Barrel Racer Rachel Ward handles tough decisions
By JOE KUSEK
August 10, 2022
Volleyball or barrel racing?
Rachel Ward could not avoid the question.
Last October, Ward had to decide whether to compete at her first Northern Women’s Rodeo Association Finals in barrel racing or play volleyball for her high school team at the district tournament.
A setter for Granite High School, she opted for volleyball in Missoula. The setter is the equivalent to the quarterback in football.
Even with missing the Finals in Kalispell, Ward finished ninth in the final 2021 standings.
“I was going to try and do both,” said the teenager from Philipsburg. “But we couldn’t get lined out on the times.
“I wish I went to the Finals.”
She found herself in the same situation this year but made a different choice.
“I liked to focus on rodeo this year,” Ward said of giving up volleyball her senior season this fall. “It was a very tough decision … I went back and forth.
“It came down to what I want to do after high school.”
She is a strong bet to make the Finals this October.
Ward is third in the barrel racings standings for the Mountain Health Co-Op Tour with 10 rodeos remaining on the regular season schedule.
She led for three weeks before Cierra Erickson of Helena won $1,108 last weekend at Townsend and Superior to jump into the lead while Darby Haskins of Superior won Townsend for $1,065 to move into second.
Ward trails Erickson by just $489.
“I’m very happy with it,” she said of her 2022. “It’s exciting. I hope to keep it rolling.”
Ward has earned the bulk of her money with a victory at East Helena and a second-place finish at Ennis. The two checks have accounted for almost 70 percent of her season earnings. She was also third at Polson, along with fifth at Wilsall and Townsend.
Ward has already surpassed her 2021 earnings.
“My goal was the same as last year,” Ward said of qualifying for the Finals. “Just do a little better.
“I wanted to be more consistent and keep the horses in shape. We try to compete at the rodeos close to home and go to a few a little further out.”
Ward lives on a ranch five miles outside of Philipsburg where the family runs 350 head of cattle on a cow-calf operation.
She is riding Bullet, a 12-year-old gray horse.
“We’ve had him since he was three or four,” said Ward. “He is a horse that is very easy to ride. He’s a long-striding horse and looks like he is going slow on how smooth he is.
“Bullet is very loving. He loves attention and lets little kids ride him which is kind of opposite for a barrel horse. We even do ranch work on him.”
The two are always chasing that adrenaline rush from a good pattern.
“You get a thrill from a good performance,” she said. “Turning that third barrel, you get a thrill. I know it’s a good run before they announce the time. I’m already patting Bullet before they announce it.”
Ward has stayed among the top three in the standings despite missing a weekend to compete at the National High Schools Rodeo Finals in Gillette, Wyoming.
She finished fifth in the nation.
Ward placed ninth in the first round and won the second round. She was leading the average going into the championship round and finished just .39 seconds out of first in a tightly bunched field.
“It was a very fast short round,” said Ward. There were two sub-17 seconds runs the final day. “The first two rounds, we made the first barrel sharp. The third round we kind of floated around the first barrel.
“The first barrel is the money barrel. If you don’t hit that barrel right, you lose all momentum for the rest of the run.”
The NHSFR was just part of her continuing rodeo education. The learning process includes watching veteran barrel racers Gayleen Malone of Pray and Kalispell’s Tammy Jo Carpenter at Mountain Health Co-Op Tour events.
Carpenter and Ward finished 1-2 at Ennis and switched places at East Helena.
“Me and Tammy gave each other crap about that,” Ward said with a laugh. “I have learned a lot from them just by watching. They are always so focused.”
Ward is even bypassing some early high school rodeos in August to chase her first NWRA championship saddle.
She earned her first saddle in 2015 and donated it as part of a fund-raiser for the nephew of a teacher who was injured in an auto accident.
“I have to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” said Ward. “Be consistent. That’s what got me to the No. 1 spot so far.”
It was sibling day at Townsend with sisters Molly Salmond and Celie Salmond placing 1-2 in the breakaway roping. Molly Salmond won with a toss of 2.0 seconds flat. It is the second-fastest time of the summer, just a tick behind her older sister’s throw of 1.9 seconds at Eureka.
The Stroh brothers of North Dakota placed 1-3 in the saddle bronc riding. Qwint Stroh won while brother Kain was third. The two are sons of Shaun Stroh, a former National Finals Rodeo qualifier and two-time Northern Rodeo Association champion.
Other winners at Townsend were: Trevor Kay, bareback; Nicholas Dinnocenzo, bull riding; Austin Whitehouse, steer wrestling; Ty Hedrick, tie-down roping; Brad Yerian and Brandon Yerian, team roping; Darby Haskins, barrel racing; Julia Hoagland, junior barrel racing; Ryker Sarchett, junior breakaway roping.
Sam Levine, who leads the team roping heeling standings, jumped into the all-around cowboy race by winning the tie-down roping at Superior. Partner Ian Austiguy, who leads the team roping headers, placed third in steer wrestling. Spur Owens helped himself in the all-around chase by placing second in bull riding and splitting second place in bareback riding. Levine is now fourth among the all-around cowboys while Austiguy is fifth.
Other winners at Superior were: Rowdy Cranston, bareback; Parker Mothershead, saddle bronc; Bridger Fitzpatrick, bull riding; Jackson Stevens, steer wrestling; Cash Trexler and Gregg Cassidy, team roping; Alexis McDonald, barrel racing; Celie Salmond and Mikayla Witter, breakaway roping; Chloe LaFromboise, junior barrel racing; Blaise Bolich, junior breakaway roping; Leighton LaFromboise, rookie bareback; Parker Mothershead, rookie saddle bronc.
The Mountain Health Co-Op Tour rubs shoulders with Hollywood this weekend with Darby’s Wild West Rodeo, Aug. 12-13. The popular television show is filmed in Darby.
The Madison County Fair and Rodeo in Twin Bridges is also Aug. 12-13.
Performances for both Darby and Twin Bridges are 7 p.m. each night.