The only native Californian to barrel race at last month's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Sheena Robbins did it on a horse cut from a different cloth.
Her mount, 8-year-old "Shorty," is registered as Bar D Mr Dual Olena, and was born to cut cows. He's by Boon Freckles (a grandson of Colonel Freckles and Boon Bar) and out of Miss Dual Dreamer (a granddaughter of Dual Pep, King Fritz and Doc's Prescription).
Shorty's sire is also the sire of some outstanding heel horses, including the horse ridden by team roper Shannon Frascht to win two rounds at the 2006 NFR.
"Fraschts own the stud," Robbins said. "If I was closer, I'd breed every one of my mares to him. All of the babies drag their butts and are real balanced horses. They're real physical and athletic."
Shorty, in particular, was also somewhat of a bronc. He had come through the Clovis Horse Sale to a West Coast rope horse trainer, and had bucked everybody off when Robbins took a chance on him as a 3-year-old. She describes Shorty as the easiest horse she's ever trained.
He'd been started on the pattern when he was turning 4 and Robbins had filled her WPRA permit and qualified for the 2006 California Circuit finals on him by the time he was 5.
"He'd only competed in slack competition at rodeos, and his first performance when he was 5 was at the Reno Rodeo," remembers Robbins, who tipped a barrel there to place in the round. "I kind of fed him to the wolves!"
She only set out in 2009 to further season Shorty, but after a relatively sub-par winter, the duo jumped out and virtually punched their first-ever NFR ticket with a $28,000 payday at RodeoHouston.
"The best part about making the NFR is that I'm really, really proud of that horse, the way he's grown up and matured," she says.
Shorty's a fast learner, and what he lacks in a racing pedigree he makes up for by being what Robbins' longtime boyfriend Cade Swor calls "a cowboy horse." The stout gelding is so broke you can run a reining pattern on him, put your hand down and cut a cow, or back him in the box and head or heel a steer.
Robbins is no stranger to cutting, herself. Her father trained cutters and she competed as a teenager. As a trainer herself now, Robbins still prefers the cutting pen as a place to find prospective barrel horses.
"I like my colts started by snaffle-bit or cutting trainers," she says. "For me, it just fits my style for my horses to have a lot of 'draw' (the ability to draw their weight back over their hocks)."
To Robbins, prospects from the reining or working-cow disciplines are generally also very broke and have learned to handle pressure, plus are more mature than racehorses and fit her training program better.
"When I lope one across the pen and sit down, they drag their butt," says Robbins, who's sponsored by Professional's Choice and Oxy-Gen. "I like to pitch them their head in a run and just use my feet and body more than having to pull."
Watch for more success by Robbins with her 2010 projects-all of which were started as cow horses. She has two 3-year-olds out of Dual Pep mares and two 4-year-olds, including one by a stud named Cool Smart that Robbins showed in cutting at the 2000 National High School Finals Rodeo.
At San Antonio, Texas
This is my first barrel, and I had started Shorty from way back in the alley, so he was really moving! I'd learned by this time that he needs to be running sooner in a building than outdoors, because he really likes a long run to first.
Shorty has a real "cowhorse" turn, and I'm sitting down here just letting him work. He's balanced well with his hip way underneath and his front end pulling. I've tried to train this turn into him, much like the turn used by a cutting horse!
I like that he has one ear forward and one back listening to me instead of the crowd. I have weight in my stirrups and am pushing on the horn, staying down in the saddle and holding my inside rein to help him finish this turn.
I'm looking at my second barrel and starting to kiss to him to keep him moving forward. The chain bit I'm using gives me confidence that I can help him without hanging on his head. He's so light that I don't need much bit, but I like to have a little more indoors to keep him square in his turns.
At Redding, California
Shorty looks a little tight coming into this second barrel. I'm lifting my inside rein and asking him to give me one more step to get around it. I'm trying to sit real square and not lean so he won't drop in too soon.
Leaning can throw your horse off-balance in this event just like it does in cutting. Instead, I try to scrunch down and let my horse feel me sitting on his back. When barrel racers lean forward going in or lean back leaving the turn, their horses can hit barrels or bow out.
Sometimes Shorty gets a?little tight in deeper ground because he uses his hind end so much, so I try to hustle him a lot more in deeper ground. He has a huge stop?when you're just riding him around and an even bigger one when you're running him. He really likes to drag it!
I always carry an over-and-under on my saddle and try to use it to encourage my horse to run hard home. And I wear spurs just in case I need to ask my horse to move over to avoid hitting a barrel.
At Tuscon, Arizona
Shorty looks a little free at this second barrel! This is a bigger pen with the barrels off the fence (the kind of pen we like the best), so I'm sitting quietly and putting my weight in my stirrups, almost like what you would do showing a cutting horse.
When the barrels are off the fence, I always know my horse will turn so I like to just sit for the turn and hustle him in between. Shorty has a lot of rate, which I think I put in all of my horses.
My hand is low and on his neck like it should be (I like to ride with soft hands and on a loose rein). I want my horses to turn on their own, but be broke enough that I can help them without throwing off my run. Shorty will let you handle him now and keep running, which is crucial on rodeo ground.
He is really trying to get out of this ground and I like this look on his face that says he's really trying!