot streak since Missy figured out life on the ProRodeo trail and has earned her place as a household name in the sport of barrel racing. In 2022, Routier had to fight harder for her NFR slot than ever before, staying out on the road until well into September, and she is looking to cash in on the large payouts of next summer’s NFR Open to ease that traveling burden so she can spend more time at home with her family during the 2023 season to avoid missed time with her husband and children, aged 6 to 17.
For more on Routier’s backstory and the horses that made her, check out her episode from season two of The Money Barrel.