Emma Charleston of Reeds, Missouri, fought an uphill barrel racing battle during the 2022 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, but rallied through to write her name in the history books.
Competing in Bracket Four of the preliminary rounds, Charleston earned her ticket into the prestigious rodeo by way of the 2022 WPRA World Standings. Her weapon of choice in the first round was Makana, a 7-year-old mare by Slick By Design and out of Rods Last Ladybug. During their run, Makana suffered a nasty slip that left her swollen and sore. Charleston was hopeful that she would recover before the next round but had to make the hard decision to bench the red mare just before the performance the following evening.
Luckily, Emma Charleston had another barrel racing bullet in the gun. TR Designer Wild Child, known as “Paisley,” had been on the backburner, but Charleston believed that divine intervention forced her to give the mare her chance in the spotlight.
“God had been telling me to get on my bay mare (Paisley) for a while, but I wasn’t listening,” Charleston said. “God was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to get on her, whether you like it or not.”
Charleston’s faith paid off. In the second round of her bracket, she turned in a 14.03 and captured second behind Jordon Briggs’ 13.97-second run. Charleston earned $2,000 for her efforts and it was enough to earn her a position in the semifinals.
The following evening in the third round, Paisley was eighth on the ground and suffered a slip during the run, landing her on the injured list with Makana.
While most competitors were relaxing and hiding out from the ice storms before the semifinals, Charleston was at the vet’s office making sure that her horses were well taken care of. Her dedication paid off and Paisley was able to compete in the semifinals. Another draw towards the bottom of the ground prolonged Charleston’s struggles, however.
“In the semifinals, Paisley slipped at the first, and the second, and then decided she wasn’t going to try turning the third,” Charleston explained.
The ground troubles didn’t seem to dampen Charleston’s spirits, as she used it as motivation by studying how the veteran horses handled the footing. Charleston drew third on the ground in the Wildcard round, and Paisley had a smooth run, which resulted in a 14.15-second time, and a tie for first place.
“I split the Wildcard round with Paige Jones, but she had won more money coming into the round, so she got to advance. However, it still paid $4,500 to both of us, so I was grateful,” Charleston said.
Makana and Paisley weren’t the only two horses on Charleston’s trailer in San Antonio. She also brought Play Patty Mac, her 18-year-old gelding whom she calls “Dude.” He isn’t very quick on the barrel pattern but is lightning fast coming out of a roping box. Charleston is just as deadly with a breakaway rope in her hand as she is on the cloverleaf pattern, and Dude has been her faithful mount for many years.
Punching her ticket through the 2021 WPRA World Standings, Charleston kicked off Bracket Four of the inaugural breakaway roping in San Antonio with a new arena record by roping her calf in 1.7-seconds. In the following round, a broken barrier turned another 1.7-second time into an 11.7 but resulted in a second-place finish in the round. She stayed behind the barrier in the third round to tie Tibba Smith for the win with a 2.2-second run, and her combined earnings of $3,375 sent her through to the semifinals.
“You have to be fast to win, but my game plan was to slow down,” Charleston said. “I practice and throw fast every day in the practice pen. You just have to wiggle your toes, take a deep breath, and let it happen.”
Charleston drew a hard-running calf in both the semifinals, and later in the finals that bested her and Dude, but she didn’t let that struggle break her spirits.
“Those are just little battles that you have to overcome. You can’t make excuses, because everybody struggles,” Charleston said. “I couldn’t do it without God and my parents,” Charleston said. “I’m just so grateful to be here, and thankful to win a little along the way.”
Charleston, a 24-year-old, has been involved in both breakaway and barrel racing for as long as she can remember. Her father, Kevin, is a successful steer wrestler and team roper, and her mother, Trish, has always been supportive of her barrel racing career. She had success at the youth, high school, and amateur levels growing up. After starting her collegiate career at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and finishing her Agricultural Business degree at Tarleton State University, Charleston returned to Missouri and took to the rodeo trail in 2021. She learned hard lessons along the way and gained a new respect for competitors at the professional level.
“Last year was a long summer. I came home after Dodge City, Kansas. Both of my mares were hurt, and I had lost about 10 pounds. It’s definitely a learning experience your first year, and you gain a new respect for rodeo cowgirls,” Charleston said.
One thing is for sure. Emma Charleston is taking every battle thrown her way and powering through. This Missouri cowgirl certainly proved that she can be successful at the highest level in both barrel racing and breakaway roping by being the first and only female competitor in 2022 to progress in two events.