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Mellisa's Diary

Pre Season Update

What an intense summer… I was over-eager to get barrel racing as soon as I was home from World championships and I didn’t take the time necessary to get myself ready. The middle of March I hit a barrel so hard I had to get stitches in my leg and I had to turn out of all the indoor rodeos. So I had to wait til the end of May and the Grande Prairie “Stompede” to kick off my season. Honestly I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do this summer. I hit a lot of barrels and had many frustrating moments. My friend Tammy Fischer from Texas, an NFR qualifier and Calgary Stampede Champion decided she was going to come north to rodeo and do a few barrel racing clinics. I took her clinic and it has forever changed my life. I am so fortunate to be learning from one of the best horse trainers in the world. Things just came together one after another of how the summer worked out. She ended up staying where I keep my horses at Brenda Delaney’s and I got to watch her train and ride and she’d get on my horses and put me on her horses… 1 night I was struggling on Rascal doing a basic circle… Tammy was exercising her legendary horse “Roundpen” and rode over and told me to get off Rascal and get on Roundpen… She has been offered ½ million dollars for this horse on numerous occasions. He has a spectacular story of not being treated humanely by a previous owner, left in a pen to starve to death. Then he fell out of a trailer at 60 mph. He also got in a wreck with Tammy’s sister Jackquie an NFR qualifer and flipped over backwards, smashing her pelvis. Jacquie was told she would never walk again… fortunately she is back walking and riding still winning at rodeos. But Tammy saw something special in Roundpen. As a 4 year old he won $125 000 and he has been her rock and together they have achieved greatness. I was terrified that something tragic was going to happen as I loped him around the barrel and he sensed my fear and turned that into power and speed as our “lope” turned into him digging his butt into the ground racing around the barrel… I was so worried Tammy was going to chop my head off, but she calmly coached me through the exercise. Cueing me to relax, jockey my hand, look down his neck… breathe…. I got my wits about myself to put her words into action and he calmed right down and we began loping an even effortless circle around the barrel… All sounds too familiar with how I have talked about my emotional influence on my sled… A horse will keep you honest… I got off Roundpen and I was as high as a kite… It’s all I talked about for days… I got to ride Roundpen☺

I worked for CBC this Centennial Calgary Stampede calling the Barrel Racing and also hosted an online Rodeo Round up show. It was a tough 10 days, but I got to watch and call Tammy’s final race on Roundpen which landed her in 2nd spot in the showdown. He’s now retired for her 3yr old daughter Sydney to ride and one day run at some junior rodeos when she is old enough.


I continued to train and rodeo and as my riding season was coming to a close I remembered Tammy talking about the World Finals barrel race in Lincoln, Nebraska where there is a “permit” race that counts towards your professional card. She was planning on running in it and said I could fly down and run her NFR horse “Money”. So in September I asked her if she was serious… Yes she was… So in the nick of time I got my WPRA permit (allows me to run in the states) and entered Lincoln. I got my flight, hotel, car… it was so strange to be going to a barrel race and not have my truck, trailer and horses… I ride in a “Tammy Fischer” sport saddle so all I had to remember was my hat… The only conflict was the Lincoln race would be on during the Canadian Skeleton Championships. Fortunately my Silver medal at Worlds last year has me preselected for the 1st 2 world cups so I didn’t have to race… that’s 2 years in a row I’ve missed Canadians, last year I was so sick I couldn’t even get out of bed to watch the race and this year I was feeling zesty and decided to get some competitive experience against some of the best in the barrel racing world…

I had been sliding in Calgary for 1 week before leaving for Lincoln and when I arrived I had zero expectations. I had rode Money for 15 minutes in June at Tammy’s clinic, but that is it. I watched him run a few times live and lots of video to be as prepared as I could be, but he stands about 16.1, much bigger than my horses and has a very different style. We went to the practice pen Thursday morning and Tammy surprised me telling me I’d be running in the jackpot that night. I hadn’t entered it on my own, I was just planning on running in the Permit races, but whatever Tammy says goes… I told her she could dress me up and tell me what to do… I’m coachable its my comfort zone and she knows what her horse can handle. Things were effortless and easy in the practice pen making Tammy and her sister Jackie Jatzlau laugh saying how easy it looked. Next were exhibitions, you have 60 seconds to go through the pattern as you wish so your horse can feel the ground and see the surroundings, opportunity to get a game plan. And again, things went great. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous for the jackpot… Money is a huge powerful horse and I knew if he got running in the alley I might not be able to handle him. They called our name and I eased him up the alley as he was chopping at the bit literally to go and so I got half way up the alley and I let him go, I didn’t hustle him like I have to with my horses I just floated with him to 1st barrel. I was watching the inside of 3rd and holding him to the center and as soon as I let him come towards the pocket of 1st barrel he bee-lined for it! I realized quickly we might bulldoze it over so I kept kicking him to overshoot the barrel and he made a big move past it and rolled back tight and kept his speed. With that big move my saddle slipped and I could feel it off to the left. Money was hauling ass to 2nd barrel and I couldn’t help myself but to look down to see if I was gonna get myself in a huge wreck as we turned 2nd, but it wasn’t off center as much as it felt. I obviously wasn’t kicking because Jacquie yelled so loud to kick and I heard her so I started kicking to get Money past 2nd barrel and wrapped himself around, with my record this summer of knocked barrels I was so focused on getting him past this 3rd barrel that was the only thing I cared about was to have a clean run. We kept it standing and he left 3rd so hard I got popped up out of the saddle and my hat that was secured bobby pins flew off and my snap shirt caught on my horn and was ripped completely open. I saw a 16.271 on the clock and I was astonished!!! For a split second I started to panic… there is absolutely no “WHOA” to Money… we flew through the warm up area on a run away. Tammy had warned me he doesn’t stop, just like my sled… no brakes… no one got hurt, I got off in a stunned hot mess. The fastest time until then had been a 16.6… It was pretty cool to hear the announcer say, “the lead goes to Canada”… as I was the only Canadian entered the whole weekend. Tammy ran over and gave me a huge hug; it was a really special experience… Her horse just won the jackpot with it being my 1st time ever running him. Talk about a huge increase in his value and credit to Tammy’s training ability… It takes many runs for a horse and rider to click, let alone win!


Mel winning open jackpot at World Finals in Lincoln, NE

Now talk about excitement for what was to come over the next 3 days… well that was the pinnacle of my excitement…. Round 1 of the permit race Money knew exactly what he was about to do and the only game plan I had was to hold him out longer going to 1st. Money had some more steam in his engine as I came up the alley I let him go and I went with him… but it was about 8 gears faster than the night before… I realized this as soon as he felt like he was a locomotive beneath me. I started to check him (pull on the rein) as we approached 1st but he had too much speed to be able rate for the barrel and we blew past it, when I got him turned it was a bit of a square turn and it was almost like he knew we wasted time and he needed to make it up because he started to run harder but we were on the wrong side of 2nd… I was doing my best to get him over, but I’m not near the rider that Tammy is and I ran out of ground… and we broke pattern… Instant disappointment for all of us, me, Money, Tammy and her family… this was not what I came here to do… and I really didn’t consider this to be a possibility… my sole focus was to keep barrels standing, clean runs would keep us in the average and qualify us for the short round. Now with a broken pattern that wasn’t possible. I’d be running for round 2 cash, and that would be it. Money and I went for a long cool down and when we got back to the stall Tammy was there. She had been steaming for a while mad at her horse, but we talked about things and had a good game plan for the next round.

The next day Money had obviously thought about the situation as much as I did when we went into the practice pen he was gentle again and I felt the connection we had the 1st night. My plan was to hold him back to 1st, again main focus clean run and let the time fall where it would. Tammy told me if he gets muscled up again in the alley get him stopped take my time, the worst thing I could do is let him go when he feels that way. There was quite the confusion with the running order because the girls ahead of me were waiting to go, but the announcer would turn them out. I got called so we headed to the alley and behind me was a girl yelling she was there and they had skipped over her. Well talk about a false start… I got Money stopped and he was prancing around, but when I got him to just stand I could feel his heart pounding underneath me… I looked down and I could see the adrenaline pumping through his muscles he was shaking… I know all about that feeling, false start on the skeleton track gets your blood pumping… I stayed as calm as I could petting him waiting for the girl ahead of me to clear the arena. They called us again into the arena and I slowly walked him up the alley. I could feel him get heavy on the bit and away we went. I held him so hard all the way to the 1st barrel and he turned it great, picked up a lot of speed but we had a bit of jig on the way to 2nd, like he had remembered going on the wrong side yesterday and I had to keep focused on my pocket and where I was wanted him to go, keep him between my legs and not pull on him. As soon as you pull on Money he will shake his head and lose focus. Got past 2nd and he cranked around and headed for 3rd, we had a slight misstep on the back side of 3rd, but I didn’t care, all the barrels stayed standing. We crossed the finish line in 16.76… It wouldn’t be fast enough to take the lead of the permit race but it would win us some cash.

Sadly I didn’t accomplish what I went to Lincoln to do, fill my professional card, but it was a surreal experience that put me in the most elite barrel racing competitive environment I have ever been in. Our 1st night run time 16.271 would have been a top 10 run out of 2000runs that took place on the weekend. So many similarities to skeleton, being on top of the world, literally… and the next run dead last… and being able to come back the next day learn from it and not be emotionally tied to the situation. Reset and regroup… I can’t describe how grateful I am to Tammy Fischer and how she has taken me under her wing. Offering her horse for me to run so I could have the opportunity to be fully professional. She herself has said “a horse only has so many runs in him” so you have to be wise on where you choose to run and what is at stake. I definitely can see myself loading up as soon as I’m done sliding this season and taking my ponies to Texas to continue learning from one of the greatest horse trainers in the world.

TAMMY FISCHER & I during 2012 Centennial Calgary Stampede morning ride in arena

But that will be a decision made then… right now I’m in Lake Placid; my 1st World cup will be this Thursday. You can watch the races live 9am EST in Canada: CBC CBCsport SportsNet SportsNet in USA NBC-Universal Universal Sports or any other countries please see this page:FIBT media

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Photography Credits: Ewan Nicholson, Candice Albach & Charlie Booker Website by COWS / EDJE