Sammi Bessert and Tommy barrel race toward finals

Sammi Bessert rides at her home in Loma.

Sammi Bessert and her horse, Tommy, stumbled in the first round of barrel racing at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, and that cost them a chance to make the finals at Cheyenne this weekend. But there’s not much time to worry about it. They’re off to other rodeos in the northern Rockies and more chances to move up in the standings.

So it goes in the world of professional barrel-racing. Bessert and Tommy have moved up in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association standings over the past three weeks of heavy travel and competition, but there are many others just as competitive.

July was a big month for Sammi, but it wasn’t an easy one. “Last weekend I did 1,500 miles. The week before that it was 1,200,” the Fruita mother of two said July 13 as she prepared to load Tommy in the horse trailer and sons Kade, 7, and Keane, 5, in the pickup for a month of heavy rodeoing. Husband Bob Bessert, owner of Desert Springs Veterinary Services, will catch up with Sammi and the boys as his schedule allows.

“I’m pretty lucky,” she said. “Bob’s real supportive of me going where I need to.”

Her hectic schedule when she left Fruita called for her to attend rodeos in Colorado Springs, Casper, Wyo., Sheridan, Wyo., Cheyenne, Nampa, Idaho and Spanish Fork, Utah, all in a matter of a few days.

The effort has paid off. When she left Fruita, Bessert said she was sitting about 35th in the standings to reach the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December. A week later, she was listed at No. 26 on the WPRA website. By last Thursday, she had dropped back a spot to No. 27 She needs to be in the top 15 at the end of the year to make the National Finals.

But Bessert knows the margin for winning in her sport of fast horses making tight turns is very slim.

“I missed the finals in Houston by a hundreth of a second,” she said. “There are probably 30 horses out there, and anyone of them can win any given day.”

Her own horse, Tommy, is a former race horse and a descendant of the famous quarter horse racer, Dash for Cash. She’s had him since he was a 3-year-old. “It took him a while to figure out what this was all about, but once he did, we took off.”

Tommy is now 8, in his prime. Some horses barrel race and win into their late teens.

Like all rodeo events, the standings for barrel racing are based on how much money a competitor has won in sanctioned rodeos. And the women at the top of the barrel-racing world not only have fast horses, their schedules are even more frenetic than Bessert’s.

“The girls that are ahead go all out, all the time,” she said. “Some girls go to 90 rodeos” in a year. “Last year, I went to about 40,” Bessert said, and she ended the year 35th overall, her best finish ever. This year she hopes to compete in a few more rodeos than last. She knows that with her young family, she can’t maintain the sort of schedule some riders do. But she has done more than she anticipated a few years ago.

“Five years ago, if you had said I would be hitting this many rodeos, I would have said, ‘No way.’ But you get used to it,” she said.

And, even if she determines she can’t keep up the schedule she has maintained the past couple years, Bessert says she will continue competing.

“It’s a sport you can succeed in at pretty much any point in your life,” she said. “One of the toughest girls in my circuit is almost 70.”

With that in mind, she hopes to get another young horse started in a few years, to take Tommy’s place when he is too old to compete.

She also works to set an example for young girls competing in barrel racing, and she may try to hold clinics one day.

It doesn’t matter your age, or your horse’s age, however. In the world of professional barrel racing, “You pretty much have to bring your A game everywhere you go.”


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