Late last week Taylor Rivera didn’t have a barrel horse to ride at this week’s College National Finals Rodeo. Monday, the UNLV sophomore won the first go-round of barrel racing on a horse she had never competed on.
“I’ve actually never run that horse in my entire life,” Rivera said after her 14.51-second run. “That was my first time on him. I didn’t really know how he was going to feel, but he felt great and he worked really good for me.”
Rivera expected to be in Casper this week on Barney, the horse that carried her to four National High School Finals — including a national championship as a freshman — and a 13th-place finish at the CNFR last year.
But Barney was injured last month at the final West Coast Region rodeo of the season, and Rivera was left looking for a horse.
“I flew to Texas and tried one there and fell in love with him and he was supposed to get brought out here to me,” Rivera said. “But he got hurt at a pro rodeo last week. So two days before I came here I still didn’t have a horse.”
With time and options running out, Rivera reached out to Parker Asam, a fifth-grade barrel racing novice Rivera gives lessons to.
And that’s when Bob came into the picture.
“(Asam) actually offered him to me,” Rivera said, “but I know she was sad when I took him because I know this was her new toy. This was her next big step-up horse. She’d actually been running barrels for about a year so he was kind of her first real barrel horse.
“He had never been anywhere but local barrel races and junior rodeos so I didn’t know what he would do, but I knew he was talented.”
After finally securing Bob as her barrel horse for the CNFR, the next step for Rivera was finding a place where she could run him on the cloverleaf pattern for the first time. But, in keeping with Rivera’s current run of luck, she couldn’t find one.
“I tried to find barrel races everywhere between where I picked him up and here but I couldn’t find anything,” Rivera said. “I rode him at the house, but it’s a lot different in a competitive environment.”
Judging by Monday’s run, Bob responds well to competition.
Rivera finished just ahead of runner-up Katie Jo Boyd from Texas A&M, who had a 14.53, and Rickie Engesser from Gillette College, who was third with a 14.58.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Rivera said. “I was not overly excited about it, but obviously it worked out super well.
“He smoked the first (barrel) and I thought, ‘OK, this is good.’ But he didn’t feel like he was really running. But because I hadn’t run him before I didn’t know if he was fast or not. He ran the first and second good, but he actually slipped pretty bad leaving the third.
“I thought we had made a good run, but I didn’t know if we were fast. And then I heard everybody yelling and I looked back (at the scoreboard) and I was like, ‘OK.’”
Monday’s run was even more special considering the drama Rivera went through before her first run last year.
She found out just before entering the alley that the dog she had had for years, which her roommate had asked to keep while she was in Casper, had run away. In tears, Rivera had a 15.33-second run to finish well back in the field.
(Thankfully her dog was found two days later. Unfortunately, he now has just three legs after getting hit by a car. Wisely, Rivera left the dog with her parents this week.)
Rivera and Barney improved in the next run and then finished third in the third round, but just missed qualifying for the championship go-round.
“He wasn’t really on his A-game in that first run,” Rivera said of Barney, “but he was super-fast after that.”
And Rivera showed again Monday she could be super-fast on another horse, even if she didn’t realize it at the time.
“His name is Bob,” Rivera said. “Nothing special. Nothing fancy. Just Bob.”