By Jolee Jordan
Corpus Christi, Texas — Taci Bettis had seen inside the American Bank Center once before but it was not during Rodeo Corpus Christi—it was actually for a concert.
“I went to a Miranda Lambert concert there a couple of years ago,” laughs the Round Top, Texas barrel racer. As a rookie in the WPRA this season, Bettis had never competed in the small building next to the bay nor even seen the setup for the rodeo.
“We followed the guy with the barrels up the alley to have a look and my mouth wanted to drop,” she admits. “That first barrel was so close and then I looked over at the second and it was like two jumps!”
Long been a major stop on the spring schedule for the Texas Circuit, the Corpus Christi event underwent some changes in 2017, moving, ironically, to a concert series in conjunction with the four performances of rodeo action. To accommodate the new performance schedule, the format for the WPRA barrel racing was changed to a long go round with a progressive round for the top 32 to compete in the performances. Barrel racers were limited to 150 contestants for the first round which was held at another venue just up the road in Robstown on the Monday prior to the start of the rodeo, which has long been held in conjunction with Buc Days in Corpus Christi.
Bettis kicked off what would become a crazy week by winning the opening round in south Texas.
“I had never been to that arena before but they said they have had high school rodeos there,” she notes. “I totally thought it would be narrow and skinny but when we got there . . . I thought, ‘this is huge!’”
The arena seemed not to matter to Bettis’ equine partner, Bogie Is A Smash, aka Smash. The nine year old gelding carried Bettis to the round win with a time of 15.60 seconds, .13 seconds faster than Nicole Laurence’s second place finish.
Bred by former WPRA Columbia River Circuit Director Randy Rae Britt and her husband Sid, Smash is by their stallion Bogie Biankus who carried Britt to the circuit championship in 1997 and leant a hand to Katie (McCoin) Garthwaite during her Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) appearance when Garthwaite’s own horse suffered an injury.
Former WPRA Texas Circuit Director and six-time WNFR qualifier Tammy Fischer bought the gelding from the Britts. Bettis has been riding with Fischer for the better part of a decade and was having trouble with her own horse a few summers back.
“My other horse was not doing good and Tammy was leaving for the summer, so she said to take Smash and ride him,” Bettis remembers. “I think about two weeks later I called her and said, ‘I don’t think you are going to get that horse back!’”
Though Fischer liked the horse herself and had not planned on selling him, she finally relented. Smash and Bettis have been a team for about four years.
Saying she has been riding since before she was walking, Bettis started with a pony at youth rodeos and has worked her way up the ranks, competing in high school rodeo and then on the regional rodeo tour since adding Smash to her barn.
“When I got Smash, and he just kept getting better and better every year, I decided to get my card,” she notes. She spent some time on the road with Fischer last summer, filling her permit with a second place finish in Eagle, Colo., behind her mentor and hauling partner.
The pair does not come into the ranks of the WPRA without great credentials: they claimed a pair of American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World titles in 2015 at the World Show in Oklahoma City, taking home the title for Senior Barrel Racing and taking first in the Amateur Division too.
Their march to the professional ranks hit a major snag at the end of 2016, however, as Smash suffered an injury in September which required surgery.
“He was off six months and I just got back on him in March,” says Bettis, who is sponsored by Classic Equine. “I got a little later start, I’m a little behind, but he came back firing and if we keep doing this, we’ll be fine.”
With Smash back in action, Bettis has been placing regularly at Texas circuit rodeos like Goliad, Mercedes, Sinton and Wichita Falls. Then came her huge week to close out April.
After competing in Corpus Christi in the opening round, Bettis and Fischer loaded up for Oklahoma City, site of the Better Barrel Races (BBR) World Finals event. Soon, Bettis was gobbling up checks north of the Red River too, riding both Smash and the six year old Bogies French Bug.
Her good fortune had her in a bind however. The BBR Finals was scheduled to have a short round on Sunday, the same day she and Fischer were to be back in Corpus Christi for their second rounds.
“My colt did so good [in Oklahoma City], I was thinking I was going to have to turn out at Corpus so I could run him in the short go,” she admits. “But Mother Nature intervened, I guess.”
In fact, a major wind storm blew through Oklahoma City on Saturday morning, knocking out power to the buildings at the Fairgrounds and turning over trailers in the parking lot with winds in excess of 85 miles per hour.
“I have never been so scared in my life, sitting in my trailer,” notes Bettis. “The wind was fierce.”
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the storm but events were rescheduled while crews worked to restore power, eventually leading BBR to cancel the short round events. While disappointing, the move freed Bettis to return to south Texas.
Bettis and Fischer made a quick stop at home to pick up Bettis’ husband, who drove the pair on to finish their week where it began, in Corpus Christi.
Then came Bettis’ moment of panic at seeing the small size of the arena inside the American Bank Center.
“He’s a huge horse,” Bettis says of her gelding, “and I haven’t ran him in very many of those small pens like that.”
“But he didn’t miss a step,” she notes proudly. “We sort of went from one extreme to the other.”
In fact, Bettis stopped the clock at 14.12 in the second round, good enough for fourth in the second round behind Ari-Anna Flynn’s round winning 13.97.
With a two-run total of 29.72 seconds, Bettis edged Laurence—who was second in round two as well—by just six one-hundredths of a second to pick up her first pro rodeo win.
“It’s so exciting to win it,” she says. “It’s pretty close to home.”
Bettis picked up $5,475 in Corpus Christi, putting her total weekend haul over $12,000 with her BBR winnings in the count. The money won in Corpus Christi moved her to 10th in the Texas Circuit and landed her about $190 behind fellow Texan Holly Wright in the race for 2017 WPRA Rookie of the Year.
In addition to Fischer, Bettis heaped praise on her husband, Jeremy, who is an engineer with a fiber optics company.
“He keeps the house and all the animals I leave behind in one piece while I’m gone,” she laughs, adding that he wasn’t a horse person before meeting her. “Now I think he can wrap a foot better than I can!”
“It makes it much easier [to go on the road] knowing he’s taking care of everything for me,” she says. Bettis and Fischer are planning a busy summer on the road.
“We’ll go out and see how it goes,” she notes.
“She’s been great,” says Bettis of Fischer. “It’s all new to me but she’s been showing me how to enter and all the ropes of the road. It’s been a lot easier with someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s made this all a lot better.”
“I’m excited to see what the summer does,” she adds, noting she gained a lot of confidence with how Smash handled the different setups he faced in the final week of April.
“He’s been a blessing for sure.”
Courtesy of WPRA