It’s time to rest.
A deserved break is necessary for both horse and cowgirl.
After 10 months of hitting the rodeo trail, Jeanne Anderson and Fire Bug are taking it easy now at home on the ranch near White City.
Adrenaline is obviously still flowing for both mount and rider as they returned just a week ago from claiming the year-end high point barrel racing award from the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in Weatherford, Oklahoma.
That prestigious accolade with dollars, prestige, and awards accompanying it still must take a backseat to just two weeks earlier when points’ tabulations verified the team’s second-year-in-a-row qualification for the National Finals Rodeo, December 1-10, in Las Vegas.
Calling these days back at the ranch time for rest is a misnomer, especially for the 12-year-old sorrel Quarter Horse.
And his owner as well, really.
“I still ride Fire Bug every day; mostly trotting and loping slow, to keep him in shape. I’d just as soon ride as pony him on another horse,” Anderson said after coming in from before-light Saturday morning chores.
Yet, that daily workout is considerably easier than racing around a cloverleaf barrel pattern as fast as possible in about six dozen arenas from Missouri through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico all the way to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and many states in-between.
“Not only is there the stress of the competition, but all of the travel time and variable conditions sure takes its toll on both of us after awhile,” Anderson admitted.
However, the “rest” for the talented and enthusiastic cowgirl and her just as talented and enthusiastic gelding will be short lived.
“I plan to go to one little jackpot over at Lawrence about the middle of the month and cruise around the pattern,” Anderson revealed.
Doubtful if even Thanksgiving Day will be complete relaxation for the barrel racing team, but shortly after, they’ll load up to head for the bright lights of Nevada.
“We don’t want to have to hurry, so we’ll give ourselves plenty of time to get there, and get used to the surroundings,” Anderson noted.
“They’ll let us in the arena before the first go-round, so I’ll just take Fire Bug in and cruise him around. He’s been there before, so I’m confident he’ll take care of his job, as long as I take care of mine,” Anderson indicated.
While that’s still a few days away, Anderson’s “re-rides” in her mind of the most recent championship runs were quite vivid.
Traveling to about 40 rodeos in Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to qualify for her ninth Prairie Circuit Finals of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association is grueling enough.
However, Anderson admitted, “I’m right in the middle, so it’s really pretty easy for me, compared to some of those girls in Nebraska who have to haul all the way to southern Oklahoma.”
“The Prairie Circuit ended up really good,” evaluated Anderson, even though she still hadn’t counted exactly how much cash she’d collected.
“We won a round, split second in another, won the average and then ended up winning the year. I couldn’t ask for more,” admitted Anderson, who gives all credit to her racehorse who just takes about 15 seconds to make sure the bank account is in the black.
“Fire Bug is really the best horse I’ve ever had, and he’s the best he’s ever been,” described Anderson.
Claiming the circuit title is “no little deal” to Anderson, yet plans for the “really big show” are the height of concentration at this point. However, getting the opportunity to compete there again has not been easy by any means.
“The winter rodeos set the stage for the rest of the year,” Anderson claimed. “Whether you win at those rodeos generally determines if you are going to keep on the road in an effort to qualify for the finals.”
She reflected, “Winter rodeos were decent, but we had a horrible spring and early summer.
“Then things started picking up in July, so I decided to go to those rodeos out in the Northwest, which helped move me up some in the standings,” Jeanne recognized.
However, she missed a few northwest states’ rodeos because of “poor ground conditions,” and “I really just don’t like to be away from home that long. Two weeks is about all I can take.”
Opting to come back to the Midwest, Anderson hit the Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico rodeos. “We had some more good runs,” she said.
Actually, that success handily moved Anderson into 10th place in the year-end standings with total winnings of $64,303 during the 2011 rodeo season. The top 15 in the world qualify to compete at the finals.
“I must have gone to 70 rodeos this year. I have it all written down in my book. I can’t remember exactly off the top of my head, but it was a lot,” Anderson said.
Most importantly is the success in those arena races. “I placed at a lot of rodeos, maybe about three-quarters of them, and, won several places.
“But, we hit some barrels that knocked us out of the money a few times, too,” Anderson verified.
Every barrel racer, in this fast-paced competition of today, knocks over a barrel sometimes, it seems.
“There’s just no getting around it with a horse going so fast, turning so tight and close to the barrels, one is going to go down once in a while,” Anderson said.
“As long as it isn’t the horse’s fault, and I’m riding right, that’s just the way it’s going to be,” she added.
However, that rider attitude is also the key to success. “There’s another rodeo tomorrow. The down barrel is in the past, and nothing I can do about it. We just keep going,” Anderson insisted.
However, she emphasized, “I’ve changed the way I ride Fire Bug this year, and he’s improved because of it.
“Even earlier this year, I was always sort of in a ‘training mode,’ instead of letting him do his thing. Finally, I decided he was old enough to know what he was doing, and he does. Now, we’re doing better than ever,” Anderson evaluated.
Obviously, Fire Bug with Jeanne Anderson aboard is one of the very best barrel racing horses in the country.
Flaming Fire Bug, registered name of Fire Bug, owned by Jeanne and her husband, Rick Anderson, has received third place in the Barrel Racing Horse of the Year recognitions bestowed by the American Quarter Horse Association.
“That really means a lot to us,” Jeanne Anderson said.
Purchased as a weanling, Fire Bug was sired by Tiger of Flame, with Flaming Jet and Tiger Leo on the top side of his pedigree, and he’s out of a Bugs Alive In 75 mare.
All of the training has been done by the Anderson couple. “It’s better that way,” she said. “I can’t afford to pay the high prices they’re getting for horses of his caliber.
“And, when we’re doing the training, if something doesn’t work out, we don’t have anybody to blame but ourselves,” Anderson added.
An important part of the success equation also is that Anderson’s horses are “not just barrel horses,” she emphasized.
“They are ranch horses, rope horses, and more,” Anderson related. “We ride our horses on the ranch, do cattle work, Rick has roped on Fire Bug, and I just ride him to be riding.”
Although dollars shown on the year-end standings might seem high to an outsider, expenses to get there sharply reduce profits, if any.
“Everything is so high priced these days,” Anderson qualified. “It’s about 2,000 miles to go to those rodeos in the Northwest, and that takes a lot of gas.”
In an effort to keep costs down as much as possible, luxuries are spared. “I live in the horse trailer and try to take along as much food for myself and my horse as I can,” Anderson said.
Her husband traveled with her to the Northwest in 2010, but another barrel racer, Tana Poppino of Big Cabin, Oklahoma, went along this year.
“Traveling together is another way to help us both cut back on overhead,” Anderson said.
There is one aspect of costs in barrel racing that is never considered by anyone except those in the sport. “You wouldn’t believe the tons of medication a horse competing at this level requires,” Anderson pointed out.
“When a horse is running as hard as Fire Bug, they just tear themselves up,” she continued. “It’s amazing that Fire Bug can keep going the way he does, but he has to feel good and not hurt in any way.”
What’s the game plan for Las Vegas?
“I’m just going to let Fire Bug do his thing,” Anderson analyzed.
“He has the ability, we know that. So, I have to make sure he’s feeling his best and ride him right. That’s all I can do,” she said.
Reflecting last year at the National Finals Rodeo, Anderson said, “Fire Bug had been hurt two months earlier, and he wasn’t up to par. We finally got things together and placed a few times, but I’m expecting it to go a lot better this year.”
Another horse called JoJo, which Anderson’s niece, Becky Anderson, rides and placed on at the United Rodeo Association Finals over the weekend, will travel along for company.
“He’s a good horse we got as a weanling, and we trained too. He’s been around, and I’ve also ridden him at a few rodeos,” Anderson acknowledged.
“No rest for the wicked” isn’t really an appropriate term for Jeanne Anderson and Fire Bug. But, there sure won’t be too much relaxation for the barrel racing team in the next several days.
With more than $170,000 up for grabs to winners in the 10-rounds of barrel racing at the National Finals Rodeo, Anderson is optimistic: “We’ll be ready, that’s for sure.”
(Only one other Kansan has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Jake Long of Coffeyville is eighth the team roping standings of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Two Kansans have qualified for the National Finals Steer Roping, November 11-12, at Guthrie, Oklahoma. Rocky Patterson, a former world champion from Pratt, is second in the steer roping standings, and Cody Scheck of Kiowa is ninth.)