Tamara Barnhart is the underdog the barrel racing masses have been waiting to root for.
More specifically, she’s a single mom of two boys.She runs her own chiropractic practice. She’s a horse trainer. She’s a fitness buff.
Oh, and she’s your 2023 champion of The American Contender Series and set to compete at The American Rodeo for a potential $1.1 million payout on Saturday, March 11.
Barnhart blazed into The American Rodeo Contender Finals at Globe Life Field Thursday, March 10, posting the top barrel racing time of 15.516 and punching her ticket to The American Rodeo.
Earning $15,000, mare Guys Sweet Design completed a goal Barnhart had set three years ago. For Barnhart, advancing through The American Rodeo’s tournament-style system was her shot to prove her mettle and run with top barrel racers despite her responsibilities at home.
The 43-year-old from Athol, Idaho, only started barrel racing six years ago, but keeps a grueling schedule to accomplish her goals including two workouts a day, riding horses, working on chiropractic patients and sharing custody of her two children, Jayden (13) and Tanner (11).
Her road to The American Rodeo Contender Finals started in Las Vegas at the All In Barrel Race in December 2022, where a first-place finish in the American Qualifier sent her to the West Regional Finals in Heber City, Utah. A top-four finish in Utah brought Barnhart to Arlington, Texas.
Tamara Barnhart Started from the Bottom
Born into a non-rodeo family, Barnhart scraped together $25 for a Shetland pony at the age of 3. Her first “real horse” was an unbroken 3-year-old she got when she was 10 years old. Growing up, she trail rode and showed in the county fair in Western pleasure, English and showmanship. She trained in dressage, too.
Barnhart kept horses through college, playing D3 basketball and eventually completing a degree in chiropractics. After moving to Idaho to start her career, she lost her Warlander (Andalusian-Friesian cross) to colic and decided to give Quarter Horses and barrel racing a try.
“Little did I know I would absolutely love barrel racing,” Barnhart said. “And I think my dressage background helps my communication with my horses. Smooth is fast.”
I Love Lucy
Guys Sweet Design or “Lucy” was purchased by Barnhart as a yearling with plans to train her and flip her. Now 7-years-old, Barnhart and Lucy have forged a relationship.
“She’s a very gritty mare, you could cut her leg off and she’d keep running,” Barnhart said. “But in the beginning she was really hard to break, and we fought really bad for a while.”
The turning point came in Great Falls, Montana, when Lucy was 4 years old. A nervous traveler, Lucy colicked badly. Fortunately, she made it through the night and recovered with a new sense of purpose.
“After her colic she started running 1D times,” Barnhart said. “She had things to do.”
While still a nervous traveler, Barnhart says Lucy is gaining confidence. Even as the bulls were loaded into the chutes around the alleyway Thursday night, Lucy was all business.
Barnhart’s The American Rodeo Gameplan
“As long as she is mentally calm when we go in there, she is going to give me everything she can in that moment,” Barnhart said. “I trust her. She’s very strong, very gritty and she knows her job.”
Barnhart’s plan for The American Rodeo Saturday evening is to keep things the same and treat the run like just another race.
“Getting to the finals was my ultimate goal and I made it,” Barnhart said. “I proved I can compete with them. Obviously, I am super competitive and want to win, but we achieved what my main goal was.”
Top 5 Barrel Racers Advancing from The American Rodeo Contender Finals
Tamara Barnhart 15.516 $15,000
Sherry Cervi 15.523 $10,000
LaTricia Mundorf 15.524 $6,000
Bayleigh Choate 15.545 $3,000
Jimmie Smith 15.634 $1,000
Find out how to watch The American Rodeo Finals Saturday evening, March 11 here.