Far From Finished: Dona Kay Rule and High Valor Back Inside Top 15 With Guymon Win

Don't you dare count Dona Kay and Valor out just yet.
Dona Kay Rule and High Valor win Guymon barrel racing
Dona Kay Rule and High Valor win Guymon Pioneer Days 2024. Dale Hirschman Photography.

An all-time favorite of barrel racing fans, the race-bred gelding High Valor was hurt way worse than his trainer, Dona Kay Rule, knew when he fell down violently at the back of the third barrel last summer in Calgary, Alberta, dumping Rule and scrambling in terror.  

By fall, she had turned out of everything. Valor’s injuries were serious enough that he went to live, literally, with Dr. Amy Barnes DVM in Colorado for six weeks. Then he went home to Minco, Oklahoma, with Rule for five months where she painstakingly hand-walked him, followed by walking him two miles a day for weeks. Rule was not optimistic. It didn’t look good.  

“I thought, ‘Well, this horse does not owe me anything,’” she recalled. “I owe him everything.” 

Dona Kay Rule and Valor winning NFR Round 3 in 2021. Avid Visual Imagery

Indeed, the horse had put Rule on the map outside Oklahoma, where she was known as a tough trainer for years. She bought him as a 4-year-old from Lana Merrick, after which Rule and Phil Haugen had quite a time getting the colt under control.  

But it turned out. Dona Kay Rule and Valor made four consecutive NFR appearances (2019-22), during which time Valor was named the Purina WPRA Horse of the Year in 2019 and ’20, runner-up Horse of the Year in 2022 – and the WPRA’s Horse with Most Heart in both 2021 and ’22. 

Surprisingly, the trainer had nothing else to ride while Valor recovered last year. It was because Rule was intentionally not buying any more horses – she thought her barrel racing days were over because of her left hip.  

“I’m pretty tough,” said Rule, who before her 2021 run at Fort Worth had to ask someone else to warm up her horse. “Things don’t bother me, but I’d run home and hit that corner and about puke from the pain.” 

She got a new hip in April that year, though, and once they had her up and walking within hours, she proclaimed to her family they’d better start “hunting some colts” for her. Today, Rule is riding a 6-year-old half-sister to Valor for the Jensens of ND Bar Quarter Horses in North Dakota, and she bought a 4-year-old from ’80s-era team roper Bret Boatright that’s a leggy thing. She’s excited, of course, about the colt’s Thoroughbred background. 

After all, Valor is by Valiant Hero by First Down Dash out of a Chicks Beduino/Azure Te/Rebs Policy mare. And he was out of Rare High, a granddaughter of The Signature (crossed on a Dash For Cash/Go Man Go mare). Possibly, it was that thoroughbred lineage that helped make him tough. 

This winter, once he was sound, Rule didn’t bother even hauling Valor to a jackpot; she took him straight to San Antonio for checks worth $4,500, to Houston where he earned $7,750 and to San Angelo, where he raked in $11,587 for third. Valor actually tipped barrels at San Antonio, Houston and Austin to win a staggering amount. By the time Rule took him outdoors to Guymon, he nearly ran over the gate man to get into the arena.  

“The break did him a tremendous amount of good, and it probably didn’t hurt me, either,” said Rule, who clocked the only sub-17-second time of the rodeo to win the first round in slack en route to the aggregate title. 

“Guymon has always been a bucket-list rodeo,” she said. “I’ve won rounds there, but I’ve never won the average until now. It’s just been such a historical rodeo in our circuit, so this is pretty special.” 

Rule has earned at least a half-million dollars with Valor, despite finishing the 2020 regular season in third place – and being blocked from NFR competition thanks to a positive Covid test. 

“When you get old like me, you’d better get on it or get over it,” said the 66-year-old. “And right now there are such great horsewomen and great horses out here, that this makes me happy.” 

Dona Kay Rule barrel racing in San Angelo
Dona Kay Rule and High Valor placed deep at San Angelo 2024. Andersen/CBarC Photography.

Valor, it’s hard to believe, is 15 now.  

“Me and him are both kind of aging a little bit,” said Rule, who with her husband John raised two kids and ran a saddle shop in Oklahoma City for 28 years. But her $6,923 Guymon paycheck boosted her to No. 15 in the world standings.

If Rule’s superstar gelding keeps working well, she’s going to keep going. 

“Heck yeah, I’d like to make the NFR again,” she said. “And if not, then it’s been a helluva ride, you know?”