The American Dream: Q&A with qualifier winner Kelsey Lutjen
Kelsey Lutjen and the stellar KN Fabs Gift Of Fame took full advantage of their second chance at qualifying for RFD-TV's The American Rodeo, claiming victory at the Reno, Nevada, qualifier October 27, 2016. BHN visited with Kelsey about her mare "J-Lo" and her strategies for handling high-stakes runs.
By Blanche Schaefer
Competing against the top cowboys and cowgirls in the nation for a slice of a $2 million pie has set the bar high for many rodeo contestants since RFD-TV’s inaugural The American Rodeo in 2014. Each year, hundreds of barrel racers enter various qualifiers across the United States, gunning for their shot at a run under the bright lights of famed AT&T Stadium. In the end, only four will remain. The path to Arlington, Texas, is crowded with the nation’s fastest horses and handiest riders, but the qualification process gives anyone a chance to outrun them. Barrel racers run at designated qualifier races throughout the fall and winter to advance to The American semi-finals in Fort Worth, Texas, from February 15–17, 2017, where they will compete against several “exemption” riders invited by The American. A slack round followed by a shootout round determine who advances to AT&T Stadium in Arlington for The American on February 19, 2017. Qualifiers compete in the long round against the top 10 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racers in the country, who receive an automatic invitation to The American. Out of the long round, only four will advance to the final shootout match to battle for a hefty championship purse: $100,000 if the winner is a rider invited by The American or $1 million to a champion who qualified through the semi-finals. With qualifier season well under way, we spoke to several winners who’ve solidified a spot in The American semi-finals.
Tell us about KN Fabs Gift Of Fame. "J-Lo" is a fun mare; I trained her and won over $100,000 during her futurity year. The next year she got hurt, and we sent her to Equicare in Lampasas, Texas, and they rehabbed her and got some embryos. I got her back in August 2015, so it’s only been a year I’ve been back on her. I went to the Moses Lake, Washington, qualifier and hit a barrel to win it, so it was neat to go to [the Reno qualifier] and win.
How did it feel to come back and win a qualifier after that disappointment? I was actually pretty nervous; I don’t know why. After what happenedat the last one, I just wanted to get qualified and have it over with! What did you do to combat your nerves? I’ve trained that mare, and I know her like the back of my hand. I told myself God had a plan, and whatever will be will be, and I should trust my horse and my training.
Once you got past your nerves, how was the run? She was strong running to the first barrel, and I had to pick her shoulder up and move her. We’ve been running in small patterns, so once she got out of the holding pen she was already looking for the first. She ran square up in there and turned the first good. The second barrel was decent, and on the third I asked her to turn too soon on the backside and she elevated a little bit, so she wasted a little time there. It wasn’t the perfect run, but she’s so fast that usually if I have a bobble, I just keep rolling because she’s fast enough to make up for it.
How do you think she’ll handle the small pen in Fort Worth for the semifinals? I qualified on two other horses last year and ended up bringing her, and she wasn’t quite ready. She hadn’t run in many small pens, so she didn’t really find her barrels. I think she’ll be way good this year because she’s ran in a lot more perfs; I’ve rodeoed on her this summer and run her in little buildings. I think it’ll be like running a seasoned rodeo horse instead of a colt.
What are your personal keys to success for a high-stakes race? I go with the same approach—make a solid run, stay quiet and drive her all the way into the barrels. I trust my training and hopefully it works out, but if not, it was a good experience. The semi-finals are probably one of the most fun places I’ve been. I’m just excited to be able to go.
Who has helped you succeed throughout the year? I definitely have to thank all my sponsors: BioMane, OxyGen, Silver Lining Herbs, Flair Nasal Strips, RevitaVet, CSI Saddle Pads, Usher Brand Saddles, Horse Hydrator, Longbrake Pro Performance and RES Sport Boots.