For the Love of the Horse: Wenda Johnson Wins Round 1 of the 2022 NFR

Wenda Johnson may have topped Round 1 of the National Finals Rodeo, but it isn't the money that drives her—it's the love of the process and the horses beneath her.
Wenda Johnson barrel racing in round 1 of the NFR
Ric Andersen/CBarC Photos. Wenda Johnson in Round 1 of the NFR.

Wenda Johnson and Steal Money topped Round 1 of the 2022 National Finals Rodeo barrel racing with a 13.56-second run that had fans on the edge of their seats when the third barrel rocked as “Mo” and Johnson came around the backside.

“I was a little tight and I saw that we clipped it a little, but I looked down and saw that I didn’t hit it enough that it was going to go over,” Johnson said. “So I didn’t try to reach down or anything. I was like, ‘I think we’re okay. Let’s just finish our turns and run straight home and see how we end up.'”

The veteran move paid off. Johnson was No. 3 on the dirt and held through the remainder of the performance, despite Kassie Mowry’s attempt to upset aboard CP He Will Be Epic. Mowry’s 13.65 was close, but it was Johnson who held onto the $28,913.70 check.

For Johnson, though, it was never about turning a cloverleaf pattern or winning the big checks. It was about something deeper.

“The competitive side doesn’t necessarily drive me,” Johnson said. “It’s more of the development side of the horse that drives me and that’s what I enjoy the most.”

She’s worked hard on her mental game to be able to tune out the intensity of the Thomas & Mack, and it shone through in her ability to stay level through her run.

“I will say, my mom was a big advocate [of] teaching us from a very young age in the competition pen to kind of keep managing your emotions, number one,” Johnson said. “So I learned a long time ago to manage my emotions in the arena and not let myself get worked up.”

Not only is Johnson constantly working on her mental game, she works to improve herself and her horses around the clock.

“You know, I’m 41 years old, so I’ve had the last 20 years of working on these things to improve who I am as a person,” Johnson said. “Just like we’re out there trying to help these horses improve and be their best and reach their potential— I think it’s just as important for us as individuals to do the same.”

Wenda Johnson had an impressive win at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in 2022.

Johnson started her career in the WPRA later in life—she took a decade-long hiatus from barrel racing to work on her professional career and begin raising her family.

“I wanted to have that example for my two daughters,” Johnson said. “That education’s important and it gives you a lot of options. I didn’t run barrels for 10 years after I did college rodeo, which was okay. I mean, I rode—I love to ride—so I rode and rode every day. My husband’s in ranching, so we rode all the time together, but I didn’t compete.”

Once Johnson cracked back out, she went on a rollercoaster ride to the top in a hurry. Her third year as a WPRA member, she qualified for her first NFR in 2020 and has returned in both years since.

That love for the horse before the sport was instilled in Johnson at a young age. She began riding bareback with her mother and sister as a kid and credits her incredible balance, feel and seat to those hours spent without a saddle.

Johnson has taken a victory lap inside the Thomas & Mack once before. In 2021, she and Mo were 13.46 to get the win in round 4. This year, Johnson and the Highpoint Barrel Horses owned 2016 gelding are fired up and in the zone heading into the next 10 rounds.

“We’ve got nine more rounds to work on getting to our spots and getting around barrels,” Johnson said.

Listen to Johnson’s full interview on The Money Barrel Podcast.

Round 1 Payout

1$28,913.70Wenda Johnson13.56
2$22,851.95Kassie Mowry13.65
3$17,254.95Jordon Briggs13.70
4$12,125.10Leslie Smalygo13.8
5$7,461.60Emily Beisel13.82
6$4,663.50Dona Kay Rule13.91

Full NFR Round 1 Results

Pre-NFR RankingNameStarting $$Round 1 TimePlacingEarnings
1Jordon Briggs$177,779.1513.703$17,254.95
2Dona Kay Rule$127,441.7913.916$4,663.50
3Wenda Johnson$121,594.2713.571$28,913.70
4Stevi Hillman$120,602.2214.170
5Hailey Kinsel$119,389.5818.890
6Shelley Morgan$110,460.9214.040
7Sissy Winn$101,848.1614.190
8Margo Crowther$96,870.7113.920
9Emily Beisel$93,964.7613.8257,461.60
10Kassie Mowry$92,553.3013.652$22,851.15
11Bayleigh Choate (R)$90,892.8113.970
12Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi$88,431.7914.090
13Jessica Routier$86,863.1014.400
14Lisa Lockhart$84,870.9113.980
15Leslie Smalygo$84,453.0013.804$12,125.10