Veterinarian making the cut in barrels

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the August issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is re-published here with the WPRA’s approval.

Like a lot of circuit cowgirls, Fonda Galbreath has a full-time job, leaving her little time to compete in ProRodeo.

That means traveling shorter distances in order to compete, which is just fine for Galbreath. She can focus on her primary task, which is pretty important. You see, she also is a veterinarian at Oakes (N.D.) Vet Service, where her husband, Collin, is also a vet.

Dr. Fonda Galbreath
Dr. Fonda Galbreath

“I work during the week, and then have fun on the weekends,” she said. “I pretty much stay within the same three-state area in the Dakotas and Minnesota. I also have clients in the area, so I generally work when I’m on the road as well.”

Her work paid off during the WPRA Tour event in Hamel, Minn., from July 10-13, where she and her mount, Frosted Cookies, rounded the cloverleaf pattern in 15.49 seconds, beating runner-up Jaime Newcomer by nearly a quarter of a second.

That’s not too shabby for a lady who began competing in barrel racing just four years ago and is running this season on her WPRA permit. Obviously, though, she’s no newcomer to being a horsewoman.

“My family started Strait Rail Ranch in Minnesota when I was in junior high,” said Galbreath, a 2009 graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. “I got into cutting horses and rode cutting horses through high school. My senior year I was in the top 10 in the senior youth in the NCHA.”

She received her undergraduate degree from North Dakota State University, where she met her husband. She continued to ride some while focusing on her studies. Once she graduated from vet school, she began going to cutting competitions with a 4-year-old, Macs Spunkie Mate.

“But she wasn’t taking to cutting,” Galbreath said.

So she turned to NFR qualifier Jane Melby, who was living in Minnesota at the time. With Melby’s tutelage, Spunkie took to the barrel pattern, and Galbreath’s weekends changed.

“I entered my first barrel race in May 2010,” she said. “I ran that mare through last summer. In August, she fractured a bone in her right hind ankle, and that’s when I made the decision to buy Frosted Cookies.”

It looks to be a solid purchase. Lola is a 7-year-old sorrel mare by Cookie Dash out of PC Laughing Sundust, and she’s the reason Galbreath is stepping into the WPRA.

“This is my first year in rodeo,” she said. “I bought my WPRA permit Oct. 1 and have entered around 10 rodeos or so. I started out with jackpots, because that’s the level that Spunkie was able to compete at. Knowing the capabilities that Lola has, I decided I wanted to try to compete at the next level.

“I really enjoy the adrenaline of the crowd and the announcer, and the situation of rodeo music vs. being at a jackpot.”

And so does Lola. Her time in Hamel was proof.

“That was my first WPRA victory,” Galbreath said. “I feel just so blessed and thankful and overwhelmed that it actually happened. I know my horse is capable and know that I’m capable, but sometimes you have those doubts that you can really do it. It’s exciting that we haven’t entered that many rodeos and already have had this success.”

The future seems quite bright for Galbreath and Lola, an athletic mare with a sensitive nature.

“She has the speed and the ability to turn very tight around her barrels, so the combination makes her a likely candidate for being competitive at a higher level,” Galbreath said. “What drew me to the horse is when I watched Molly Otto in May of last year. She clocked very well, and she didn’t look like she was going that fast. She reminded me a lot of Macs Spunkie Mate.

“She’s extremely broke and really light in her face. She’s easy to ride from the standpoint that she’s very broke and she’s pretty bendy. She moves off your legs pretty easy, but she does get scared pretty easy. She’s very standoffish, but she loves her job, and she always wants to work for you.”

What’s next? She’ll remain on her permit until Oct. 1, then purchase her WPRA card and see where the rodeo road takes her.

“I’m sitting second in the WPRA Derby standings, so my plan is to finish out Lola’s Derby year and go to the WPRA Finals in Waco (Texas) in the Derby Class,” she said. “I’ll primarily rodeo next season.

“My plan is to go down south on and off during the winter when it’s the slow season for my veterinary work and make a decision from there whether I could justify going or come home and work.”

Whichever is the case, Galbreath certainly is enjoying her run in 2014. She was one of six recent winners on the WPRA Tour, joining Carlee Pierce, who won in Santa Fe, N.M.; Robin Herring, Pecos, Texas; Kassidy Dennison, Window Rock, Ariz.; Megan Swift, Ringgold, Ga.; and Cheyenne Shipps, Clear Lake, S.D.

For Shipps, the victory as a mix of great opportunity and better timing for her and VS Easy Dash Home, a 14-year-old sorrel gelding she calls Homie.

“I had been doing well and had won the Springfield (Mo.) ProRodeo in the spring, but I’d just been placing lately,” said Shipps, 23, of Dadeville, Mo. “I knew my horse was working really well, and I knew Clear Lake was his type of pen.

“It’s just an exciting rodeo and lots of energy. My horse runs so much better with bigger crowds. He likes it a lot. I knew I had beaten some really tough girls to win that rodeo, so that meant a lot to me, too.”

As of mid-July, Shipps was the No. 4 cowgirl in the WPRA rookie race. She purchased her permit in November, then filled it at the WPRA finals. As soon as the championship concluded, she purchased her card for this season.

“It means everything to me to be able to compete at this level,” she said. “It’s been my dream to be a professional cowgirl. I made my education my first priority, and I have my master’s degree. This is my first opportunity to ProRodeo.

“It’s been my dream, but I always thought I needed to get a good education to support this expensive hobby of mine.”

Shipps was raised on a ranch near Dadeville, about 35 miles northwest of Springfield. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Springfield at Missouri State University. She helps her family on their cow-calf operation.

“I’ve ridden horses as long as I can remember and always rode horses on the ranch,” Shipps said. “My dad was a steer roper who also team roped some. When I went with him, I always watched the barrel racing. I like to go fast, so I just kind of picked up barrel racing from there.”

She began competing at age 6 and has progressed through the ranks. Now that she has something special in Homie, she knows this is an opportunity to make a run in ProRodeo.

“He’s ornery,” she said of the gelding. “He’s a lot of fun, but he tries his heart out every time. He’s a true rodeo horse. He loves the crowds. He loves the excitement and the energy. He handles all kinds of ground.

“I love the atmosphere of rodeoing. It makes a good combination. He makes it fun to rodeo. Sometimes it’s easy to get down, be he somehow brightens the day and knows when I need a pick-me-up. I think we just have a good bond.”

That bond seems to be working now. She hopes it translates into brighter things ahead, from winning the rookie title to eventually competing at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

It’s what dreams are made of.


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