EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a story that was published in the September 2011 edition of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA.
In the past five months, Sydni Blanchard has gone from questioning her barrel racing future to relishing each opportunity that comes her way.
“This is a life and a blessing and an opportunity that we’re grateful to have,” said Blanchard, 22, of Albuquerque, N.M., who set an arena-record with a 16.99-second run to win the Lea County Fair and Rodeo in Lovington, N.M., an event that’s part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour. “You realize that all the sudden one day, it could be gone.”
Blanchard, coming off her first trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, has been a rising star in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. Then this past March at RodeoHouston, her saddle broke; Blanchard hit the back of it, and things changed instantly.
“I hit it at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “I damaged all the nerves around the tailbone; I couldn’t walk at all.”
For three months, she rehabilitated the injury, thanks to the athletic trainers at the University of New Mexico, where her father, Paul, once played football.
“Our goal was to get ready for Calgary,” said Blanchard, who set a Calgary Stampede record by winning four consecutive go-rounds at one of the largest rodeos in the world. “I had to go to that rodeo, so we had until July to get better.”
That meant a lot of work. In fact, there’s a lot of work yet to be done. Once the 2011 season concludes, Blanchard will undergo more treatment and more rehabilitation. But through every painful step of the process, the young cowgirl has seen the positive in her progress and that of her outstanding horse, Firewater Fie, a 9-year-old gelding by Nonstop Firewater out of Whisper of Magnolia.
“I feel as though everything happens for a reason, and if I didn’t have to sit out for three months, then Shotgun wouldn’t have been able to get the rest he needed,” she said. “Plus it’s almost more fun to come from behind. I have nothing to lose, so we go out there fearless every time and make the run we need to make.”
That thought process has worked quite well.
“I can’t believe we went from zero to 60 so fast,” she said. “It’s amazing how much work you put into it. Every year, you just work more and more, and harder and harder. You just keep chipping away at it. It’s definitely a lot of hard work, not just on my part by my entire family. Everybody that does one little thing … those all add up, and it’s a huge help.”
The help paid off quite well in Lovington, a southeast New Mexico community of about 10,000 that hosted the biggest names in ProRodeo over four performances. Blanchard posted her arena-record 16.99 on the opening night of the rodeo, and nobody came close to catching her. In fact, Blanchard beat second-place finisher Jessi Eagleberger by nearly half a second.
“Winning Lovington means a lot,” said Blanchard, who earned $3,619 for the victory. “It’s a rodeo arena I’ve been to a lot. We always had 4-H rodeos and everything over there. To do that good and have that arena record … we’re all really excited. He’s a New Mexico-trained horse, so that means a lot to us, too.”
She uses a simple approach to her rodeo business. Each step of the way, whether good or bad, can be used in some regard. Even Blanchard’s first trip to compete in ProRodeo’s grand finale was set out to be a learning experience.
“It was a relief when I found out I made the NFR,” she said. “Our goal was to make the CNFR and the NFR the same year; I wanted to make it for the experience. Those girls that were there – Sherry (Cervi) has been there countless time, then you have Lindsay (Sears) and Brittany (Pozzi) – they’re all veterans at it. They know how to keep their horses healthy. I just wanted to learn some things while I was there.”
Every rodeo athlete needs quality seasoning runs – learning from excellence and mistakes. For Blanchard, the NFR classroom was priceless. She and Shotgun placed in go-rounds, and they tipped over some barrels. In all, Blanchard left the Thomas & Mack Center with nearly $50,000.
“I was definitely happy with what we did at the NFR,” she said. “Unfortunately we did hit barrels, but my horse placed in the first five rounds. He just worked his heart out. I know he got sore in the end, and we did everything we could to help him. I would love to go back and see what we could do.
“Shotgun always has been super solid and honest. He takes care of me. I never have to worry about him. He does everything I ask him to. He has so much heart. I’m taking each moment as it comes, and I’m taking advantage of every situation. He’s just amazing. He just blows my mind. Every time I step up on him, I know it’s going to be a great ride.”