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Sweet Victory — Beating Breast Cancer Makes Mother’s Day Extra Special for Ganters

By Johnna Espinoza
5/4/16

Jackie and Angela Ganter; Photo By Kenneth Springer

Jackie and Angela Ganter; Photo By Kenneth Springer

The daughter and mother barrel racing team of Jackie and Angela Ganter are sure to have several more wins in the arena, but none will likely be more significant than Angela’s victory over breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2010.

“I get to be here to see another Mother’s Day every year,” Angela said. “Being a mother is everything in the world to me. Since Jackie lost her Dad at an early age, I’ve kind of been the mother and father. Without Jackie, I probably wouldn’t be much.”

The traveling partners are among those in the WPRA celebrating Mother’s Day this month. Jackie, 19, is the barrel racer and her mom, Angela, is her coach, but they’re more of a team because they share so much of the work required to be successful at barrel racing. Angela is Jackie’s manager, strategist, day driver, horse handler and much more, along with being a loving mother and best friend. Jackie is the athlete, jockey, video analyst, night driver, online college student and much more, along with being a loving daughter and best friend.

Ganter teamwork – which includes some impressive horse power – produced a 2015 breakout year for rising star, Jackie. The younger Ganter claimed WPRA Rookie of the Year honors. Jackie qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and didn’t knock over a barrel in 10 runs en route to the rookie crown. She jumped from 12th to eighth place by finishing second in the average. Jackie isn’t an overnight success. She has been barrel racing for years, but her rise in the professional ranks has been quick and helped by the knowledge and savvy horse sense of Angela.

“The NFR is something I have dreamed about since I started running barrels,” Jackie said. “It was unbelievable to make it my rookie year and have my Mom there. She was there all through my rookie year and then all through the Finals. She walked me down the alley every night.”

The Ganter team, of Abilene, Texas, will be one to watch as the 2016 big summer rodeo season heats up. Jackie is among the barrel racers who have been selected to compete in the heralded Calgary Stampede, July 8-17 in Alberta, Canada. Jackie is currently in the top five of the WPRA World Standings.

Jackie and Angela are relishing all of their time together because they, like other families who have battled cancer, are keenly aware that they are lucky. The outcome could have been different.

“The only thing that got me through it was just staying alive for Jackie,” Angela said.

Photo By Kenneth Springer

Photo By Kenneth Springer

How it all began…

Jackie grew up caring for horses and riding and at her family’s Lone Star Stables in Abilene. The facility includes an equine exercise pool, stalls and paddocks. Jackie is an only child and Don Ganter, Jackie’s father, passed away when she was 8. Mom and daughter leaned on each other after Don’s passing and shared an interest in horses. Jackie traveled with her mom to rodeos when Angela competed in barrel racing.

Jackie started out doing English riding shows and competitions as a young girl. At the encouragement of Angela, she tried Western riding and barrel racing.

“I’ve always been a horse girl,” Jackie said. “I didn’t envision doing anything outside of horses. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been passionate about.”

Angela noticed early on that Jackie was able to ride all types of horses with varying temperaments and skills. Jackie would often take four or five horses to a competition and do well on all of them.

“It’s a God-given talent, that she can ride as many horses as she can ride,” Angela said.
Fighting Cancer

In 2010, the lives of Jackie and Angela changed significantly. Jackie was in junior high and competing in horse events close to home. Angela had to sit down with her daughter, then 13, and have a conversation no person would ever want to have with a loved one, especially her child. Angela vividly recalls trying to explain to Jackie that doctors had found cancer in her lymph nodes.

“What does that mean?” Jackie said then.

“It means that it’s probably going to be a long haul. I have breast cancer,” Angela said.

“That’s just great. My Dad died and now you’re going to die,” Jackie said.

“I hope not,” Angela said.

Angela started cancer treatments in January of 2011.

“The next couple of years I just fought it 24/7,” Angela said. “I was in pretty bad shape.”

“As horrible as it was, I picked the worst chemo you could take,” Angela said. She took Adriamycin, aka, the “Red Devil.” It is also often called Doxorubicin, which is the generic name. The chemotherapy agent, that is reddish in color, is used to treat many kinds of cancer. Angela took Adriamycin for 16 weeks. She sat in a chemo chair with a drip from five-to-six hours at a time. Angela ended up having a total of nine surgeries, 42 chemotherapy treatments and 28 radiation treatments.

“That 2011, I just basically tried to stay alive,” she said.

“The entire time I sat there, I was thinking the only reason that I would do this was for Jackie. There was no other reason to be that sick. No reason.”

Angela lost her hair. She suffered through extreme fatigue and everything she ate tasted like metal.

Jackie, along with their family and friends, helped take care of Angela and things around home while Angela fought breast cancer. Something positive did come out of all that pain. Jackie began riding some of Angela’s top barrel racing horses because Angela was too weak to ride them.

“It’s her and my joke that I never got them back,” Angela said.

Jackie’s riding skills and horse knowledge improved by riding Angela’s more-experienced horses and it helped set the stage for Jackie’s pro career later.

Jackie and Angela Ganter; Photo By Kenneth Springer

Jackie and Angela Ganter; Photo By Kenneth Springer

Road Warriors

By 2012, Angela was starting to feel better and it was becoming clear that Jackie had a future in barrel racing with Mom’s help. Jackie claimed the Texas high school barrel racing state championship that year aboard Frenchmans Jester. Victories and awards continued the next couple of years as Jackie went on to claim the 2014 WPRA Junior World title. At about that same time, Jackie purchased her pro permit and filled it in one weekend. Life on the rodeo road with Mom had begun. The women made a deal that if Jackie would continue to pursue a college degree then Angela would go on the road with her to help take care of the horses. By 2015, Jackie had enrolled in online business courses through Ranger (Texas) College.

The pairing works well for Jackie and Angela, even though some young women can’t imagine spending nearly every minute of the day with their mother. Jackie and Angela traveled more than 50,000 miles together last year.

“We get along great personality wise,” Jackie said.

The secret to their success is that they have had a lot of practice being a good team and they have a good understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“On the day-to-day, I don’t think there are two people that are more compatible,” Angela said. “She’s very compassionate toward me and we’re very forgiving of each other.”

Angela is the eyes and ears from the bleachers at the rodeo while Jackie is warming up in the practice pen. Angela sends Jackie text messages about arena conditions, along with how the rodeo is progressing. She also sends her daughter motivational text messages. Angela’s role is similar to that of a tennis coach in the stands at a match. In fact, Angela and Jackie look to tennis star Serena Williams whenever they need inspiration. I tell Jackie that “you don’t have to go with what I’m saying, but I will just tell you what I see.”

The tandem travels in a five-horse trailer with living quarters when they go down the road. Angela often takes care of the horses while Jackie spends hours watching barrel racing videos.

“I’m a control freak when it comes to these horses,” Angela said. “I have everything on a schedule. It’s almost like I have a spreadsheet for every horse.”

Jackie is riding Guys French Jet, aka “Jet.” The stud she rode at the WNFR. She also will ride Blazin Baby J, aka “Baby J” and Cartels Fame this year. Those are the same horses that helped her win the rookie crown last year.

Jackie says that her mom is the expert when it comes to picking out a great barrel horse.

“More than anything I try to learn that from her,” Jackie said. “She knows a horse. She can pick them and then I can work with them.”

Mother Knows Best

While Jackie and Angela are on the road, a longtime employee takes care of Lone Star Stables, along with Angela’s parents, Jo and Dan Smith. Angela isn’t sure how much longer she’ll travel with her daughter, but for now, it’s working well and the duo are coming off a highly successful WNFR.

“The NFR was the best two weeks of my life,” Jackie said.

It was another example of how Jackie’s athletic ability, along with Angela’s experience and knowledge proved to be a winning combination.

Angela and Jackie decided the best strategy to win the rookie crown was to make clean and consistent runs, and not go too fast and make a mistake. It was originally Angela’s idea, but Jackie also agreed it made the most sense. However, midway through the competition Jackie got a bit impatient and needed her mom, and her wisdom.

“About the fifth round, she said, ‘I don’t think I can do this. I want to go for first,’” Angela recalled Jackie saying. “I just said to her to stick with me one more round and she did.”

Angela and Jackie are looking forward to sticking together this summer in Canada. They traveled to Canada last year for competitions, but this year, Jackie has qualified for the Calgary Stampede – making the trip extra special.

“It’s the amount of money you get to ride for and it’s extremely prestigious,” Jackie said

They’ll also be together on Mother’s Day, May 8. If they’re home for Mother’s Day, they like to go to church with Angela’s parents and enjoy lunch together as a family. This year, they’ll be at Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days. The duo has a lot to celebrate.

“Mother’s Day just represents to me being able to have the opportunity to spend my life raising Jackie to the best of my ability and giving her the best that is out there,” said Angela, who gets checkups every three months and takes a chemotherapy pill daily.

“It’s a day for me to just be there for her and let her know how much I appreciate everything she has done for me,” Jackie said.

Courtesy of WPRA