Each of the top 15 barrel racers in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association earned their 2022 qualification to the 2022 National Finals Rodeo, period.
But, that doesn’t change the fact that over the next 10 days, those 15 will have the same shot at a maximum payday of $363,286.92 inside the Thomas & Mack arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Dec. 1–10.
No world title is secured—there’s Calgary and The American qualifications on the line. All eyes are watching—couch jockeys are saddling up inside their living room—and it starts at 5:45 P.M. PST today.
So, what’s the NFR secret sauce?
Five-time NFR qualifier and two-time World Champion barrel racer Kelly Kaminski explains it simply. The sport has changed drastically over the past few years, but the fundamentals that it takes to win at the highest level have not.
“For the most part, the ones who are most successful stay centered and are helping their horse in that manner,” Kaminski said. “People that are successful go back to the same basic style.”
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Kaminski knows the value of a horse that loves Las Vegas well. Her great gelding, Rockem Sockem Go, was consistent and a major speedster inside the yellow walls, helping Kaminski secure both of her world championships in dramatic fashion during the Finals.
“A good horse is a good horse is a good horse; same with riders,” Kaminski said. “Everybody has worked super hard to get there. Now, it all depends on how much your horse loves the Thomas & Mack.”
Kaminski has stayed involved with barrel racing youth, hosting clinics and producing major junior barrel races like the KK Run For Vegas. She has watched 2022 Resistol Rookie of the Year Bayleigh Choate come up through the ranks and is elated to watch her across town from where she excelled at Kaminski’s events.
“It was my goal to see some of my girls do that,” Kaminski said of the 18-year-old. “She just aged out with us last year, and now she’s at her first NFR.”
With a massive social media following, it’s safe to say that many at home are eager to watch Choate compete at her first NFR. Kaminski also watched Sissy Winn mature from the high school level to professional, and noted that she will be cheering her on.
“To pick a favorite is hard,” Kaminski said. “Everybody has worked so hard to get there, and I know exactly what it takes to get there. I am friends with a lot of those girls and really admire them.”
However, when it comes to horsepower, favorites aren’t an issue for Kaminski.
“Well, my favorite horses are No. 1 and No. 2,” she said. “I just love [Jordon Briggs’] Rollo and [Dona Kay Rule’s] Valor. They’re both super consistent and I have really enjoyed watching them both these past few years.”
Kaminski has her thoughts, as do many other veterans, but they know the reality—it’s between each rider, horse and the clock once they come through the tunnel at the Thomas & Mack.