Sarah Rose McDonald, her boyfriend, Wade Whatley, and two horses left Brunswick, Ga., on May 14th for a road trip that many would think was a summer vacation.
First stop, Claremore, Okla. This was the first rodeo that Sarah had entered since March. Her mare Bling had a real vacation getting some much needed R & R after a busy winter running in the buildings. Bling was more than ready to rodeo. They finished fourth there and headed to Fort Smith.
That was just the beginning of a journey that eventually took them to Utah where they really did get in some vacation time between rodeos. The dynamic duo won rodeos in Moab and Delta and placed at Cedar City. As of June 25th they are second in the world standings behind Nancy Hunter.
Sarah’s personal journey to becoming one of the nation’s top barrel racers this year started when she was just a kid. She grew up in the country on a farm where her grandfather and uncle (Steve McDonald) always had horses around. Her mother rode and Sarah started riding as soon as she was big enough to put a leg on each side of a saddle.
Her older sister had a western pleasure horse and soon Sarah was riding it and making it go faster. They started competing in pole bending. Every Saturday they loaded up horses and went somewhere to ride and compete.
She would come home from school and ride every day. Her uncle and father made sure that she had something to ride and that the horse fit her ability and took her to the next level. Her favorite was a palomino mare named Flicka. When Sarah was nine, Flicka died from West Nile disease.
Her next horse was one that her uncle had just traded for, a big gelding named GC Highly Motivated that they called Jerry.
“He taught me so many things,” she said. “I learned a lot just riding him, like what to do to control my horse. Some days, I’d get on him and he’d be hyper, so we would just lope around the field. I always had a chance to win on him and I got really competitive.”
Jerry helped her win many titles including the 2005 National Barrel Horse Association World Championship. The McDonalds still have the 19-year-old horse today and he is teaching Sarah’s niece the same lessons.
In high school, Sarah played all sports, but kept riding every day. Her uncle, who is a horse trainer, always had a lot of horses around and she helped him by riding, learning from each horse that she rode.
Steve’s best friend Larry Ammons started spending time at the farm and took an interest in the horses. “If you around my uncle, you have to be into horses,” Sarah said with a laugh.
Steve and Larry went to Brian and Lisa Fulton’s production sale in 2007 and they came back to Georgia with a yearling mare named Fame Fling and Bling. She came from the Western 37 Ranch in Potter Valley, Calif., and is by Fulton’s great stallion A Streak of Fling.
That mare that Sarah calls Bling became her project. After Steve got her training going, Sarah started her on barrels and they won the first show they went to.
“We knew she was awesome and really smart,” Sarah said. “We didn’t run her that much and didn’t pressure her. We wanted what was best for her and really took our time with her. “
All of that time and training has paid off. Sarah’s experiences riding different horses and patience with Bling are coming to fruition and her summer has started off great. And in between rodeos, they did have a little vacation time in Utah. While in Moab, Bling and Hottie – a young mare that McDonald is hauling – got some well-deserved rest. Wade rented an ATV and for Sarah’s birthday they toured around in the canyons.
“Utah is so beautiful,” she said. “It’s been really awesome so far. I love getting to see new sights and so far my summer has been great.”
Vacation is over as they are now at the Reno Rodeo and gearing up for the “Cowboy Christmas” Fourth –of-July rodeo run.