What a ride it has been for Sarah Rose McDonald and her great horse Fame Fling N Bling.
We’ve been following her journey to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo here at the NFR Insider and I am grateful for the opportunity to share the story of this talented young woman and her amazing horse.
With just three more rounds to go, Sarah and Bling have made it to the South Point Hotel & Casino for the buckle presentations three times and have won a total of $112,596. There are 25 first-time NFR qualifiers in all of the events here. So far, Sarah has been the most successful.
Sarah likes being prepared and for her that means getting to the rodeo grounds early. That was definitely true here as she and her boyfriend Wade Whatley started the 2,200 mile trip from Brunswick, Ga., well before Thanksgiving.
They had a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Las Vegas at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and did some Black Friday shopping at Caesars Palace. As they were anticipating the upcoming NFR, they took every route they could to the Thomas & Mack Center and picked the best one.
Knowing that sponsor appearances were going to be part of her daily schedule here, they mapped out a schedule and the best way to get places. Their map also included the South Point knowing that she would go there to get her back number at the Welcome Reception and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Star Celebration where each of the competitors would get special recognition and a saddle for qualifying for rodeo’s Super Bowl.
Sarah and Bling also received the Scoti Flit Bar Rising Star Award, given to a first-time NFR qualifier. Lana Merrick created the award in memory of Scoti Flit Bar who she competed on here twice in 1987 and 1989 before he died from a rare blood disease. The barrel racers all vote to see who wins the award giving it extra special meaning as it carries the respect of one’s peers with it.
Soon after receiving that award, Sarah and Bling were on their calculated trip to the Thomas & Mack for the first performance of the rodeo. A downed barrel and five-second penalty took them out of the money but made them more determined than ever to get to the pay window.
In the second round they weren’t taking any chances on penalties. They took a wide path around the first barrel, placed third and have placed or won every time since then.
“Bling is feeling awesome. I have a lot of help keeping her that way,” Sarah said. “Wade’s with her all day, making sure she’s okay, icing her legs, turning her out. When I get here, Jess Harper is doing therapy on her, keeping her muscles feeling great. Dr. Tanner is here, checking on her too. It takes a lot of help here. Luckily I have a great team even though it’s my first time here.”
Callie DuPerier took the ever-important lead in the average standings after Lisa Lockhart had the misfortune of a knocked over barrel in the seventh round. In fact, Callie and Rookie of the Year contender Jackie Ganter are the only two to have seven clean runs. The average pays a whopping $67,269 and will be a big deciding factor in the world-title race.
Sarah and Bling are definitely in contention in spite of that first round run. They have been rock solid since then and Bling is getting better with every run.
“It amazes me and Bling amazes me,” she said. “At a normal rodeo we might have two runs and a short-go. Here we ask them to run 10 of their very best runs of the year, back to back to back. It’s a lot. It’s amazing for any horse to do that. They have to really like their job and Bling definitely loves her job.”
Sarah loves her job too and has embraced everything that goes along with the NFR. She always gives credit to her family, friends, fans, sponsors and the team that keeps Bling healthy. And, being that kind of woman, she also brought the horse that she learned to barrel race on to be part of the festivities.
She won the National Barrel Horse Association 10 years ago when she was 13 on a horse named Jerry. As the lone representative from the state of Georgia, the responsibility of carrying the state flag in the grand entry fell to her. She brought Jerry, her first barrel racing horse here to ride in the grand entry and carry the flag. After the third performance, Jerry, who is 18-years-old thought he should be running barrels instead of carrying a flag so she switched horses.
Three rounds to go and lots of excitement left in all of the events at this year’s NFR. Whatever happens, it’s been a thrill to watch Sarah and Bling in their first trip here. They both love what they are doing and I’m sure this won’t be their last.