OklahomaHorses Magazine November 2022

8 OklahomaHorses • November / December 2022 A Winning Team Barrel Racer Is Inspirational T o be honest, I had a fair idea of what type of gal this barrel racer is prior to meeting her. I had been told that nowhere on earth would I find harder-working, kinder, more generous folks than Dona Kay Rule and her husband of 42 years, John Rule. In fact, several people uttered those same words. What I had not expected was the uplifting feeling I experienced as soon as she walked into the room. After nearly 20 years owning and oper- ating National Saddlery in the Oklahoma City Stockyards, the Rules sold the business in 2009. Prior to that, she was busy raising their two children, KK (Kayla) and Mar- shall, and running the business alongside her husband. She trained barrel horses in her time away from the store. Some people might think that is a lot to take on. But in rodeo families, that is the norm. Dona Kay competed in team roping, tie-down calf roping, and barrel racing. John competed in tie-down roping and steer wrestling. The sale of the store took out the eight-to-five factor. The kids were raised and gone. While John threw himself into his sculpting, Dona Kay found extra time on her hands. The time was ripe to move into the next phase of her life. Hitting the Rodeo Trail Dona Kay continued to ride and train barrel horses. In 2016, with nary a doubt that she couldn’t do it at age 58, Dona Kay got her pro card and hit the rodeo trail with a horse named Juice. When she had started to look for a prospect, Juice was the twenty-second horse she checked out. He belonged to the grandson of a friend of hers. That day, the four-year-old chestnut gelding became Dona Kay’s. Within a few years, he was pretty salty. The first couple of years (2016 and 2017), the pair hit mostly Prairie Circuit rodeos. They won — a lot. “Juice was really starting to come on,” Dona Kay recalled. But in 2017, disaster struck while they were competing in Springfield, Missouri. Some riders were sheltering from a downpour. They were inside a small sheep-showing pen under a roof. Someone had tied a horse to a portable panel. “I was down fixing Juice’s splint boots when I heard someone shouting, ‘Whoa! Whoa!’ The horse tied to the panel had spooked and took off. Every exit was locked tight. I threw the rein over Juice’s neck, hoping he’d find a way out. Something hit me from behind.” Dona Kay was knocked unconscious. When she came to, she immediately asked after her horse despite having several broken ribs, a broken hand, a torn-up knee, and back pain. Poor Juice had just about ripped his hoof off. He was in shock. As soon as he was stabilized, Dona Kay loaded up and headed back to the Oklahoma City area to the Oakridge Equine Hospital. The diagnosis was a severed sensor tendon, and Juice is still recuperating. Broken but not defeated, Dona Kay knew it was time to see what another prospect could do. A Matter of Valor In 2013, Dona Kay’s friend Lana Merrick had called, realizing that she had no time to ride and finish her four-year-old colt. Dona Kay purchased the “very green- broke” gelding named High Valor. When Juice was injured, Valor was eight years old. Dona Kay entered him at a Waco, Texas, rodeo early in 2017. All the big names were there. She thought, “I am going to see if he knows how to run.” And run he did, coming in second all three days. “I knew what I had then,” she grinned. Valor started to bump his rider up in the standings. With wins too numerous to mention, the pair became a force to be reckoned with — until a bad hip nearly sidelined Dona Kay. “I was in Lufkin, Texas, in the early spring of 2021 talking to my daughter on the phone. I really wanted a drink, but I was in too much pain to get to the refriger- ator from where I was sitting. I knew then that I had to do something.” On April 25, 2021, Dona Kay under- went hip replacement. She told the doctor that she needed to be “rodeo ready” after the six-week recovery time, and he shook his head.  But he didn’t know this cowgirl! By that time, Dona Kay and Valor had made the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2019, placing in five rounds, winning two, and ending up ninth in the world. They qualified for the 2020 finals, but Dona Kay contracted COVID, and she and Valor had to sit out. In the 2021 finals, they placed in six rounds, placed sixth in the average, won the last round (“Which was really cool!”), and ended up fifth in the world. Where are they now? The pair is headed back to Las Vegas for the finals, sitting second in world standings. Valor aside (to whom she gives the credit), Dona Kay is inspirational. At the 2022 finals, she will be 65 years old. Older riders and folks starting out are thinking, “Maybe I can do more too!” Without a doubt, Dona Kay and Valor will be the most cheered-on barrel-racing team this December. She not only makes Oklahoma proud, she unknowingly makes all our hearts swell. by Kim Redo Photos courtesy of Dona Kay Rule