Tracy Nowlin’s been a Prairie Circuit staple for many years aboard her great mares, but in 2023 she put an exclamation point on an emotional season with a big win in Duncan, Oklahoma, at the Prairie Circuit Finals October 13-15.
Nowlin entered the PCFR ranked No. 4 in the circuit with $10,616 on the year. She kicked off round one with a solid 16.17-second run, worth $1,343 for her second-place tie. In round two, Nowlin turned in a 16.15, which was good enough for fourth in the round and $537. In the third round, Nowlin took advantage of her No. 1 position on the ground.
“(My son) asked me what I was going to do before I ran,” Nowlin said. “You just don’t waste top of the ground when you draw it, so I told him I was going to send her.”
The strategy paid off and Nowlin earned the round win in the fastest time of the PCFR, a 15.98-second run, worth the $2,149 round win and the $3,223 aggregate win with her 48.30 on two. Her weekend total came out to $7,252 and will count toward the 2024 WPRA world standings.
Nowlin made the decision to come off the ProRodeo trail during the summer after extensive truck problems, family health problems and general burnout piled up.
“I looked at my dad one day and said ‘I’m done, God’s telling me to go home,'” Nowlin said. “Then I turned out and came back. I was burned out. They had just totaled my truck. My mom was fighting health issues. I had never felt like that about running barrels—I love running barrels. I mentally just wasn’t myself. I had no fire. I decided to take some time to go home, ride colts and take some time away.”
Although her parents had to watch from home due to doctors appointments, her son, Ty (23) came to show his support at the 2023 PCFR.
“It was so much fun having him there—like, we actually had fun,” Nowlin said. “(PCFR) is so laid back, the contestants just get to make runs, relax and enjoy it. The ground was probably the best I’ve ever seen it in Duncan. The committee tells us what they need from us, and we all just do it. It’s a great group, and a tough group in the arena. We’re not the circuit that has big sponsors or is very fancy with a lot of money—it’s a lot of people who have jobs outside of rodeo, but they’ve done it forever and they take care of business.”
The win left Nowlin with not only some money toward the 2023 WPRA world standings and a refreshed outlook on what’s ahead for her barrel racing career, but also awarded a qualification to the NFR Open in Colorado Springs, Colorado, alongside circuit year-end champion and reserve aggregate winner, Emily Beisel.
“I’ve never won a dime at Colorado Springs,” Nowlin said. “But, we’ve always ran a qualifier first. Dolly doesn’t like jackpots—she gets fired up at rodeos. I also heard the ground is much deeper for the qualifier, but harder for the performances. I think she’s going to like it.”
“PRO” files: Tracy Nowlin
Nowlin, 52, hails from Nowata, Oklahoma. She grew up with a flair for the arts in a family full of ropers—Terry Postrach Sr., was a well-known calf roper, and her brother, Terry Postrach Jr., was a three-time IPRA World Champion calf roper—and had the opportunity to pursue an art degree, or stick to rodeo after high school. She picked her saddle over a painter’s brush and has never looked back. She traveled first with her her older brother, sometimes with her parents and later, Ty. She remembers qualifying for her inaugural PRCF around 2004 on her great horse, Dusty Rose. Dusty qualified Nowlin many times to the IFR and for years, also the PCFR. After Nowlin retired Dusty at age 18, the mare became a successful producer, and Nowlin is enjoying training her colt when she isn’t putting money on the line. Then, along came the horse that brought Nowlin’s name to the national spotlight in 2018.
Registered DJG Madison, Dolly Jo is a 2006 mare by Royal Blue Chew Chew and out of Run Madison by Sunset Six. Nowlin originally intended to purchase the mare as a tie-down roping horse for her son, but they weren’t a match. The then 8-year-old mare had some vices that weren’t going to work in the calf roping game. However, Nowlin couldn’t force herself to send the mare home, and eventually purchased her for $1,850.
After learning the ropes in the barrel arena, Dolly Jo excelled. Her electric speed, coupled with her hard turns captivated fans in both the IPRA and ProRodeo circuits. When Nowlin qualified for the NFR in 2018, fans rallied behind the team as the Cinderella story of the finals.
It’s no secret that rodeo athletes don’t have the best health insurance. The NFR, and the money won wasn’t just a trip to the ball for Nowlin—it helped her get access to a top-notch surgeon to repair nerve and muscle damage to her right side. Prior to her surgery, doing her job on a barrel horse had become close to torture.
The surgery was a major one, not just because of the original injury, but the amount of time it had progressed.
“They took a rib out because it was on the thorasic nerve tunnel,” Nowlin said. “Nerves only heal about a half an inch every year. My rotator cuff was wrecked, the bicep finally ripped, so nothing’s holding it. There’s just a lump in my arm it’s not attached, just a big knot in my arm. I still don’t have much arm strength. It’s a good thing (Dolly Jo) always wants to turn the first barrel.”
During her recovery time, Nowlin struggled some on the rodeo trail. Although she was willing to grit through the pain, her mare wasn’t as willing to let her rider hurt. Dolly Jo was holding back, knowing that her hard turns left Nowlin slightly behind and in pain.
In 2023, Nowlin and Dolly Jo are starting to look like themselves, evident from their performance at PCFR.
“She’s got her confidence back,” Nowlin said. “And I can react when I need to react.”
Moving forward, Nowlin wants to keep her focus on family while she continues to make a living by running around three barrels. She has some promising young horses coming up, including a baby out of Dusty named “Snort,” but Dolly Jo is still holding strong as her No. 1 at 17 years old. Nowlin’s still working to get into the 2023 invitational winter rodeos, and plans to be choosy about where she runs in 2023, basing her entries off of Dolly Jo’s favored rodeos and how to capitalize on each entry fee.
Prairie Circuit Finals barrel racing results 2023
First round: 1. Emily Beisel, 16.02 seconds, $2,149; 2. (tie) Emma Charleston and Tracy Nowlin, 16.17, $1,343 each; 4. Ivy Hurst, 16.38, $537
Second round: 1. Suzanne Brooks, 16.04 seconds, $2,149; 2. Sadie Wolaver, 16.09, $1,612; 3. Ivy Hurst, 16.13, $1,074; 4. Tracy Nowlin, 16.15, $537
Third round: 1. Tracy Nowlin, 15.98 seconds, $2,149; 2. Suzanne Brooks, 16.09, $1,612; 3. Sadie Wolaver, 16.10, $1,074; 4. Emily Beisel, 16.15, $537
Average: 1. Tracy Nowlin, 48.30 seconds on three head, $3,223; 2. Emily Beisel, 48.41, $2,417; 3. Sadie Wolaver, 48.58, $1,612; 4. Ivy Hurst, 48.74, $806.
NFR Open qualifications
Prairie Circuit year-end champion: Emily Beisel
PCFR Aggregate: Tracy Nowlin