Once in a lifetime opportunity

Samantha Kerns couldn’t have asked for a better start to the Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI.

The North Powder, Oregon, cowgirl won the first round of Senior Barrel Racing on Tuesday morning with a 13.903-second run at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena. She slipped a bit in Thursday’s second round, finishing with a time of 14.072 seconds, but her two-run time of 27.975 seconds puts her sixth in the average entering Saturday’s final round.

“It wasn’t exactly the run I wanted,” Kerns said of her second run, “but it brought me back. And I qualified for the finals so I’m pretty happy with that.”

Kerns said everything was clicking between her and her horse, Tripps Farewell RB on Tuesday’s run.

“My mare finished the first barrel a lot harder in my first run than she did today,” Kerns said. “And today I had some trouble getting her over for the second barrel and then she didn’t finish it as hard so we popped off going to the third, which cost us a little time.”

Kelsey Caldwell from Oakdale, California, the second of the 58 barrel racers who ran the cloverleaf Thursday, won the second round with a 13.680-second run. Emma Smith from Pleasanton, Texas, was second in 13.708, with Rio Flaharty from El Dorado, Kansas, third in 13.818.

Flaharty also leads the average with a two-run time of 27.837, followed by Jordan Morman from Gillette, Wyoming, with a 27.862.

Kerns knows she has some time to make up in the short go, but the high school senior also knows her and Tripps Farewell RB have what it takes to put together another fast run.

“I qualified in Moses Lake (Oregon) and I won the qualifier there by almost a half a second,” Kerns said. “I was happy with that so I just wanted to carry that over to here.”

Besides, Kerns has complete faith in her 14-year-old horse.

“She’s a pretty sweet little mare,” Kerns said. “We had the stud and the mare so we raised her. I started riding her my eighth-grade year and we made it to nationals that year. Since then she has qualified me for regional finals and the national high school finals.

“I can do all my events – barrel racing, breakaway (roping), goat tying, team roping – on her, but I choose not to. She’s just my barrel horse this week.”

Since Kerns won the qualifier in early September, she has had a busy schedule, even if Tripps Farewell RB wasn’t always with her.

“I had two high school rodeos in the fall and then my mom took my horses down to Arizona at the beginning of November” Kerns said. “I flew down for Thanksgiving and rode my horses and then we drove back up.

“It was a little hard not riding my horse, but she knows her job and I know how to ride her.”

When the Junior NFR ends, Kerns can get back to her second love – basketball. Her Powder Valley High School team is currently unbeaten at 3-0, even without Kerns.

“I missed three games and my coach wasn’t too happy about that,” Kerns said with a smile, “but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t going to miss it.”

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