It happened 16 years ago, when I was just a little kid in the grandstands. One moment at a rodeo sparked a passion that shaped my future.
I was at the Hoot Gibson Memorial Rodeo grounds in Tekamah, Nebraska. The rodeo held there every summer was a tribute to the late Hoot Gibson, an early silver-screen hero and rodeo star originally from Tekamah. Each June, the Williams & Long stock contractors pulled into town with their long semi-trailers full of bucking bulls and horses, and the dust cloud that followed the semis announced that the rodeo was in town.
Rodeo spectators were usually guaranteed one night of rain and one night of sunshine during the weekend. Either way, the show went on. Sponsorship signs hung in every corner of the arena and along each of the bucking chutes. From the crow’s nest, smaller flags of red, white, and blue flapped in the breeze. George Straight’s “Amarillo by Morning” blared from the sound system as the crowd began to fill the stands for the evening performance.
I remember wishing I could be out in the arena with the contestants. Sitting in the stands, I imagined riding my horse in front of the crowd, with the announcer chattering enthusiastically about my success going down the rodeo road.
That night, I watched each of the rodeo events, but as the sun went down and the arena lights came on, it was the ladies’ barrel racing event that captivated me.
It’s hard not to get caught up in this event—especially if you’re a 7-year-old horse-crazy kid. I watched beautiful women flying around barrels on athletic, well-trained horses. As each competitor raced through the pattern, I studied her ride, mesmerized by the speed and excitement.
One rider stood out. Her name was Jeanne Davis, and she approached the entry gate with utter confidence. Her horse, a bay Quarter Horse mare, was alert and poised to sprint away at her command. Her hair was brushed back and secured by a grayish-white cowboy hat pushed snugly down around her ears, and her red satin shirt shimmered under the rodeo arena lights. With an expert hand on the reins, she aligned her horse perfectly with the first barrel, then sent her galloping toward it.
With dirt flying and her horse’s hooves pounding the ground, Whisperette flew effortlessly around the first barrel, making a perfectly tight 360-degree turn in two seconds flat. From there, she charged across the arena to the left side, scorched the second barrel, then headed to the last, which was set in the middle, on the far end of the arena. Thundering around the third barrel, her horse kicked up a cloud of dust, then raced back through the finish line with the fastest time of the night.
During those 16 or so seconds, I was hooked.
That run set me on a course that’s never wavered. Inspired by how well Jeanne maneuvered her horse at high speed, I went home that night with a whole new perspective on what I could do with my own horse.
Luckily, I had supportive parents and an equally interested sister. For the next 10 summers we hauled countless miles to barrel racing clinics and open shows. There were numerous “mishaps” along the way (including several trips from the saddle to the dirt), but I eventually learned the ropes of the cloverleaf pattern and what constituted a decent run. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons with my horses, and even as I’ve pursued other goals, barrel racing has been there, a constant that’s such a vital part of my life I can’t imagine not competing.
Though I’ve ridden many different horses over the past 16 years, the one I’m riding now, Jasper Jay Bar (Vegas), has a close connection to that night when Jeanne Davis ignited my inspiration. He’s an 8-year-old sorrel Quarter Horse gelding I purchased from Jeanne, who’s become one of my closest mentors over the years.
Lindsey Salestrom works for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a research technician. She owns two Quarter Horses—Vegas and a 2-yearold Quarter Horse gelding named HBR Cherry Bomb (Diesel). “I’m running jackpots and a few mid-states rodeos on Vegas. He can run a hole in the wind, but we need to polish up our turns to really clock a good time.” Lindsey garnered her first buckle on Vegas at the Purina Saddle Series in Fremont, Nebraska, where she won the all-around title competing in both barrel racing and pole bending.