Brett Hoffman

Imagine attending a big Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium, but becoming overly frustrated by watching gifted players stumble and fall throughout the afternoon because of unusually bad field conditions.

The ground crew at the renowned venue in Arlington would never allow that to happen. But in the world of pro rodeo, the equivalent of a bad football field happens too often at well-established venues in the popular event of barrel racing.

Bad arena dirt was an issue for barrel racers throughout the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. At the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in January in Denver, defending Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champion Hailey Kinsel said she declined to run her best horse, Sister, in the final round because of concerns that the mare might have sustained an injury because of bad ground conditions. Instead, she saddled up a second-string horse for the finals.

And during a semifinal round, evening performance at the San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo in February, the judges opted to stop the barrel race because horses were slipping down in the dirt. Organizers made improvements and the barrel racers who were on the card that evening were allowed to make another run the next morning.

They saw immediate positive results. When Jill Wilson made a rerun the next day, the Snyder cowgirl turned in a time of 13.82 seconds, which turned out to be the fastest run of the entire rodeo.

Wilson, who finished runner-up in barrel racing at the 2020 San Antonio Stock Show, said she was grateful the judges made the bold move to stop the event because of bad arena floor conditions at the high-profile pro rodeo. The judges were Harry Rose Jr., Cliff Overstreet, Rocky Steagall and Chuck Hoss.

“I thought, ‘Wow!’” Wilson said. “At a rodeo that was televised, at a rodeo at this level, for the judges to step up and say and say, ‘Hey, we’re stopping this!’ And to take a stand, that’s outstanding. It kind of made a stand for once.”

Two-time world champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi of Lampasas, who clinched barrel racing at San Antonio, applauded the judges’ decision.

“They definitely were looking out for the welfare of the animals and the riders,” Pozzi Tonozzi said. “Nobody thinks of barrel racing as a dangerous sport like the bull riding and the saddle bronc riding. But when horses are going out there and falling, you are not only endangering the animal, but the riders as well.”

Unlike at the 2019 NFR or at the 2020 Denver Rodeo, San Antonio officials made the right call, which in reality ordered the local organizing committee to make sure the barrel racers had a safe and sound dirt arena floor.

However, it’s as if the injustices to barrel racers during the 2019 National Finals, the 2020 Denver rodeo and the 2020 San Antonio rodeo has become a footnote and not enough has been said about it. In a recent interview, Kinsel, a South Texas cowgirl, said the arena floor at the Denver rodeo was “horrendous,” and “too dangerous.” Asked about the ground conditions at the 2019 NFR, Kinsel said: “It was tough for all of us.”

Kinsel said we live in a day that rodeo organizers are aspiring to improve the sport and they must prioritize providing a safe and sound dirt arena floor.

“We just hope with all of the cool advancements that rodeos are trying to make that they don’t forget that the footing is the most important part of keeping a horse around,” she said.

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