PUEBLO, Colo. – As her season progressed, Christine Laughlin noticed a distinct pattern in reference to her goals.
“When I got started this year, I just wanted to make the finals,” said Laughlin, a barrel racer from Pueblo. “Then when I got into the top 10, I wanted to stay in the top 10. My goals kept going up as the year went along.”
Next week she will set forth on a new path in her career, chasing the ProRodeo world championship during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Through the 2014 season, Laughlin earned more than $93,000 and will begin the 10-round finale No. 8 in the world standings.
Once she arrives in the Nevada desert, she will race her talented horse, Guys Six Pack To Go, around the cloverleaf pattern while chasing the biggest pay in the game. Each night, contestants will battle for the $19,000 payday that comes with winning a go-round. She’ll have 10 opportunities for that.
“I’m excited and really looking forward to it,” she said.
She should. She has something special in Six Pack, a 9-year-old dapple gray gelding owned by Kathleen Collier of Hereford, Texas. Now Laughlin and Six Pack will run on ProRodeo’s biggest stage while part of an elite field of the best barrel racing tandems in the game.
“I’ve had him for two and a half years,” she said of the gelding. The first year was kind of tough getting him to where he is now. He liked to hit barrels. He was fast and smart, and he just hit barrels.
“I hit a lot of barrels that first year, but we just kept working at it.”
The work has paid off very well in 2014. She started the campaign off well, earning good money in February at San Antonio. She followed that with six event titles: Reno, Nev.; Salinas, Calif.; Dodge City, Kan.; Castle Rock, Colo.; Kennewick, Wash.; and Ellensburg, Wash. It’s been a magical ride.
“San Antonio really got me started through the winter,” said Laughlin, who has sponsorship support from Arrow Electric, Top of Texas Inc., Professional Choice, Cactus Saddlry, Western Dove and Elite Equine Veterinary Services. “I won almost $10,000. That got me excited and got me going. I really had just a few checks the rest of the winter. In the springtime, I went out to California and won a little bit. Once I got to Reno (in June) and won Reno, everything started clicking.
“Six Pack starting becoming more consistent. We had two or three runs of beating the field by hundredths of a second.”
She and her talented horse will need to be consistent in Las Vegas, but she has a lot of faith in her partner. That comes from the work they’ve done together in and out of the arena, but it’s nothing new for Laughlin, who was just a toddler the first time she was horseback.
“My mom never really rode, but she was a rodeo mom the secretary,” she said. “My dad rode. He competed when we were little. He never went down the road; he always had a full time job out at the steel mill. We’ve always had horses and raised our horses.”
Laughlin was raised in southern Colorado, one of two daughters to Ron and Patty Laughlin. She and her sister, Tracy Paulsen, attended college on rodeo scholarships – Christine Laughlin was part of the rodeo program at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. At each level of competition, she knew the support system she had at home.
“My family means a great deal to me,” she said. “If I didn’t have them, I don’t know how things would be going. I wouldn’t have my place. I live just 10 miles down the road from them. When I’m gone, they check on the place and take care of it for me.
“My dad shoes my horses for me when I get home. He did go with me through the winter, and when I’m by myself, he tries to go.”
That helps tremendously. Laughlin knows anyone competing in rodeo at a high level needs plenty of extra players on the team, whether they’re on the rodeo trail with her or tending to business at home.
“I don’t know what I’d do without my parents and my neighbors, Kevin and Christy Milder,” Laughlin said. “They take care of stuff for me when I’m gone, too.”
With business covered in Colorado, she will turn her attention to the City of Lights, where she hopes to parlay her first NFR qualification into a dream season. As her goals have evolved, she realizes she is within reach of that elusive world championship; in rodeo, where dollars equal points, the cowgirl with the most money won at the conclusion of the year earns the coveted gold buckle.
“I hope I end up with several of them,” Laughlin said. “I think Six Pack is as good as any of the horses that are going to be there. Winning the title is important. I think that’s what you work all year for. I’ve been running with them all year, so there’s no reason he can’t run with them there.”