By Jolee Jordan
Oakdale, California — Lynette Clyde was needing something to do.
A barrel racer all her life, Clyde won the 1994 Wilderness Circuit Championship and was a regular in the winner’s circle for many years in the circuit known as the “Snake Pit.”
But with three small children, Clyde stepped away from barrel racing to focus on her family. She cheered from the sidelines as her kids followed their parents into the rodeo arena, winning high school rodeo titles and competing at the National High School Rodeo Finals.
As her kids grew up and started families of their own, and began to move away from their home in Heber City, Utah, Clyde found herself in idle mode, feeling down and looking for something to keep her busy.
“I got depressed with my babies gone,” said Clyde. She naturally turned back to her love of barrel racing. “I thought I’d be OK riding in the mountains on my husband’s paint horse but I wanted to run barrels again.”
With the support of her husband Willis, who owns a physical therapy practice, Clyde set out to find a horse to take her back into the arena. Turned out, that process was long and exhaustive too.
“They’re expensive and there are no guarantees, even when you find a good one,” she notes. “I tried them all.”
As she began to get a little frustrated with the process, Clyde turned to prayer.
“I just prayed about it . . . I said, ‘Lord, please help me to find one,’” she says.
Not long after that moment, Clyde contacted Wyoming barrel racer and producer Lynn Kohr about a mare she had for sale. That horse had sold but Kohr told Clyde she knew of another rodeo horse for sale.
The mare was Frenchmans Bella, a 2013 mare by Irish Pay out of Frenchmans Belle, who belonged to former College National Champ Rachel Tiedeman. Tiedeman had bought the mare as a two year old and did the training herself. But Tiedeman, who works as a traveling nurse, was also planning her wedding and decided the time was right to sell Belle.
Clyde had another horse at the time on a trial basis and she told Kohr she’d get back in touch once she decided on the one she was riding. When that horse didn’t work out, she called in a friend for help.
“I got my friend Jill Parker Atkison to be my agent,” laughs Clyde. “Jill was excited about her so I drove up to Gillette [to try her].”
When she walked around the trailer and first laid eyes upon the 16.2 hand mare, she was shocked.
“I told Rachel she should have given some warning as a person could faint,” she says. “She just takes your breathe away; she is so big but she’s just regal.”
Describing the mare as mellow and sweet, Clyde was in love almost from first sight. The deal was made to send the mare back to Utah.
“I paid cash and gave Rachel this James Bond suitcase with the money in it,” she says. “I told her I always wanted to do that! I doubt it was as much money as James Bond would have though.”
Clyde notes that Belle hauls on her own and is very calm and quiet until she’s told to run.
“She’s so pleasant, she walks up the alley. She loves scratches and treats,” she says. “The kids can sit on her. I bet I could walk up the alley with my grandkids on the front of the saddle, hand them off to you, make my run and take them back as I came back.”
With her new mount in tow, Clyde went on the road in the winter, beginning in Arizona and traveling on to Texas before ending up in California for the spring.
“I get kinda scared out here,” she admits, noting it’s been 25 years since she last went on the road. “But my daughter says, ‘Mom, you can’t sit around and wait for Amazon to deliver anymore. I guess I’ve seen everything they have on Amazon and watched everything on Netflix.”
“I have a lot more respect for the gals who are on the road now,” Clyde says. “They drive when they don’t want to and work really hard. Everyone dreams of being on the road but it’s a lot harder than you think.”
After missing the entries for the Clark County Rodeo in Logandale, Nev., Clyde and her husband loaded up and headed to Oakdale, California for the Oakdale Rodeo, an event steeped in tradition having begun in the 1940’s.
Running in the Friday slack prior to the rodeo, Clyde and Belle laid down a smoking run, putting a 17.72 second run on the board to lead the way going into the weekend. Though many of the WPRA’s best, including reigning WPRA World Champ Nellie Miller, took a shot at her, Clyde’s time held up to earn the 2018 championship.
“Can you believe that?” Clyde seemed surprised still, days later. “I just have to acknowledge that things worked in my favor. That gal that ran the .5 in slack but got the barrel . . . my heart just goes out because we all know what that feels like. But I’m just tickled to win.”
“They gave the nicest buckle and a bracelet, that is just gorgeous.”
While their partnership is still just months old, Clyde notes that she’s made adjustments since taking the reins on Belle.
“I had to totally change my riding. I usually ride with long reins and sit back but on her I had to shorten my reins and learn to lean forward. She’s made me a better rider.”
Clyde notes that years of not riding, along with age (she’s 52) had caught up with her physically.
“I didn’t realize how much flexibility it took just to put my foot in the stirrup,” she jokes. “I’m finally feeling like I’m getting that edge back, like I’m fit to ride again.”
Making the Oakdale win that much sweeter was the fact that Willis was on the road with Clyde for this trip. He’d been part of the journey since he flew to Wyoming for the vet check when the Clyde’s bought Belle.
“We were watching Hogan’s Heroes and got to talking [before the performances], saying it would be so fun to win. It’s so fun to be together on the rodeo trail.”
Clyde took the win by a full tenth over Kelsey Hayden, earning $2,480. With a large payout, thanks to a $5,000 added committee purse, the rodeo paid 12 monies. It was a knife-fight too, as the money holes from second to 12th were separated by a scant .14 second.
From Oakdale, Clyde headed north for the Red Bluff Round-Up. Her 2018 goals began with another trip to the Wilderness Circuit Finals but the cowgirl is keeping her mind open to the possibilities, particularly after her success in Oakdale against a stacked field of some of the best horses and jockeys in the world.
“Who wouldn’t want to go as far as they could? Who wouldn’t want the NFR?” she asks, adding that while she’s kind of a homebody, she also likes to wander. “I pray about it and I get this feeling in my soul, like God is telling me, ‘I don’t know what you’re worrying about, I’ve given you everything you need, just go represent me well.”
She’s learning to like life on the road too. In fact, when she returned from her winter run for a stint at home, she found herself with a new attitude, staying in her trailer for a few days before finally moving back into the house.
“I told my husband we should just sell the house,” she laughs. “I mean, who wants to do yard work?”
The biggest emotion for Clyde in this phase of her life, however, is an overwhelming gratitude to just be given the opportunities she’d getting.
“I’m so grateful. I pictured this happening but when it does, it’s weird,” she laughs. “It is different in my head but it’s all so exciting.”
Her family remains the rock behind it all and their support is the key ingredient in her drive.
“My husband jokes with people, tells them, I bought her this horse and a nice truck and trailer . . . and she left me!”
Kidding aside, Clyde remains excited about just having the opportunity to compete again, despite missing family while on the road.
“I’m having a great time. Change is hard but I just think, ‘Wow! Look at what I get to do.’”
Clyde can’t say enough about her mare—including that she had never even considered riding a mare before. She heaps praise upon Tiedeman, both for the hours of training and for selling her. She says she shares a bond with Belle that is very special to her.
“She’s so easy, I am absolutely lucky. I truly believe she is Heaven sent.”
For more information on the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo, please visit them on-line at www.oakdalerodeo.com.
Courtesy of WPRA