By Tanya Randall
Records like to fall for Cotulla, Texas, barrel racer Hailey Kinsel. Thanks in large part to her wickedly fast 7-year-old mare DM Sissy Hayday (“Sister”), Kinsel set a new single-year earnings record for barrel racing with her $350,700 World Championship.
“I think this might have been one of the toughest barrel races that I’ve ever seen,” said Kinsel. “We had such a great group in the Top 15—the nicest ladies out there with incredible horses.”
Her own incredible mount, Sister, was named AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year and honored as the Horse With The Most Heart, by her peers. The Dillon Mundorf-bred mare, out of Royal Sissy Irish, by Royal Shake Em, gave her sire PC Frenchmans Hayday his second WPRA World Champion.
Kinsel said she wanted to thank “all my family and friends, my vet and my shoer, everyone that has given us a place to stay throughout the year, everyone that’s given us an encouraging word, the rodeo fans who have kept this alive, everyone that has had Sister and my best interest in mind.”
How The World Was Won
After Labor Day Weekend, Sister got a vacation until the first of October. The only runs she’d made prior to the WNFR were an cruise-through exhibition on Thanksgiving Weekend and one run the following weekend at a jackpot en route to Las Vegas.
With Sister having owned last year’s WNFR—setting a jaw-dropping arena record of 13.11 and raising the NFR earnings benchmark to $189,365—Kinsel used the first mandatory barrel practice to get the mare comfortable with the set up again.
“Knowing that she’d been there before, I just trotted and let her see everything and get relaxed in the alley. I mainly wanted her to relax and get comfortable with everything.”
As the No. 1 barrel racer going into the WNFR, Kinsel was first gunner in the first round. With the dirt hauled in each year, it’s hard to know what exactly to expect of footing. Kinsel and Sister were the best of the field with a victorious 13.51 in spite a slip at the first barrel.
With several others having ground issues in the first round, adjustments were made to the arena footing. Although it wasn’t as fast as in year’s past, the ground was safe.
“They did a really good job,” she said. “Ground Zero (the grounds crew), the WPRA and PRCA each worked together and got it safe for us. It was good for us the rest of the time.”
However, in typical mare fashion, Sister didn’t forget the slip in first round and skipped a little past the first on their second run.
“When you have a slip, you’re going to deal with it the rest of your runs,” explained Kinsel. “I felt like I had to deal with for the next several runs because that memory was always going to be in her mind.”
The next morning, Kinsel and Sister practiced again. That night they split third with Stevi Hillman and Slick By Design in a tight third round.
In the fourth round, all the little bobbles in the first three rounds caught up with them and they picked up five at the third barrel.
“My first run she slipped on the first barrel. My second run, she stumbled at the second barrel. My third run, she pulled a shoe off at the third barrel. With all those little things, by the fourth round, she was kind of standing up, taking care of herself. I can’t blame her. Yeah, they get a little tight in that pen, but by round four, I felt like she was a little unsure,” Kinsel explained.
She also pointed out that with barrel practice every other day, you can’t get right back in the arena and fix immediately.
“You can fix in the practice pen, but it’s not the same as getting back in that arena,” she said. “I tend to better after I’ve got to work in that arena.”
After Monday’s practice, the duo got on a roll, splitting second in the fifth round with Kelly Bruner and French Zone and winning the next two rounds in 13.63 and 13.61, respectively.
“We got back in there Monday morning and adjusted some things, and letting her get back to feeling confident, feeling the ground and knowing its good,” Kinsel said. “The next three days, she did her thing that she normally does. With those little things that happened the first three rounds, I think it just took her to round five to feel comfortable.”
“The Shirt” that Kinsel wore to win The American, set the NFR record and later win the Calgary Stampede made its appearance in the seventh round. Not surprisingly, she and Sister won that round with a 13.61 and made an Internet sensation of her mother Leslie’s heel clicks in the alleyway.
“It’s blue and white striped so I wore it on Military Night to go with my red white and blue color scheme. It was funny because Taci (Bettis) was wearing her “The Shirt” that night. We kind of laughed. She said, ‘Dang it! Now my shirt has to compete against your shirt!’ I said, ‘Well, thank goodness, Lisa (Lockhart)’s not wearing her black one!’”
Kinsel and Sister’s only big hiccup of the WNFR was in round eight, when they skipped past the first and hit the third.
“In round seven, I feel like I got passed my first a little bit,” she noted. “In round eight, I got by it a lot. It’s so tight in there I couldn’t get back over. You can’t even be mad. You wish for a Mulligan, a do over, but you don’t get one at the NFR. It happens. Our timing was off. I’m a human; she’s a horse. It’s going to happen.
“I have to remind myself that my horse is still young. She’s still not consistent. She’s more consistent than she was, but she’s still getting her run down. Things have changed since last year. She’s running harder, faster. She’s a stronger animal. It’s harder to ride. People see her and think she should be easy, but she’s not. We’re still figuring things out. I could get really mad, but we have two rodeos the next two days that pay the exact same amount. You have to say, ‘I’ll just come back tomorrow.’ Knowing that you can get back in the arena is a confidence booster. She needed a little tune up there.”
Kinsel gave credit to her great support system for helping keep her mental game strong.
“My support system is awesome when it comes to making mistakes,” she said. “My mom, dad, Matt, my friends Paige and Emily, and Jess—anything about that night was ‘Mistakes happen. You can fix it. Do good tomorrow.’ Having that echoed in my ear was perfect. There wasn’t any talk of strategy or ‘You need to do this better’ or ‘You need to do that.’ It was all, ‘You know how to do this. You’ll figure it out,’ and we did.”
They erased all doubt when they won the ninth round in 13.40 to secure the World Championship.
With the world title in hand, Kinsel opted to give Sister the night off as she had nothing left to prove and the 2019 season is around the corner. She rode Thunder Stones, the gelding that carried her to two the College National Finals and filled her WPRA permit a few years back.
Kinsel and TJ ended up ninth in the round. The team effort finished seventh in the average for total WNFR earnings of $157,865.
Making A Difference
Before she earned her title in Las Vegas, Kinsel was winning a championship outside the arena. What started as a small initiative off her 2017 Cinderella story turned into a worldwide study in charitable giving of money, and more importantly, time.
Kinsel’s #WeCanHelp project empowers teenage girls to make a difference in the world.
“I love helping people; it’s one of my favorite things,” said Kinsel. “Right now, I’ve been given this platform and don’t totally know what to do with it, or why people want to talk to me. I think it’s kind of weird, but I feel like the best thing I can do with the attention that I’m getting is to direct it to a greater good and better cause.”
This year, Kinsel’s #WeCanHelp initiative took applications from girls ages 13 to 18 who sought to be one of five team leaders for various charitable projects. Kinsel ended up with more than 450 applicants from the United States, Canada and Australia.
“I picked this age range of girls because I remember being that age and wanting to do all these big things, crush these goals and change the world, and I had $2 in my bank account and good horse,” she chuckled. “I didn’t have time to go on a mission trip because of school and rodeos. How could I possibly help? I wanted to give teenage girls away to make a difference. What really impressed me about the project this year was how many girls truly want to make a difference. All they need is some help in how to do it, and that’s where I came in.”
A committee narrowed down the applicants to five leaders, who each spearheaded their own projects. Their fellow applicants were encouraged to join as team members. “Each of those five girls chose their own cause or charity and I gave them some guidance and a good avenue to go down and helped them make connections,” she explained. “They were in charge of fundraising and raising awareness to their specific cause.”
The five causes chosen by the team leaders were autism, childhood cancer, animal shelters, birth defects and bullying and teen suicide.
“Our campaign ended before the Finals this year just because I knew I wouldn’t have time to work on it,” Kinsel continued. “I helped them with social media, making connections and kind of holding their hand throughout the project, but they did all the leg work. In return, my sponsors kicked in and gave them some awesome prize packages and I gave them some free run critiques that they sent in.”
Altogether, the girls raised about $14,000.
“I was never concerned with numbers,” said Kinsel. “I wasn’t concerned about how much money we could raise. I wanted to raise awareness and give them some hope that they could make a difference. They did. Every dollar counts. Every person they touched counts. A few of these girls are going to be further involved in these charities going forward. Their campaign is over with me, but they got to be so passionate about the project that they’re continuing working on their cause. One of them is starting a college chapter for their charity. It’s given them something to be passionate about and that’s what I liked about it.”
Kinsel plans on hauling for the 2019 much in the same manner as she did in 2018.
“Make the most of the runs that I make on her and make sure she stays sound and happy and enjoying her job,” she said. “Let her rest if I can. I’d love to be back at the NFR if it works out. We’ll see how it goes.”