Practice Pays: First NFR Barrel Racing Practice Recap, Part 3

See how barrel racers who entered the NFR No. 11-15 in the WPRA world standings used their time at the first Thomas & Mack practice of 2023.
Sissy Winn barrel racing NFR
Sissy Winn won the first round of the 2023 NFR on "Scoop." PRCA Photo by Roseanna Sales.

The fine tuning during the first NFR barrel racing practice of 2023 paid off in spades for a few members of the WPRA’s top 15 during the first round of competition, so here’s how they prepared at Tuesday, Dec. 5’s arena time inside the Thomas & Mack.

11. Sissy Winn

Sissy Winn demonstrated exactly why NFR barrel racing practices are vital to the top 15’s performance in the first few rounds of competition in Las Vegas. She made adjustments during each pass, then utilized her time at the additional practice scheduled for barrel racers during the time the NFR was originally supposed to kick off on Thursday, Dec. 7 to get A R Dash Ta Flame, “Scoop,” working his best. This resulted in a Round 1 win for the South Texas 25-year-old.

  • On her first pass on Scoop at NFR barrel racing practice, Winn kept the large gelding relatively straight, approaching the first from the middle of the pen, then stopped him in a relaxed manner in the line between the first and second barrels. Giving herself a large pocket a tthe first, she trotted around it with one hand on the reins, then overfinished the turn with purpose and rode him straight to the yellow wall behind the second barrel before finishing the pattern.
  • In her running bit, a Kerry Kelley ticket snaffle, Winn cruised Scoop through on the next pass and drug over all three turns. She stayed in good spirits as she exited the arena, letting out a little cheer and laughing.
  • Next, Winn put a bit with a medium shank on Scoop and used a variety of easy drills to get the strong, higher-headed gelding behind the bridle and focused on his footwork.
  • Winn noted that she stayed in communication with Danyelle Campbell, who trained Scoop to make adjustments, and utilized the last-minute practice to tune herself and Scoop before Round 1
  • Winn also took a relaxed pass through on her newest mount, This Guy Will Moonya, “King,” who looked curious but confident in the Thomas & Mack.

12. Stevi Hillman

Hillman stays in control of her team of winning mares well, and their younger ages show in her slow work. Hillman alotted the majority of her practice time to drills on Sand In My Socks, “Sandi,” and RV Brijett, “Brijett.”

  • Hillman entered the arena in a hackamore during her first
  • Adjustments were constantly made to keep Sandi calm and focused on the pattern. Hillman stopped multiple times, reversed back to previous barrels and worked in unique counterarcing patterns at various points in the arena.
  • Hillman did her slow work in a hackamore on Sandi, an adjustment she made since the 2022 NFR when she ran in a bit.

13. Hailey Kinsel

  • Kinsel spent her time on Sister mostly walking in various patterns around the barrels, allowing the spicy yellow mare to break into a light trot between barrels.
  • In 2022, Sister spooked on her first pass in the arena, but in 2023 she seemed to remember where she was at on the first try. (Yes, despite Sister’s placements in the NFR recordbooks during performances, she spooks inside the Thomas & Mack when it’s quiet.)
  • A headgear change-up for the slow session was in play. Sister was sporting a German Martingale setup with her bit for her relaxed session.
  • Next, Kinsel rode Slick N Black, Cayla Melby Small’s mare by the famed mare, RC Back In Black.
  • Kinsel worked to keep the excitable mare at a trot and allowed her to get more comfortable around the barrels with each pass and simply trotted her through.

14. Sue Smith

Sue Smith is the most experienced trainer in the pack of 15, and her slow working sessions are mesmerizing to observe. Her extremely correct seat, legs and hands had both of her horses looking like old pros at NFR barrel racing practice.

  • First up was Diamond Center, “Hef,” the first lefty to enter the practice. Smith kept him straight and spaced out evenly around all sides of the barrel, with a more rounded turn at her third.
  • Her hands were low, quiet and close together through most of her sessions.
  • After Diamond Center, Smith climbed aboard Jennifer Kalafatic’s Rockin The Guns, “Roc.”
  • Roc started out at a trot. Smith looked less confident in the gelding’s positioning, which is understandable. Kalafatic explained just weeks before the finals that Smith hadn’t ever ran the dark gelding.
  • Smith’s transitions at a trot and walk going into her turns were worth writing in the notebook. Her rating moves were flawless as her horses transitioned from faster to slower speeds when approaching their turning points at each barrel.

15. Paige Jones

Paige Jones, at 21 years old and on her first trip to Vegas, already looked at home inside the Thomas & Mack on the barrel pattern.

  • It was little surprise that Jones started her practice on Famous Hayday, or “Bazinga,” the gelding that helped Jones win most of her 2023 ProRodeo earnings.
  • The gelding apeared to crawl through his turns, and Jones took him nearly to the fence on the backside of the barrels, then closed her turns in a straighter, snappy move to propel on the straightaways.
  • Jones was quick, yet kind when correcting the gelding at various points on the course.
  • Bazinga was the only NFR horse sporting a war bonnet as part of his headgear setup.
  • Next up, Jones rode High Cotton Lane, whom she jockeyed as a teenager to a Barrel Futurities of America world championship.
  • Cotton seemed feisty in the quiet arena, and Jones kept his eagerness from tripping him up as she worked in mixed sizes of circles around the barrels.