Sherrylynn Johnson's run to the 2007 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (she'd last been there in 2000) was filled with peaks and valleys, metaphorically.
In the winter of 2007 her good horse got injured and, beginning in March, she found herself leasing the renowned View This Jet out of Tennessee. His owners, Lamar and Diane Quakenbush, were as excited as Johnson when she and Jet blazed their way to a $19,000 Fourth of July and then incredibly won all four go-rounds of the second Wrangler ProRodeo Tour finale in Puyallup, Wash.
"Jet's a remarkable horse that's been trained correctly and wants to please. He and I shared a winning bond that most barrel racers look for every day," said Johnson, who had a similar tie to her 2000 NFR horse, Bocephus Dollar. "At this level, you either click or you don't."
For the Henryetta, Okla., barrel racer, forty-percenting the Tour finale was "a little bit of rodeo heaven," but it was bittersweet. Just after the rodeo, Jet sustained what would become a season-ending injury, and Johnson was told she had a malignant tumor in her stomach.
She scheduled cancer surgery for the day after she was to run a borrowed horse at the Omaha (Neb.) Tour finale in late September-two long weeks from the time of her diagnosis. But, then she heard "the sweetest words any doctor ever said" when they told Johnson the grapefruit-size tumor they'd removed was actually benign.
Then, when Jet was put back on injured-reserve in November, Johnson had just weeks to find another NFR mount. Outfitted with plenty of stitches and a brace, she looked around, settling on a great 12-year-old mare named Tink N Run owned at the time by Matthew and Jeani Reiman of Stratford, Okla.
Unfortunately, "Tink" wasn't quite prepared mentally to deal with the chaos of the Thomas and Mack Center, and after hitting four barrels in the first two rounds of the Finals, Johnson switched to her home-raised 5-year-old sorrel, Little Dash Priest. "Snoopy" didn't quite get her in the money, but held his own considering it was only his third pro rodeo.
"Snoopy did a great job," Johnson said. "Rodeo is a humbling sport. You have to be okay with what you've accomplished and not try to see what you can prove."
Even if the horse scramble had turned out better at the '07 Finals, Johnson's highlight would still have been sharing the spotlight with her husband in the Oklahoma contingent during the grand entry. Mike roped calves last year at his record 22nd NFR.
Along with their Boston terrier "child" Popperdot, Mike and Sherrylynn basically spend their lives on the road. "We wake up in the morning with the (ProRodeo Sports News) Business Journal and coffee for him and a Diet Coke for me," she said, "and we discuss what to enter and how to get there." The couple also conducts barrel racing, goat tying, and calf roping clinics, and from the road they help operate the rope company they share with Mike's brother.
As for 2008 competition, Snoopy is coming into his own, but luckily isn't shouldering the entire burden. This spring, Johnson won money on a 15-year-old brown mare named Burgundy Bay ("Burg") that she acquired from Tracy Ash, and was turning heads in late July on an 11-year-old she bought from Charles and Anita Brock named The Money Chaser ("Chase").
Johnson likens rodeoing to a rollercoaster ride, and says it takes a lot of patience to endure all the ups and downs on the way to the top. She's especially grateful to PRO Orthopedic, Stace Smith Pro Rodeos and Total Health Enhancement for their support.
Burg at the 2008 Red Bluff Round-Up
Burgundy was trained in the cutting and snaffle bit industries, with a straighter body and not a lot of bend. I run her in a snaffle bit with a port, and it has no flex or give to it. With her, I kind of use my outside rein and rein her around the back of the barrel. It's not a cross-rein, but it's not pulling on the inside rein, either.
I tell all of my students the mane is like the center line on the highway. If you go across the mane, you'll wreck. I try to keep my hand on the correct side of the neck always. Also, because of her training, I warm Burgundy up by putting her on the fence before a run and cutting back like a cutting horse would do. I reinforce quicker, snappier turns when I drop my hand.
And you can see that I don't use a tie-down on Burgundy. Actually, I used one on Snoopy and Jet just to get into the gate-you can see that both their straps are long because they
really don't need tie-downs. Sometimes I think they're more for your brain than for your horse
Snoopy in the 4th Round of the 2007 NFR
With Snoopy, you can choose your pocket and pick up on him to cue him to turn. Snoopy has a rounder turn, and a little snap behind the barrel. He's really quick coming off of one.
Snoopy was trained in a chain gag, and I used an O-ring combination bit on him at the Finals. When I first took him in the buildings, it gave him more "come around." That nosepiece helped him come on around and follow his nose when I pulled on it. Now that he's older, I've taken it off. But I still use the kind of bit he was trained in.
I believe that you need to ride a horse the way it was trained. And if you can't ride it that way, sell that one and buy one that works the way you do. For instance, Burgundy's headstall was old and I ended up replacing it, but I even measured the new one against it so that the bit hung in her mouth the same way.
Jet at the 2007 Ellensburg Rodeo
I won the short round last year at Ellensburg, and the committee commissioned a bronze of Jet and me from a photo of the run. In most pictures of Jet as he approaches a barrel, it looks like he's going to hit it-like there's no room at all. That's because he's in and out; he makes a two-point turn.
When you look at these photos of me on three different horses, my hand position doesn't really change much because all three stand up in the turn, which allows them to keep their feet on bad ground.
Jet actually drops his whole body for the turn and uses all fours, though, while Burgundy turns more on her front end and Snoopy gets more weight on his rear. Because of the differences, with Jet I needed to lift my hand a little higher, whereas I'd drop it more with Burgundy, and on Snoopy, it was just more in the middle.
Jet came with an O-ring snaffle, and you could position that horse, and check him if you needed to, but then you'd just guide-not pull.