Sep 24, 2020
Sister — Chapter Two
From your NFR Insider Susan Kanode—
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share the stories of many of our rodeo stars and am proud to call them my rodeo family. I got involved in rodeos because I’m passionate about livestock. Now, I’m going to use that passion and my imagination to share a Wrangler National Finals memory from the animal’s perspective! Enjoy.
You can call me Sister – Part Two
After several months of exciting rodeos, I got some ranch and rest time. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until Hailey and Leslie started loading the trailer. I’m watching them and thinking, ‘That’s a lot of stuff.’ Then, they started loading horses. They put TJ in. That makes sense. Hailey has ridden him at some rodeos and if I ever need a break, he is her go-to guy. Then, they loaded Catfish. Well, that was sure confusing. Hailey roped on him in high school and college, but he hadn’t been in the trailer for a while. I knew something was up.
I wasn’t wrong. I never know where we are going, but I do know when I get loaded in the trailer, it’s going to be fun. Our first trip to the NFR was one for the record books in so many ways. My people did everything they could to get me physically ready, but this was a first-time experience for all of us. After a couple of days traveling, we got to Las Vegas where all of us horses were put in the stalls at the Thomas and Mack Center. I’m not sure where my people stayed, but it must have been close, because they were constantly checking on me. Usually at a rodeo, they put me in a stall, stay in the trailer and are just a whinny away. Having Catfish in the trailer and my people not being on the grounds at all times with me was just the beginning of things that were new.
We got to get in the arena for the first time on Tuesday, two days before the first performance. I’d been told that it was small, so I expected that. What did surprise me was how close the stands were. I’m so glad that Hailey works to keep me calm because our first time in there I saw a lot of things that could have been spooky.
I think Hailey hit the ground running with appearances. I had grown used to her being with me all the time, so that was different. Leslie became my primary caregiver and next to Hailey, she is the human I know the most. We made it through the first two rounds of competition and even with some bobbles we still got third place checks.
The next morning started early. Leslie got there and gave me a little feed for my breakfast. I have food in front of me all the time, so when she got there, it wasn’t a big deal. Then she got me out of my stall and started brushing me and rubbing me. I thought something was up. Pretty soon Hailey shows up and starts the routine for a ride.
I had already learned what to expect in the Thomas and Mack Center — the noise, the energy in that building, the approach to the barrels and the where the walls are. Everything that is at the NFR takes some getting used to. When it was time for practice, I was ready for that too. I listened and felt every cue that Hailey gave me. That early morning practice was just what we needed.
After practice, they took me back to the stalls, Hailey left, and Leslie started doing all the chores. She always does all kinds of things for me, ices my legs, gives me special feed, and watches my every move. It’s reassuring for me to have humans that care so much.
Our stalls were close to the bucking stock, and they sure can make a commotion. There were tractors moving, people around and all kinds of stuff going on. As long as I can see it, it doesn’t bother me, but if I don’t know what it is, it really takes some getting used to. Like all the airplanes flying over there – they are LOUD! Sometime after lunch it gets a little quiet and that’s when Leslie left me alone. I like to catch little 10-minute naps throughout the day, but honestly, I have so much energy it’s hard for me to relax much more than that.
When Leslie got back she gave me the once over – that includes a light massage to see if I have any sore spots, checking for heat in my legs and looking for any signs that my attitude might need adjusted or that my body is under stress.
After my special spa time with Leslie, Hailey arrived at the arena. I could tell she had been super busy during the day just by listening to her breathe. People don’t always realize how much we animals sense, but I always know what kind of mood Hailey is in and I can say that she treats me with love, respect and kindness no matter what is going on.
Hailey started our routine by braiding my mane. I love getting attention and this was kind of our time to be together and get our game faces on. Leslie was either riding TJ or getting Catfish ready. The first night, I was still wondering what Catfish was doing when Hailey went and got on him. When I heard the National Anthem, I got it – she rode him in the Grand Entry! By night three I knew the routine.
When Hailey got back, our preparation continued. She saddled me and gave me another once over. After our stellar practice that morning I was in the zone. Usually, I’m watching everything else going on. On that Saturday night I was completely focused on my job.
While Hailey was saddling, I’d look at her and get that calming influence back that I need. I didn’t pay any attention to anything but her. I was feeling GOOD! She started putting my protective boots on, I let her know just how good I was with a big “dragon” snort. I was READY.
She started walking me towards the arena with one last “Don’t forget your hat,” call to Leslie. We got to the warmup arena and when saddle bronc riding started, she rode me around a bit. Then we got to wait some more.
During the tie-down roping, she and Leslie walked me to the tent that is outside of the alley we use to go into the building. Having the two of them by my side keeps me calm and gives me lots of confidence. Hailey always readjusts her saddle and tightens the cinch right before we go in. That’s my signal that it is go time. I don’t know how she and Leslie stay so calm, but it sure helps me. I can feel Hailey’s energy change before a run, and I start getting anxious. That is when all of the training that they have done really pays off. I know what every signal Hailey gives me means and because of our special bond, I’m able to focus completely on her.
The first barrel racer out was Kassie Mowry. They announced that she had set a new arena record and I heard Hailey say, “Wow, that was fast.” Next up was Kathy Grimes, then it was our turn. I was ready for Hailey to turn this dragon loose!
We came blasting out of the alley. We got to the first barrel, I heard Hailey say “whoa” which was my cue to set and turn. We inhaled that barrel and blasted over to second. My ears were laid back and I was listening to Hailey smooch. We got to the second barrel and my left ear moved forward as we turned it. I felt like it was perfect. Ears back again, we headed to the barrel that had given us problems the past two nights.
Once again, I’m turning left, and my left ear shows that. I felt Hailey sit down in the saddle and we got just the turn we needed. I took three big strides around the barrel, then I stretched out and raced for the finish line. It felt good. When we got in the alley and I saw Leslie jumping up and down, I knew it was good. Hailey was patting my neck and praising me. My adrenalin was pumping.
They got me back to the tent and I heard Leslie ask Hailey what the time was. Hailey told her 13.11 and Leslie’s eyes just about bugged out. It was crazy. They whisked Hailey away to make a lap around the arena and Leslie had the awesome responsibility of leading this fire-breathing dragon back to the stalls. It’s a good thing she knows me so well, or she might have gone up in smoke.
Record-setting runs don’t mean much to me, but good runs always do. I know the difference and I think that the 13.11-second run in the Thomas and Mack Center at the 2017 NFR was as close to a perfect run as Hailey and I have ever made. We’ve made other great runs, but that one will always be special. We were in perfect sync with each other and when you love running barrels as much as I do, it’s what we strive for. It’s what we love.
My name is DM Sissy Hayday, but you can call me Sister.