How Kacey Gartner Prepared Her Sleek Speedster “Mercedes” to Dominate the Pendleton Round-Up

Kacey Gartner’s “Mercedes” cruised to the barrel racing win on the iconic “Green Mile" thanks to thoughtful preparation and high-octane performances.
Kaseuy Gartner winning Pendleton Round-up Barrel Racing
WT Bruce Photo

Kacey Gartner’s Rebel Look, known as “Mercedes,” doesn’t look like the perfect Pendleton horse, but there’s something magical about her love for barrel racing on the iconic “Green Mile.”

“She’s tiny—only 14.2 (hands tall), but I could never tell her that,” Gartner said. “Mercedes loves it there, she knows where we’re going the moment we walk over the bridge and across the grass. It’s a whole different feel than she gets at any other rodeo.”

The diminutive mare has had success at Pendleton before. In 2018, Gartner’s rookie season, she and Mercedes won the short round and second in the aggregate, a feat they repeated in 2019. Pendleton was shut down in 2020, but Gartner returned in 2021 and made it to the short round once again, but hit a barrel.

“That barrel haunted me all year long,” Gartner said. “I just didn’t want to hit one this year!”

Not only did Gartner keep it clean, she showed out. Her 28.57-second run won the first round and $5,381, then she returned in the short round to clock a 28.54 that earned her second in the round, worth $1,708, the aggregate win and another $5,381. In 57.11 seconds, they raked in a total of $12,470.

“She’s been special from the day she was born. There was no way she wasn’t going to be a winner—her personality, her attitude—she’s a goer, a doer and wants to please you all the time. She’s just a special mare.”

Kacey Gartner

Mercedes had the talent from an early age. The mare is a 2012 model by JD Look and out of Jo Jos Dasher. Mercedes was raised by Gartner and was the first horse that she trained from the ground up. She credits Justin Bailey, a reined cow horse trainer for helping her when she hit roadblocks in the mare’s development.

2022 Pendleton barrel racing championship earning horse, Rebel Look.

After watching Kacey have successful futurity and derby years on the mare, Kacey’s husband, Chance, helped give her the shove to try her hand at ProRodeos.

“He was the one that bought my permit and told me it was time to go,” Gartner said. “He pushed me along. I was always the one packing the kids in the truck, videoing and supporting him but he said, ‘You’ve got the horse, it’s time for you to go and do it.'”

Mercedes filled Gartner’s permit at her first rodeo, and they never looked back. She qualified for the Columbia River Circuit finals three years—only skipping 2020, when she was recovering from injuries from a horse riding accident. The mare also made it all the way to The American Rodeo, where Gartner learned more about her trusted mount.

“She’s always done well in little pens and indoors, and then I realized at At&T Stadium—we need walls,” Gartner said. Like, she can run in the big patterns, but she’s got to have walls. Everybody laughs at me because I won’t run her at any of these big, open arenas like Ellensburg (Washington), but I’ll run her at Pendleton, and I’m like yeah, there’s walls there!”

Although the distance is insanely long between the barrels, Gartner’s theory held true in Pendleton. She showcased incredible speed and nearly blew past the second barrel during her short round run.

“I was just praying she was going to turn,” Gartner recalled. “I think she was running harder than I’ve ever felt her run between the first and second and I was just praying she’d slow down enough to turn. She runs in very straight lines and she’s very snappy on the backside, so I think that helps there. A lot of horses will kind of duck and dive there, but she runs so straight and is so confident in where she’s going. She has more of a game plan than I do.”

Kacey Gartner’s run in the Pendleton barrel racing finals.

Many folks are curious about what it takes to get a horse truly ready for Pendleton, and rightfully so. Cowgirls have recounted creative stories of breezing through wheat fields, running barrels in pastures and other stories of how they prepare for the rodeo. However, Gartner has never tried any of these tactics, and the only time Mercedes has seen the Pendleton setup is when it’s game time.

Instead, Gartner focuses on control in her preparation. She builds the mare’s wind and strength up in a controlled environment and focuses on safety and confidence.

“It takes a lot of nerve to run there—it scares me every time,” Gartner said. “I just need to know that the foundation is there in case something goes wrong. She stumbled in 2019 and still won money, and I give credit to how hard we work on footwork and placement. I could just pick her up and knew she wouldn’t go all the way down. When they’re going that fast, to have one balanced is the most important thing to me.”

She continued,

“We have a pretty big arena, so I’ll lope her out pretty hard and fast on the straightaway and then stand her up in a corner and make her be more square, then sprint to the next side. So nothing out in open fields, I do that in the arena. I have a big hill behind my house and build her strength up there.”

Gartner had her husband, Chance, and son, Jaxson (12) in attendance for her win, but her daughter, Paige (17) was at a high school rodeo and got to watch on The Cowboy Channel Plus App. The kids are following closely in their parents’ footsteps, with Gartner already carving out a name for herself in the northwestern barrel racing circles, and Jaxson competing in chute dogging, aspiring to be like his steer wrestler father. Pendleton is a family affair for the Gartners, and they attend nearly every performance during the week.

“Everybody asked if I was going to ‘Let ‘er Buck,” after I won,” Gartner said. “I was like, no, I’m going home. I’m tired. I love it, but I’ve had enough of Pendleton—until next year.”

Looking ahead, Gartner jumped up in the Columbia River Circuit standings after her win and is now the only cowgirl within striking distance of No. 1 cowgirl, Cheyenne Allan. She is set to make her third trip to the Columbia River Circuit Finals, which she won in 2021 and earned her spot into the inaugural NFR Open.

Gartner passed her gratitude along to the friends and family who have supported her along the way, her clients for being huge supporters and willing to move appointments around unpredictable rodeo schedules, and to Mercedes for turning her dreams into reality.

“The victory lap yesterday was pretty freakin’ awesome, but I just wish she could have taken it,” Gartner said. “I was a jockey along for the ride that she took me on and she deserves it all.”

Pendleton Round-Up Results

First round: 1. Kacey Gartner, 28.57 seconds, $5,381; 2. Katie Pascoe, 28.84, $4,613; 3. Teri Bangart, 28.89, $3,844; 4. Cheyenne Allan, 29.01, $3,331; 5. Italy Sheehan, 29.05, $2,563; 6. Shelly Mull, 29.12, $2,050; 7. (tie) Lisa Lockhart and Leia Pluemer, 29.15, $1,281 each; 9. Jessica Lewis, 29.21, $769; 10. Cierra Erickson, 29.31, $513

Finals: 1. Leia Pluemer, 28.38 seconds, $2,278; 2. Kacey Gartner, 28.54, $1,708; 3. Cheyenne Allan, 28.62, $1,139; 4. Lisa Lockhart, 28.74, $569

Aggregate: 1. Kacey Gartner, 57.11 seconds on two head, $5,381; 2. Leia Pluemer, 57.53, $4,613; 3. Cheyenne Allan, 57.63, $3,844; 4. Lisa Lockhart, 57.89, $3,331; 5. Jessica Lewis, 58.09, $2,563; 6. Teri Bangart, 59.02, $2,050; 7. Cierra Erickson, 59.22, $1,538; 8. Rachelle Riggers, 59.76, $1,025; 9. Taycie Matthews, 62.57, $769; 10. Shelly Mull, 62.64, $513

Columbia River Circuit Standings

As of September 20, 2022 from

1Cheyenne AllanMabton, WA$36,738.3231
2Kacey GartnerWalla Walla, WA$21,442.6721
3Rachelle RiggersLewiston, ID$14,419.3519
4Chelsie Stodghill (R)Prineville, OR$13,562.0921
5Tristan Parrish (R)Purcell, OK$12,628.5324
6Teri BangartOlympia, WA$10,656.1628
7Rainy RobinsonCaldwell, ID$9,623.2226
8Shelly MullAmity, OR$9,454.5229
9Bailey ClineRoseburg, OR$9,002.0417
10Abby SutfinHomedale, ID$8,254.7127
11Lexie GossRedmond, OR$8,095.1530
12Jessica Dawn LewisPendleton, OR$7,911.3017
13Megan McLeod-SpragueMarsing, ID$7,057.0118
14Pamela CokerCheney, WA$6,623.4132
15Jordan MinorHermiston, OR$6,336.2327