Getting Cozy in Vegas: NFR Barrel Practice Recap Part 2

Here's how the barrel racers who entered the NFR No. 6-10 in the WPRA world standings utilized their time at the first NFR barrel racing practice of 2023.
Kassie Mowry and CP He Will be Epic NFR barrel racing
Kassie Mowry and CP He Will be Epic in the first round of the 2022 NFR. Ric Andersen/CBARC Photography.

It’s been determined that the National Finals Rodeo barrel racing will start on Dec. 8, 2023, and the barrel racers showed that they will be ready when the gates open with their NFR barrel racing practice session on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Here’s a recap of the middle third of the National Finals Rodeo barrel racing qualifiers who had their first practice prior to the 2023 NFR.

6. Kassie Mowry

Fans know that Mowry qualified for the NFR in 2023 on just 28 rodeos in the regular season and trained multiple horses competing at the event under other riders’ saddles, so it’s no surprise that her technical skill as a rider makes her fascinating to observe during slow working sessions.

  • Mowry stayed on CP He Will Be Epic for the entirety of the first practice. Will made waves when the nearly 17-hand American Quarter Horse placed in the tiny Thomas & Mack multiple times in 2022 in an o-ring bit at the tender age of 5. In 2023, the gelding stayed consistent in smaller setups, winning both the San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo and the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in the winter months.
  • Her bit of choice for slow work was a shanked bit, not the o-ring fans loved in 2022.
  • Mowry’s slow work included some common barrel racing exercises, as well as a few Mowry twists. The duo stopped gently going into Will’s first barrel, backed up and then entered the turn in a normal position. Once partway through the turn, Mowry took an exaggerated position on the backside and the position leaving the turn, giving Will extra steps.
  • She took the large gelding to the walls on her other turns, giving him adequate space to nose up to the yellow wall that is close behind his second turn and the roping boxes that sit behind the third turn.

Read: The Full List of NFR Horses, 2023 edition.

Listen: NFR preparation episodes on The Money Barrel.

7. Wenda Johnson

Wenda Johnson is another barrelr racer that knows how to win rounds inside the Thomas & Mack. She and Steal Money, “Mo,” won the first round of competition at the NFR in 2022. Read about that win here.

  • Johnson started out practice on Mo. She worked the smaller, bay gelding close to his turns. His body mirrored hers, with straight lines going in and out of the turns.
  • The special connection that Johnson shares with her horses was apparent during her slow work. She was seen petting Mo on the straightaways in the pattern, speaking to him nearly the entire time.
  • Next up, Johnson cruised through a pattern on Smoken French Winner, “Smoke.” Once the stallion saw the placement of the barrels in the arena, he understood the assignment and found his spots, while Johnson adjusted to his unique turning style on both of her easy times working through.
  • Johnson swapped to horse No. 3, Inspired Drifter, just as practice was about to end. Last month, Johnson won the 2023 WPRA World Finals Futurity Championship aboard the 5-year-old by Alone Drifter and out of A Secret Inspiration by Almars Secret. The young horse looked snappy and responsive inside the tricky setup.

8. Jessica Routier

Jessica Routier’s Fiery Miss West, “Missy,” is a fan-favorite all year long, but the South Dakota lady showed that she’s willing to change up her practice schedule to benefit her horses in the best way possible. Routier mentioned on The Money Barrel earlier this month that Missy knows her job well in Las Vegas, and she put her money where her mouth was by not even climbing aboard the palomino during the first practice.

  • Routier’s first horse in barrel practice was High On Smoothies, “Nicki,” a mare out of her collegiate national champion and multiple-time circuit champion, “Smoothie.”
  • She kicked things off with an easy trot through, where Nicki looked loose and relaxed through the pattern. When Routier added a little speed, Nicki tightened up and looked confident in each turn.
  • Next up for Routier was another relative of a great mare. Fiery Miss Daisy is a full sister to Missy, and her turning style showed the family traits.
  • Missy’s straight, upright style is one that’s studied by fans frequently. Daisy seems to mirror that style, staying shaped enough to keep space between herself and the barrel while maintaining a completely balanced turn. Routier looked extremely confident on the 5-year-old sorrel mare.

9. Summer Kosel

Summer Kosel may have been the talk of the first barrel racing practice after a unique headgear choice.

  • Kosel rode her gelding Firewaterfrenchfame, “Apollo,” calmly into the arena for her first pass through. In a halter. Yes, with her leather barrel racing reins clipped underneath on the same ring below Apollo’s throat, Kosel had an embellished bronc halter and nothing else on the small gelding.
  • As if the trotting through wasn’t impressive enough, Kosel made a flawless cruise through—and stopped before coming back through the bucking chutes at the end of the run—in the bronc halter, as well.
  • On her final pass, Kosel calmly walked Apollo around the arena while the gelding pricked his ears up and observed the Thomas & Mack crew members who were hanging banners along the top walkways. The first-time NFR qualifiers looked completely at ease in one of barrel racing’s most intimidating arenas.

10. Ilyssa Riley

With Riley’s Mistys Money Blurr, “Money,” being out of the 2023 NFR, she’s announced on her social media that TheMajorThriller, “Thriller,” will get the call as the starting horse for her first NFR experience. She swapped between two red geldings at her first barrel racing practice.

  • Riley started practice in a pair of split reins aboard her right-handed red horse, Championofthehouse, “Champ.” The long-necked gelding was round in his turns and it was easy to observe his floaty style through the backside of the turns.
  • After two passes of tuning on Champ, Riley climbed aboard Thriller. The gelding looked immediately comfortable in the Thomas & Mack.

Look back on Part 1 to see how No. 1-5 in the world standings utilized their time at the first NFR barrel racing practice.