Amy Dale knows what its like to come up through the ranks in the sport of barrel racing, going from rookie to 18th-ranked Women's Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer in six years.Amy Dale knows what its like to come up through the ranks in the sport of barrel racing, going from rookie to 18th-ranked Women's Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer in six years.
Amy Dale knows what its like to come up through the ranks in the sport of barrel racing, going from rookie to 18th-ranked Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer in six years.
Dale began barrel racing at 3, influenced by her mother, Wynette Dale, also a former professional barrel racer and trainer, and by her father, Gary Dale, a weekend team roper. Twenty-four-year-old Dale, who has the 2000 WPRA Columbia River Circuit Champion title under her belt, placed third in the average at the 2000 Cow Palace Rodeo in San Francisco, California, and had season winnings of more than $38,000 before the NFR.
"It’s difficult to find that perfect horse," says Dale, who lives in Graham, Washington. "It takes a horse with a big heart and a lot of try; they are definitely not a dime a dozen." Before a buyer can begin to look at the merchandise, they have to go where the merchandise is. Dale has one place in particular she looks when shopping for prospective barrel horses.
"We buy most of our horses off the track because we know they can run," says Dale. "All we have to do is put the basics on them for barrels." In fact, Dale purchased her current partner, 6-year-old gray AQHA mare Quick Judge (Judge Cash X Quick Lita), or "Skid," at Portland Meadows Racetrack in Portland, Oregon, as a 3-year-old. Dale explains that with horses off the track, everything, like noise and crowds, is not as new to them as it would be to a horse that is just being started.
"We usually look for a horse with a speed index of around 87," says Dale. "It’s not the fastest, but the horse still can move. The rider needs to be able to slow the horse down and make tight turns. "They need to be athletic," says Dale of another important trait to consider when selecting a barrel horse. "Watch the horse and make sure you can see it move smoothly. That’s an advantage of getting horses off the track; you can watch them run before you buy them." Signs of a noticeable limp or hitting themselves are warning flags that the horse may not be sound and unable to perform at its full potential. She adds that buyers should ride the horse several times before making any kind of investment.
Dale personally does not have a set size she looks for in a prospect; she believes that all sizes of horses can run. If the horse feels right, then size or lack thereof should not be a deciding factor in purchasing that horse.
The 5-foot-6-inch, 120-pound cowgirl says her mother was the first to take an interest in Skid, not only because of her smaller size (she is 14.2 hands tall and weighs 900 pounds) but also because of her willing attitude.
"They need to have a good mind and be able to think by themselves," says Dale. "They should want to do something on their own instead of the rider making them do it."
Once a barrel racer has selected the right horse, the easy part is out of the way, right? Wrong. The right horse is only half of the equation that adds up to a successful barrel racing team. The other half is left up to the rider and the lengths she goes to prepare mentally for the race.
"My goal is to make everything go smoothly," says Dale. To prepare before a run, Dale gets on her horse about 45 minutes before she’s up. She tries to keep herself and her horse quiet and relaxed.
"I’ll go look at the arena and see where I need to line up for my run. I want to make sure I can get a good start, because a bad start can mess up your whole run."
Before hauling to a rodeo for the big money, Dale practices a lot of slow work at home, paying particular attention to making her pockets big enough. She also concentrates on getting her horse to move away from her hands so that going into a turn she can move him away from the barrel using her hands. Dale says that when she is running real hard she needs to be able to easily slow her horse down for the turn and it’s easier to do this if the horse is right between her hands. This means that the horse is controlled with the slightest of cues and very responsive to the bit, two things Skid is particularly good at.
"This was the first year we rodeoed hard and we had a really good year," says Dale, noting her slow work and big runs have helped her mare become very solid.