Fashionista Up! Wrangler NFR Barrel Racers Run for Western-Style Cash in Las Vegas as Hunter Wins First Night

Mary Walker © Molly Morrow

Fashion tough! Mary Hunter won the first night barrel racing at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last night. But she and her leggy Latte, 2012 American Quarter Horse Barrel Racer of the Year, weren't just racing the clock. They had to look good doing it! Did she succeed on both counts? Voters decide which rider was channeling the fashion sense of late trick rider Jerry Taylor on the WPRA web site. (photo by Molly Morrow)

“It’s just another rodeo,” former World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker told me Thursday night. “It’s just a great big one.”

The Ennis, Texas rodeo star was fielding requests from friends, neighbors and acquaintances for access, tickets, and who-what-where with the adept skill of a country star’s road manager. Was he nervous for his wife, barrel racer Mary Walker?

“They’re about to kick this thing off, and this is it,” he quipped, minutes before the first National Anthem was sung. “The hoopla is over, banquets are over, the awards are over, the pretty clothes are over. Now it’s time.”

So where was his wife?

Barrel racers aren’t known to primp, but there was some serious primping going on behind the chute at Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center arena. For the first time, the top 15 barrel racers in the world had extra cash to run for.

But the only way to win is to look the part: Nail it in the dressing room.

The Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) $5,000 Jerry Ann Taylor Award is named for a daring trick rider who will be remembered as someone who brought style, glamor and spirit to the rodeo arena.

Following her death in February, 2012, a fund was started to reward cowgirls who carry on Taylor’s sense of style. The WPRA and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame collaborated to offer the new cash award at the 2012 Wrangler NFR as well as the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo Finals in Texas.
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A $5,000 cash award will be given to the Best Dressed Barrel Racer at both rodeos.

After each night’s WNFR performance, barrel racing fans and television viewers are invited to go to the WPRA web site and cast a vote for the barrel racer who, in their opinion, is following in Jerry Ann’s steps with a cowgirl sense of style!

Here’s the link: http://www.wpra.com/nfr_vote_2012_success15.asp

Scroll to the photo of the rider you’d like to see win the award, enter your email address (you can only vote once), and you’re set!

Then you can sit back and look forward to what the rider have hanging in those garment bags to wear tonight! And tomorrow night! And the night after that!

Update: Maybe Byron Hunter’s cool, calm road manager impersonation wasn’t an act. Mary Walker won the first night’s barrels with the scorching score of 13.75 on the leggy American Quarter Horse Association Barrel Racing Horse of the Year, Perculatin.

At 53, Walker is a rookie at the giant 10-day rodeo and cowboy-style takeover of Las Vegas. Her personal-best year follows a personal-worst year: in 2011, her son was killed in a truck accident while hauling horses, and Walker, who also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, crushed her pelvis and broke two vertebrae when Latte went down at a barrel, leading to months of hospitalization, surgery, wheelchairs and physical therapy.

Mary Walker, 53-year-old Barrel Racer

At 53, Walker is anything but a rookie, but she has never qualified for the National Finals Rodeo before. A rookie win on her first ride? Walker took it all in the long, leggy stride of her AQHA Horse of the Year, Latte. (Molly Morrow photo for the Reagon Walker Foundation)

Walker and her husband have launched the Reagon Walker Foundation in memory of their son; it will benefit rodeo riders in search of college scholarships.

Mary was one of the last riders to go; Latte’s long stride and floating balance weren’t hampered by the late ground. The win earned her $18,257, and moved her up to second in the world standings.

Add the $5,000 fashion award check to the total if one rider won all ten NFR barrel rounds: according to the WPRA, she would take home an incredible paycheck of $234,393.01. How’s that for motivation?

“You cannot imagine how good that feels,” Walker told Ted Hardin in a WPRA interview. “You always think about winning the round at the biggest rodeos. You don’t really think about winning the round at the NFR being your first time, and being at the end of the ground. I’m just amazed and so excited.”

Mary gave credit to her horse in the interview: “It doesn’t matter to him if it’s top of the ground or bottom of the ground,” she said. “Latte, when you watch him run, he’s very smooth and long-strided so he doesn’t look like he’s doing a lot out there. Then when you hear his time, you’re just amazed. He’s ready to go all the time, and he loves doing it.

“This year he has taken care of me, and I am just so dedicated to him.”

Mary looked the part, too, wearing a vintage-style sweetheart-of-the-rodeo-style black cowgirl shirt and matching black hat.

The Wrangler NFR is broadcast on GAC, available on dish networks.

Read more about Mary on the NFR Insider web site: The Amazing Mary Walker



jumping-foal-713469 by Fran Jurga
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Mary Walker: Veteran Barrel Racer Caps Inspired Year with a Shot at WNFR Title

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This little video about Texas barrel racer Mary Walker tells only part of the story that is making her the sentimental crowd favorite going into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this week.

As the video relates, Mary recovered from a terrible third-barrel fall that left her with two fractured vertebrae, a broken hip, two broken toes and a crushed pelvis. She spent four months in a wheelchair.

Thanks to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund (JCCF), she received the medical care she needed. (The JCCF is a project of Justin Boots.)

Barrel racer Mary Walker

Mary Walker's inspired climb to #3 in world standings has made her the sentimental favorite to win the world championship title in Las Vegas (Molly Morrow.WPRA photo)

This came soon after the death of her son, cutting horse champion and rising PRCA star Reagon Walker, in a highway accident while hauling his horse to a cutting event.

So 2012 was a comeback year for her in more ways than one. But did anyone expect that her horse Perculatin (a.k.a. “Latte”) would be named AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year? Her rise in the standings meant that this year was not just a comeback for Mary, but a personal best, as well.

Award ceremony, NFR 2012, for AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year to Percolatin

On December 5, Mary Walker accepted the 2012 AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Award for her barrel horse, Percolatin, a.k.a. "Latte". Thanks to Molly Morrow for this image (www.mollymorrow.com)

“Latte” is a 2004 bay gelding by Dash For Perks-Curiocity Corners by Silver Lucky Buck. He was bred by Reita Reijan Pickens of Kiowa, Oklahoma. Mary says she likes his long stride; the horse looks like a Thoroughbred at full speed, and seems to defy both gravity and biomechanics when he downshifts and rounds a barrel.

Mary and Latte headed to Vegas ranked #3 on the Top 15…and yet she is technically a “rookie” at the NFR. Las Vegas is familiar territory; her husband is former world champion steer wrestler Byron Walker.

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2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo logoBut here’s another great PS to her story: she is a veteran rider, 53 years old, and she has been a pro since 1983. That’s one long haul to Vegas!

Every rider in the Top 15 has a great story. As always, the barrel racing will be a standout event at the NFR.

Mary Walker’s story is one for us all to hold close to our hearts. She gives credit for her comeback to the spirit of her late son, Reagon; she says she feels his presence. “He rides with me, he’s on my shoulder, he protects me, and I know he’s going to take care of me,” Walker said.

Justin Cowboy Crisis FundThe Reagon Walker Foundation has created a barrel racing calendar for 2013, with photos by PRCA photographer Molly Morrow. It will be sold all over the trade shows at the NFR. It is appropriately called “The Road to Vegas”. Calendar Number One (each one is numbered) is signed by the top 15 barrel racers for 2012 at the NFR; it will be auctioned in Las Vegas to launch the calendar and to benefit the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.

Maybe you don’t normally keep an eye on the NFR scores. But if you’re not a regular rodeo fan, look to the 15 women going for the barrel racing title for some excitement, good stories and amazing horses. And if you need an emotional connection, just visit Mary’s web site and look at the photos of her in her wheelchair, or in her hospital bed.

To order a calendar: please mail a check for $20.00 to 1401 Crisp, Ennis, Tx 75119, made payable to Reagon Walker Foundation, which provides scholarships to rodeo contestants.

The Jurga Report thanks PRCA photographer Molly Morrow for her fantastic photographs! Check out her amazing rodeo photography at www.mollymorrow.com.



jumping-foal-713469 by Fran Jurga
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