Tayla Moeykens was winning long before CNFR title
By JOE KUSEK
June 25, 2021
Entering the championship round of the College National Finals Rodeo, Tayla Moeykens was sitting in fourth place.
She would need another good barrel run – Moeykens had already won rounds one and three – and get a little help to be in national title contention.
She went back to her days of competing in the junior events of the Northern Rodeo Association followed by the Northern Women’s Rodeo Association to handle the escalating pressure inside the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper, Wyoming.
“I learned to love it,” Moeykens said of competing when the stakes are highest. “Nerves are good. In the NRA I learned how to control my nerves. You use that energy, you feel it pulsating through your entire body.”
The Montana State University freshman and her horse Blue delivered a title-winning time of 13.99 seconds, the only sub-14 second run of the CNFR.
Moeykens became the first barrel racing national champion in MSU history and helped the women’s team claim its third national team title.
“I knew I had to go in, make a good run and be consistent,” she said. “I usually remember my runs but not that one. That one went by quickly.”
Moeykens had to wait out three more barrel racers before it become official. “No, I didn’t watch them,” she added. “I was back taking care of my horse.
“They have all the national champions do a victory lap. A woman came in the back and said, ‘There is one rider left but get on this horse.’ I still can’t really believe it happened. It’s a dream come true, something you dream about all your life.”
Shai McDonald, her MSU teammate, finished fourth in the overall CNFR barrel racing standings. McDonald, of Gardiner, won three consecutive (2017-2019) NWRA titles.
Moeykens credit her rodeo education from her days competing in the NRA junior events and NWRA.
She won three junior all-around titles and two junior barrel racing crowns during her formative years. Moeykens finished fourth in the all-around standings in 2019 and 2020 competing against adults.
“The NRA taught me so much,” said Moeykens. “How to deal with pressure situations, how to ride in a performance atmosphere … you learn how to be on the road and take care of your horse.”
Moeykens started competing in the NRA junior events at the age of seven and qualified for her first NRA Finals the following year.
It was also the same year she earned her first NRA check. So excited was Marlene Dreesen of Big Circle Rodeo, she refused to give the check to Rick Moeykens. Dreesen wanted to present the check directly to the young barrel racer.
“That was pretty awesome,” Moeykens said of her first rodeo payday. “I was so excited. I felt big.”
Her parents – Deena and Rick – set their daughter up with her own checking account to keep track of the rodeo finances.
“That was part of the real work experience in rodeo,” said Tayla.
Deena Moeykens has been a fixture in NWRA barrel racing, finishing third in the final standings in 2011 and fourth in 2012. Father Rick was also the barrel racing director for the NWRA.
“We love, breathe and sleep barrel racing,” said the younger Moeykens. “My mom is the whole reason where I am today.
“My family is so supportive. In our family, if you have a bad day, you try to figure out what went wrong and fix the problem for the next time. You don’t look back. There is always another one (rodeo) ahead.”
Moeykens also won the Big Sky Region regular season barrel racing title aboard Blue, registered as Dash of Blue Sky. The family purchased the 15-year-old chestnut two years ago and Moeykens has been riding the horse for a year.
“She’s just fast and consistent,” said Moeykens. “Blue makes the same trip every time. She’s true gift and has the heart of a champion.”
And a selective eater.
“Blue is also very sassy. We always have carrots for her. That seems to keep her happy,” Moeykens finished.
And Moeykens is still grasping the magnitude of her accomplishment.
“It’s very humbling and I’m very honored, that’s the feeling that I have.”