Wenda Johnson’s Jockeying for World Standings Dominance in 2024

Johnson and Steal Money have banked over $75,000 already this ProRodeo season.
Wenda Johnson and Steal Money "Mo" barrel racing Clovis
Wenda Johnson and Mo won Clovis 2024 | Hailey Rae Photography

Wenda Johnson pulled off an impressive feat in the spring of 2024 by taking over the lead in the WPRA barrel racing World Standings and nosing out RodeoHouston champion Leslie Smalygo.

Now, the two are swapping out weekly as they jockey for the No. 1 position en route to NFR 2024. (Stay tuned for full ProRodeo results from Memorial Day Weekend to get the tea on Leslie Smalygo’s big move.)

We had the chance to catch up with Johnson to see what’s working for her and Steal Money, “Mo,” in 2024 on the ProRodeo scene, what’s ahead and more. Plus, check out some fan-submitted questions via our social media page that Johnson answered at the end.

Q: Do you feel like you and Mo have just found your groove lately? Or is there anything you’ve done differently to have all of the success you have had recently in various setups?

Wenda Johnson: Steal Money “Mo” has always made successful runs since his first competitive run as a five-year-old. It is important to keep any great horse in tiptop shape, healthy, and minimize the risk for injury so that they can reach their potential and be a successful as possible, of course. Fortunately, Mo had a strong winter run that contributed to our success.

Mo is so smart and can adjust to any set up, size, or type of arena. That is one of his many amazing qualities. 

Q: Break down your win at San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo.

WJ: During our competitive runs at San Angelo, our first run was in the Spur Arena. Normally, this pen is the best ground we run on during the winter rodeos, however that was not the case this year. Many horses struggled, and there was definitely concern to send Mo in there to make a run. He was able to stay square and run hard. I did my best to try not to touch the reins and let him pick his feet. His efforts paid off for thw win, and that gave us a .3 lead going into the performances.

The second run was in the coliseum during the performance and we made run that tied us for second in the second go.

During the final run, we had a half a second lead, and I never typically never get nervous for any runs. However, it was pretty nerve-racking to know I needed to make a clean, smooth fast run to clinch the title. We made a solid run, kept our lead in the average and got the win.

Q: Talk about your win at Clovis

WJ: It was fun being back at Clovis after winning it on Macgyver Moonflash “ Mac “ last year. I made a smooth solid run in the first go to win first. In the second go, I was a little long to place, but I came into the finals sitting second in the average. Mo ran hard in the finals and won second in the short go, which secured the average title for us.

Fun Fact– Last year in 2023, Mac’s win at Clovis put him over the $500,000 mark in lifetime earnings. This year after Mo’s win in Clovis, he also crossed the $500,000 lifetime earnings. It was neat to run two horses by the same sire and have them meet that milestone one year apart at the same rodeo.

Wenda Johnson barrel racing
Wenda Johnson and Steal Money ran the fastest time of San Angelo’s slack. Andersen/CBarC Photography

Q: Is being at the top of the standings changing up your strategy for summer? 

WJ: My goal typically is to keep my rodeo count low and save runs. My summer will be similar to previous years, plus I’ll try be taking Alone Drifter, a 6-year-old gelding owned by HighPoint barrel horses on the trailer and will try to run him some.

Q: What is your support system like, and how does that impact your success?

WJ: Having a great support system is invaluable. My husband is my biggest support, but it’s also great to be part of such a good team at Highpoint. All of us share knowledge and experience to reach a common goal.

There are also many others that are a part of my journey, from friends and family that let me stay at their homes or help us along the way. We even get to meet so many great people along our journey, plus I’m appreciative of the fans. We love when people reach out and share their excitement.

Fan-submitted questions for Wenda Johnson

Q: How do you find balance between your medical and professional careers? Also, how do you balance your family obligations with your professional life? 

WJ: Finding and keeping balance in all aspects of my life is very important. Prioritizing is a necessity. At times there are fluctuations of what particular part of my life require more attention or less attention, but it always starts with God, family, then careers. For instance, I didn’t compete for 10 years while my husband and I were getting a start in our life and raising our children. I knew the financial and time commitment that competing would take, so I chose to spend that time at home. For my educational journey, I finished up with my doctorate over an eight year process, with some breaks. It is all right to take the time needed to accomplish the goal.  I feel like as long as there’s progression and one thing is not completely dominating your life, causing unintended consequences or detrimental issues, then most goals can be met at any timeframe you want. Progress is progress. That’s why we are on this life’s journey—to learn and progress.

Q: How important are physical fitness and nutrition to barrel racing in your opinion or experience? Do you do anything to stay in shape/prioritize your health when competing?

WJ: Physical fitness is very important for both myself and my horses. Both need to be able to perform at a high level. Core strength improves your ability to sit on a horse and stay in the middle of them, of course, but you als oneed to have a balance of physical strenth, endurance and mental focus and awareness.

It’s so easy to talk about the physical aspect and how it contributes to the competitiveness, however the mental aspect is just as important. Nutrition is what feeds the brain and supplies our body with energy. For me, my body requires a high protein diet with a nice mix of carbs to function and stay mentally sharp. It is important to find a nice balance that is specific for you and your body type, by paying attention to what your body needs or the right supplementation if you’re not getting it through nutrition .

Q: Do you feel that God led you to the great horses in your life? If so, can you give some insight into that journey? 

WJ: I absolutely believe my Heavenly Father brought these amazing horses into my life! He also knew my talents, abilities, and capabilities and gave me the right situation to open the door for me to reach my potential. It wasn’t handed to me, and I still put forth the effort and hard work to become the woman that I am today. I am humbled and grateful for the many great horses that have touched my life and first and foremost I’m really just a girl that loves spending time with the horses (competitive or not), it truly brings me joy and I thank God every day! 

Q: How do you prepare for a run mentally and handle the ups and downs of barrel racing? 

WJ: There is always gonna be ups and downs in barrel racing and life. How you approach and view the ups and down is very important. It takes self-awareness, humility, emotional maturity, and many other aspects to keep a positive light to challenges. In the same breath we must be realistic on what control you have over the things you can change, and then identifying the things that are out of your hands. Then you can progress through most situations. My friend and coach, Stephanie always quotes a great saying. “ If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.” It’s our own individual responsibility to manage our lives (all aspects, including running barrels) through managing the ups and downs by finding a nice middle ground. 

During my runs, I work towards keeping my heart rate down and focusing on what my horse needs that day from me as a horseman. It’s really about accountability on my part—how can I be my best to help my horse and I become a team?

In addition, I work toward analyzing each aspect of the run when I’m running barrels. The next concern is minimizing anxiety and tightness. I was fortunate when I was younger that my parents taught me how to control the anxiety that can come along with competition and they were great about encouraging me to have fun and enjoy the ride.. to this day, I still enjoy even the simplest of things the horses bring into our lives and they’re willingness to try so hard for us. 

Q: Any plans to run Mo (or any other horses) bareback at ProRodeos?

WJ: Riding bareback is one of my favorite pasttimes. It is also a great avenue for me to stay in shape and work on my core strength and ability as a horseman. As far as I know, the WPRA has a rule that requires us to have a western saddle to compete. There may be some associations that do not require a saddle, but for the most part majority of the competition pens will require it due to safety. Outside the competition arena, however, I love to go ride around bareback and enjoy spending time with the horses.