2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo champion Fallon Taylor wanted to promote team barrel racing, and she picked St. Clair to start her Squad Tour.
Taylor would be in St. Louis on Saturday, Sept. 10, holding a barrel racing clinic, and she had one of her representatives call St. Clair Saddle Club officers to see if their arena was available for that Sunday evening.
But St. Clair Saddle Club president Becky Manion and Publicity Chairman Jane Brockman had a big secret to keep. They weren’t allowed to tell anyone Taylor’s plan for a team barrel race until Friday.
“I had turned off my phone earlier, but checked it when I went to bed,” Brockman said. “I was so excited (about Taylor wanting the arena) but it was 10 p.m. by then. I texted our president, Becky Manion, and asked, ‘You up?’ She replied that she had talked to (Taylor’s representative) about the barrel race. We had to keep it a secret until Friday at 10 a.m. That was really hard to do.”
Brockman said saddle club members were shocked their arena was chosen for the event.
“We weren’t even sure they were really coming until it was posted on her website,” she said. “I asked how they found us and someone had referred our club to her, so it was just luck. We had a huge crowd, and we sold out of almost all our food in the cook shack. I keep telling everyone just think what we could have done with more than four days’ notice.”
Taylor, a member of the Elite Rodeo Athletes (ERA), hosts barrel racing clinics across the country that typically coincide with an ERA event. On a live broadcast on Facebook, Taylor said due to conflicts with the football season there wouldn’t be any more ERA events until the finals in Dallas in November. She said she came up with the idea to hold her own events so people could not only see her and her horse Baby Flo run, but they could also compete against her.
Taylor has been a member of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) since 1990. She was recently banned from running in WPRA events because she owns stock and is on the board of the ERA.
“Unfortunately, that means I won’t be able to run at rodeos next year unless I give up my shares,” she said. “I’m not willing to do that. However, what I’m willing to do is revolutionize this sport for the better.”
And barrel racers from all over the area and even from Illinois jumped at the chance to team up and compete against Taylor and her Baby Flo.
Once the word was out, they were buzzing about it on Facebook and putting together squads. There were 28 teams, including Taylor’s squad of five.
Team barrel racing, or squad racing, works like a typical barrel race. Riders on each team consecutively run the cloverleaf pattern around three barrels and are each timed. According to the rules of Taylor’s Squad Tour, the entered time is an average based on the number of riders in the squad. If a rider knocks over a barrel, they receive a one-second penalty. There also is a 30-second penalty if a rider is unable to complete the pattern for any reason.
Paige Essenpreis, a barrel racer from Lebanon, Ill., said she was reluctant to enter at first.
Essenpreis said she thought it over, called a few of her barrel buddies and they collectively decided they had “a good chance” at the money so they formed a squad and called it “Double E.”
Double E ended up winning first place, and the four riders each took home $525.
Lindsay Leverington, Troy, also was on the winning team. She said she thought the event was a lot of fun.
“It was great seeing so many people team up and get excited about barrel racing,” she said. “While I think we all cheer and support each other at other races, it was fun to come together and truly work as a team. I’m thankful I was able to be a part of such a great event.”
Tyler Wyatt of Robertsville, was on the second-place team, which collectively won $1,260, split among four riders.
“Not a bad payout (for an event) that was organized in a little over 48 hours,” she said.
Wyatt was her team’s captain and said she convinced each member of her team, which they called “The Monster Mares,” to join her. She said it was nice to compete as a team and not have to run against her friends.
“I’ve known these women for 15-plus years,” she said. “We have competed against each other for that long, and it’s what made us friends in the first place.
Wyatt said it felt good to beat a team of professional barrel racers.
“Fallon’s team was third,” she said. “Missouri girls showed that we are a force to be seen. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They truly carried me.”
Essenpreis said running against professional barrel racers was “a confidence booster” for many of the riders who didn’t place.
“A lot of the horses were close to her time,” she said. “It’s definitely something to be proud of. It was a very fun experience being able to run on a team, and root for the girls you are usually competing against.”
Cindy Phillips of St. Clair didn’t take home any money that night, but she did take home some inspiration. Phillips said she would like to see more team barrel racing in the area and is even thinking about starting a team barrel racing club, if she can find enough people who would be interested.
“Teams are good because you don’t get totally disqualified if you knock over a barrel,” she said. “You have other teammates so if you have a bad run it’s not such a bad run. I’d like to see more (team barrel racing) around here.”
Essenpreis said she thought it was great see something different in the sport of barrel racing.
“I think you could ask anyone who attended the barrel race and they would tell you they appreciated a change in the sport,” she said. “We’re just hoping they have it next year.”