By Jack Nowlin
Lexi Murer adjusted her black helmet, took a deep breath and rodeo Moji, her big sorrel horse, up the small alley. By the time the horse and rider reached the edge of the Wrangler Rodeo Arena, Moji was nearly in a full sprint, with Murer clinging to the reins and looking ahead to the cloverleaf pattern of barrels in front of her.
After a right-hand turn around the first barrel and a left-hand turn around the second, the pair headed for the final barrel at the far end of the arena. Moji grazed the barrel, made the turn and headed for the final stretch, with the diminutive Murer matching his every move.
Competing on the first day of Kelly Kaminski’s Run for Vegas senior barrels at the Junior World Finals on Tuesday morning, Murer set the early standard with a 13.944-second run.
“I wasn’t planning on going that fast,” Murer said afterwards. “(Moji) knows when it’s time to go. Last night we had a practice in the arena and he thought that was the time to go. I had to remind him this morning that today was the real day.”
Moji listened, carrying the 16-year-old cowgirl from Bigfork, Montana, to the first sub 14.00-second time of the day. Murer eventually finishing third in the first round, with Megan Lundy of Greenfield, Missouri, winning it with a 13.900 and Morgan Beckstrom of Spanish Fork, Utah, placing second with a 13.939.
Barely pushing 5 feet, Murer might be easy to overlook. She has competed in the Junior World Finals before, but that was in pole bending two years ago.
Even though Murer and her family don’t have a big ranch – her father, John, said they have a “small, 10-acre ranch” – she has been around horses her whole life. Or at least since John and Debbie Murer adopted Lexi from China when she was less than a year old.
“She got her very first pony as a coming-to-America gift from some neighbors,” Debbie said. “It was a little paint pony named Normy. After that she had some ponies she learned to ride and then we had an old horse named Cowboy Town and he taught her.
“She just has riding in her heart and the Lord has put a love of animals in her heart.”
Lexi realizes her race makes her an outlier in the sport of rodeo. But she’s been competing in barrel racing and pole bending for more than a decade, so the cowgirl lifestyle is just second nature to her at this point.
“I’m just really thankful to have this opportunity,” she said. “I really love it and I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t do this. And when I go to big events like this it’s fun to meet people from all over the world.”
Emma Kate Parr wasn’t sure what to expect.
The 15-year-old cowgirl from Greensboro, Alabama, has been barrel racing for six years, but she was making her initial appearance at the Junior World Finals on Tuesday morning.
“I was a little bit nervous because I usually compete in jackpots and big barrel races at home,” Parr said after her run.
Parr used those nerves to her advantage, clocking a time of 14.106 seconds aboard Piper to place fourth in the first round of senior barrels.
“I didn’t know what we were going to do,” she said. “So I was very shocked with my time. I just had to get (Piper) all the way up in there and let him do his job.”
Both Piper and Parr did their jobs Tuesday, which wasn’t always the case for the two.
“I’ve had Piper about a year-and-a-half,” Parr estimated. “I’d say we’ve grown together and bonded, but it took about a year to figure him out. Since then everything has come together … I’m riding him better and he’s running faster. Everything has just clicked. He has helped me improve a ton and I could not be here without him.”