Her hair is golden and mane blonde, and what she holds underneath is a tremendous machine.
Her name is Sister, a 7-year-old palomino who has set the barrel racing world on fire along with her talented young jockey, Hailey Kinsel of Cotulla.
“I’ve always wanted to be a professional barrel racer,” said Kinsel, 23. “I love training horses. I knew I’d do that until I got the good one, and the good one happened to show up toward the end of my college career.”
That’s Sister in a nutshell, and through the end of July, the tandem had earned more than $300,000 together this year, nearly $230,000 of which counts toward the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s standings. At that point in the season, she held a $107,000 lead over the No. 2 cowgirl, reigning world champion Nellie Williams.
But there’s much more to it. Sister hasn’t hit her prime yet; she is still quite young, but Kinsel has the mare in position to be a longtime winner. She won the 2017 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association barrel racing title, then the tandem set the rodeo world on fire.
At last year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Kinsel earned $189,385 in just 10 days, moved from seventh to second in the world standings, finishing as the reserve world champ to Williams, a Californian. She and Sister placed in eight rounds, winning four and setting a new arena record of 13.11 seconds.
“Making the NFR was awesome,” she said. “It’s definitely what you dream of if you want to rodeo and do this for a living. Things have to go well. There is some pushing through the hard times, and nobody sees the down times, because I still have them.
“It helps when you’re doing good. Even when you’re not, it’s a matter of whether this is what you love to do. I don’t mind not doing well, because I like fixing problems; to attack the situation and turn it around is fun for me. It makes going up and down the road fun. It’s adventurous.”
There’s no glamour or fame in rodeo; it’s a gypsy lifestyle of many hours on the road. But it’s life for Kinsel, and it’s been going well. Since last December, she has pocketed nearly $520,000. This year, she won the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede and earned $121,000 – $71,000 of which counts toward the world standings.
A week later, she won the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo, packing in another $53,200 in the process; because it wasn’t sanctioned by the WPRA, that money does not count toward the ProRodeo world standings. But it was still a big part of Kinsel’s year; it was the second straight year the Cotulla cowgirl earned the top prize in Salt Lake City.
“You have to be a worker to survive in south Texas, especially in my family,” Kinsel said. “I’ve learned to never consider adversity to be a crippling thing. It’s a factor, and you work it in.”
It’s working for Hailey Kinsel. —Ted Harbin
Ted Harbin is a longtime journalist who spent 22 years in the newspaper industry before focusing on rodeo. He owns Rodeo Media Relations and TwisTed Rodeo and is one of just eight individuals to be honored with media awards by both the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. He lives in Maryville, Mo., with is wife, Lynette, and their two daughters, Laney and Channing.