Cochran’s Rookie Road

Kay Cochran and Kiss Me Rosita winning the City of Industry Rodeo. Credit: Gene Hyder Photography

Considering the high number of fiercely competitive barrel racers and elite horses in today’s rodeo ranks, it’s tough for young up-and-coming barrel horse trainers to break through. For Kay Cochran, who grew up in Loomis, California, a special horse by the name of Kiss Me Rosita has helped put her on the map, and she’s working diligently to stay at the forefront of barrel racing in California’s ultra-tough professional rodeo circuit.

Cochran, who is a Rookie cardholder in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association this year, teamed up with Kiss Me Rosita to fill her permit at the Lake Havasu Stampede Rodeo in Arizona this past winter. The team cashed win checks from Lake Havasu in March, then at California rodeos in Stonyford and Redding in the spring before going home for a little break. Following embryo work and some conditioning time with Jody Reese, Kiss Me Rosita came back in August for Cochran to place at another California Circuit rodeo in Tehachapi.

After filling her permit and purchasing her membership to gain full card status, Cochran sits just outside the top 12 eligible for the California Circuit Finals Rodeo, despite the earnings won on her permit not counting toward the standings. Cochran credits Kiss Me Rosita as being the first horse in her barrel racing career that’s given her the confidence to know she has a chance at placing when she enters pro rodeos. (For the full story, see “This One’s For My Girls” link)

While “Rosita” has given her that special opportunity, the road to Cochran’s current success is paved with hard work and impactful ties with her family—mom Teri and dad Scott (her one sibling, brother Luke, is not a horse guy, but more of a basketball player)—as well as friendships she has made along the way.

“My mom, Teri Cochran, taught me how to ride and taught me everything about horses and running barrels that I knew at an early age,” Cochran said. “It was more at the gymkhana level as a kid. Then, at the high school rodeos I was a better pole bender actually, and in college I roped a lot.”

Cochran, who proved her ability as an all-around rodeo competitor in high school, was granted a scholarship to attend Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

“I went to school first at Lassen Community College and then transferred to OPSU as a Junior,” she said. “I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“After college, I moved to Desdemona, Texas, and lived with Britany Diaz,” said Cochran. “My parents eventually bought a place nearby in Lipan.”

Cochran explained that when she was fresh out of college the horse training bug didn’t bite her right off the bat. She experienced a variety of different jobs in the meantime.

“I had different jobs but didn’t make my living with horses at that point,” she said. “I worked at a bank and sold health insurance, I always had horses but riding horses wasn’t what produced my income.”

Her career path shifted, however, when Cochran decided to go stay with a friend in Montana.

“With the insurance business I was able to work from anywhere, so I decided to go stay with a friend in Montana and that’s when I got a job working for Copper Spring Ranch in Bozeman,” she said. “I did sales fitting for one season then went back to Texas and worked for Brazos Valley Equine also doing sales fitting. Although not riding—feeding, grooming, making them pretty—horses were my producing my livelihood by then.”

The next twist in Cochran’s journey rerouted her back to her native California and a job riding horses alongside barrel racer Kelsey Hayden and her fiancé, reined cow horse trainer Andrew Steiger.

“I ended up working for Kelsey for two and half years,” Cochran said. “She was in Texas for RFD-TV’s The American while Andrew was there for the World’s Greatest Horseman. Kelsey’s help at home in California had quit her, so I rode back to California with them and went to work there.

“I had always made my own barrel horses from rope horses or cutter rejects but didn’t know the finer details of it. I learned a lot more about that at Kelsey’s,” she said.

Cochran encountered the opportunity to go out on her own and currently trains out of Triple Crown Equestrian Center, a training and event facility located in Lincoln, California.

“It’s a big facility,” she said. “Cutting horse trainer Monty Buntin also trains out of Triple Crown. I’m riding a few outside horses and a few of my own horses and I have Rosita of course.”

Cochran looks forward to running Kiss Me Rosita for the mare’s owner Quincy Eldridge, and the two ladies agree that their goals for the young standout are to take a measured approach and to capitalize on the best and most lucrative competitive opportunities.

Don’t be surprised to see the team of Cochran and Rosita at qualifiers for RFD-TV’s The American, or major races such as those offered by the Xtreme Million and Royal Crown, with a trip to the California Circuit Finals on their to-do list as well. At the end of September, she placed at the California Circuit rodeo in San Bernardino riding another standout, Cashin N On Fame owned by Jacque Hannon, that came to her barn for a tune-up and to sell. The mare placed at Marysville as well.

“I was saving Rosita for the final round at the West Coast Barrel Racing Association Finals where she ended up fifth in the 1D on a three-run average and won just under $4,000 for the weekend. ‘Her horse,’ a mare I call Linda, placed 15th in the 1D average and won $1,200 over the weekend,” said Cochran.