7 Careers Barrel Racers Are Making Work With Rodeo Dreams

These barrel racers are working smarter—not harder— to make their rodeo dreams possible, and they're sharing their secrets.
Katie Loughran competes at the WCRA's Rodeo Corpus Christi
Katie Loughran threw down at the WCRA's 2022 Rodeo Corpus Christi. Photo courtesy of Loughran.

The barrel racers of the WCRA are proving that they can compete at the highest levels of barrel racing while holding down full-time careers outside of the arena.

The WCRA’s Virtual Rodeo Qualifier system changed the game for barrel racers and other rodeo athletes. The system operates by letting athletes nominate and garner points in races they were already competing in, creating a “double dip” effect. Competitors can simply select the event they wish to compete at and pay a small nomination fee proportionate to the size and payout of the event, then they earn points both on the VRQ leaderboard (which pays out a cash bonus for playing at the end of the year) maintain eligibility for weekly VRQ bonuses and nominate for specific Triple Crown of Rodeo (the BIG events) majors throughout the year. If they manage to win three Triple Crown of Rodeo events in a row (that pay out in preliminary rounds and a minimum of $15,000 for the big win at each) they unlock the $1 million bonus that bareback rider R.C. Landingham captured at the Cowtown Christmas Championships back in December 2022. Spare a few destination events each year, and barrel racers can cash in through the VRQ system without adding any extra diesel to their trucks, runs on their valued equine companions or paid time off to their job.

The organization was built with the working (wo)man in mind, and Barrel Racing Magazine caught up with seven ladies who combine their passion for barrels with full-time jobs to see how and why the WCRA helps them make it work.

Katie Loughran competes at the WCRA's Rodeo Corpus Christi
Katie Loughran threw down at the WCRA’s Rodeo Corpus Christi. Photo courtesy Loughran by Bull Stock Media.

Katie Loughran

Hometown: Broken Bow, Nebraska

Age: 30

Career: Registered Nurse in a Psychiatric Behavioral Health Unit

“Finding a balance between job obligations and attending barrel races is a constant struggle—it takes lot of dedication and planning. I focus on keeping horses in the best shape that I can to compete at the highest level possible, even if it requires early mornings and late nights.”

“It’s all about discipline, resiliency, and gratitude.”

–Katie Loughran

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Loughran advanced to the Showdown Round in the WCRA’s Rodeo Corpus Christi in May 2022.

Ashley Whatley competes at the INFR
Ashley Whatley nominated her runs at the Indian National Finals Rodeo to the WCRA. Photo courtesy of Whatley by Jamie Arviso Snapshots.

Ashley Whatley

Hometown: Sulphur, Oklahoma

Age: 35

Career: Online Charter School Teacher

“Having a full-time job is crazy because I’m also a mom of two little boys. The fact that I get to teach online gives me more freedom, and I can set a schedule with my students. I get up and work in the mornings, then take my kids to school, sometimes meet my charter students in person. I take off around lunch and go out and ride before I go get my kids from school. It’s a team effort with my husband Ryan Whatley.”

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Whatley most recently competed in the 2022 WCRA’s Cowtown Christmas Championship Rodeo, winning $400 in the second performance.

Sable Emerson competes in the Cowtown Coliseum
Sable Emerson works at a multi-generational family pharmacy. WCRA photo by Bull Stock Media.

Sable Emerson

Hometown: Malvern, Arkansas

Age: 33

Career: Pharmacist

“Working can be very difficult but very rewarding at the same time. There are so many opportunities with different associations that I must remind myself I can’t do them all. I set specific goals and really work towards them. Right now, I am really focused on competing at the Houston Rodeo and The American. Other goals I have for this year are to qualify for my circuit finals and make it to all the WCRA majors.”

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Emerson made waves at the 2022 WCRA Cowtown Christmas Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. She topped her performance to advance to the Showdown Round.

Mary Brooks competed at the 53rd IFR
Mary Brooks has a half a dozen irons in the fire and loves every minute of it. Image courtesy Brooks by 870 Photography.

Mary Brooks

Hometown: Proctor, Arkansas

Age: 45

Career: Olive Equine Insurance Salesman

“I have several jobs including selling insurance, selling Burns Saddles, representing several products and dealing Bluebonnet Feeds. I also take in about two outside horses a month. The way I keep myself organized is a notebook and email for each business, plus a desk calendar and strict schedule to take care of the feeding and work obligations. I like the constant drive and workload. We use an online app called Teamup for keeping out rodeos and races lined up with vet appointments and so on.”

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Brooks is currently sitting No. 3 on the Rodeo Corpus Christi leaderboard with 1,715.5 points. As a multiple-time IFR qualifier, she is one who is looking to take advantage of the IPRA’s alliance with the WCRA, where up to $10,000 in WCRA earnings can count toward IPRA World Standings dollars each season.

Madison Ann Iager gets low around a barrel
Madison Ann Iager commonly works extra hours to make sure she has the leeway to head to a rodeo in the evenings or on a weekend. Photo courtesy of Iager.

Madison Ann Iager

Hometown: Sadler, Texas

Age: 23

Career: Hairdresser

“I’m a hairdresser, so my hours are pretty flexible because my salon is so supportive of my rodeo career.

I don’t feel like I balance a career and horses, I just juggle it. The juggling is worth it to me because I’m someone who values both my hair dressing and my barrel horses, and I live my life in a way that doesn’t make me have to choose one. My weekdays often include early morning and late nights to prepare the horses. I work extra days when I can, so I have the flexibility to take off and rodeo when I need to. Something I love about the WCRA that every event counts, so I feel like I’m double dipping. If I play my cards right, I can make a Segment Finals being a weekend warrior.”

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Iager has been a supporter of the WCRA for multiple years. She qualified into the performances at Rodeo Corpus Christi in 2022 and cashed in at the 2022 Women’s Rodeo World Championship in May and the 2022 Cowtown Christmas Championships in December. She’s also picked up multiple VRQ weekly bonuses over the last two years and currently sits No. 9 in the challenger division for the 2023 WRWC.

Britteny Hipp rounds the second barrel
Oklahoman Britteny Hipp has hard work and grit to spare, working a full-time gig in the oilfield. Photo by Shea Cardwell Photography and was courtesy of Hipp.

Brittney Hipp

Hometown: Tuttle, Oklahoma

Age: 38

Career: Oilfield Sales

“Working full time and doing horses is like burning a candle at both ends—it’s an intricate balance of priorities that can lead to success. To manage it all, I make to do list in my notes on my phone. That way everyday I can accomplish everything on that list and make sure I stay on track. Calendar in my phone is a huge help as well, and I’ll set alarms for rodeo entry openings and closings.”

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Hipp has made appearances at the 2022 WRWC and the 2022 Days of ’47 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She currently sits No. 6 on the leaderboard for the 2023 WRWC with 1,397 points in the challenger division.

Julie Thomas heads for home on a barrel run
Julie Thomas loves her “littles” at school and her horses at home. Image by 870 Photography.

Julie Thomas

Hometown: Ranger, Georgia

Age: 50

Career: Assistant Principal

“Having a full-time career and horses takes patience, planning, and dedication. There are a lot of early morning and late nights to make sure all my responsibilities are taken care of. One thing I try to do is plan ahead for how busy (or not) my schedule will be each week.  I do my best to get my truck and trailer loaded and ready at the beginning of each week so that I’m not staying up late on the weeknights. This makes it easier to leave for the rodeo after a full day of work on Friday.”

WCRA ‘Wins:’ Thomas hit the 2021 Rodeo Corpus Christi and cited it as her favorite rodeo of the year en route to her second IPRA championship. In 2022, she continued to leverage WCRA rodeos to help capture both the International Finals Rodeo 53 aggregate win and her third IPRA championship.