Michele McLeod, who lived in Temecula from 1993 to 2005, qualified for the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) for the first time in 2013 and finished fifth in the final 2013 world standings.
“I’m happy with it,” she said. “Overall it was a tough, tough barrel race and I’m happy to be in the top five.”
The 2013 National Finals Rodeo took place Dec. 5-14, 2013 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The top 15 barrel racers in earnings for the regular season which runs from October 1 to September 30 qualify for NFR. McLeod earned $109,591 during 78 regular-season rodeos and entered NFR third in the world standings.
NFR earnings are added to regular-season earnings to determine the final world standings. McLeod fell to fifth due to four five-second penalties for knocking over barrels.
“I was just a little disappointed,” she said.
McLeod hit barrels during the fifth, sixth, ninth, and tenth go-rounds. Prior to her first five-second penalty she stood second in the NFR average (aggregate) with a time of 55.71 seconds for her first four runs. McLeod finished eighth in the NFR average with a time of 158.08 seconds on her ten runs. She won $41,766.83 during NFR to bring her total season earnings to $151,357.49.
During the daytime McLeod appeared on the Alexis Blower Show and the Anthony Lucia Show and also signed autographs at the Professional’s Choice, Oxy-Gen, Cruel Girl, and Deuces Wild Tack vendor booths at the gift shows in Las Vegas coinciding with NFR.
“It’s been great. It’s been exciting,” she said of her first NFR. “It’s a really neat feeling to be here.”
McLeod now lives in Whitesboro, Texas, which is about 65 miles northeast of Dallas and has a population of approximately 3,800. NFR qualifier Fallon Taylor also lives in Whitesboro, and prior to NFR the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association in conjunction with the American Quarter Horse Association named Taylor’s Baby Flo as the AQHA horse of the year. The six-year-old stallion Slick by Design, who was ridden by McLeod during NFR and who is owned by Charlie Cole and Jason Martin, placed second.
Although Cole now lives in Texas, as a teenager he was a resident boarder at Rawhide Ranch in Bonsall.
McLeod opened NFR with a run of 14.11 seconds Dec. 5, 2013 to place ninth in the first go-round. In the second go-round Dec. 6 her time of 13.76 seconds placed second to the winning 13.66-second run of Sherry Cervi and Stingray.
Payouts are provided for the top six places in each go-round. In the third go-round Dec. 7 ,Mary Walker’s time of 13.94 seconds captured the sixth and final paying position. McLeod and Jane Melby had times of 13.95 seconds. McLeod’s Dec. 8 time of 13.89 seconds was the sole seventh-place time; Shada Brazile had a 13.88-second run for sixth place.
Had McLeod not hit a barrel Dec. 9, her run time of 13.77 seconds would have placed third. Her Dec. 10 time of 13.88 seconds without the five-second penalty would have been 0.01 seconds away from the final paying position.
The Dec. 10 go-round was won by Taylor Jacob in 13.37 seconds, which set an arena record. Carlee Pierce ran the course in 13.46 seconds in 2011. The next-fastest time was Cervi’s 13.49-second run in 2010.
McLeod and Slick took 13.48 seconds Dec. 11, which became the third-fastest time ever at NFR. When Jacob and her horse Bo finished in 13.47 seconds Jacob won the go-round while relegating McLeod to second and to the fastest non-winning time ever.
“That’s crazy. He worked so good. I knew it was going to be a really nice run,” McLeod said.
“I didn’t know that I was a 47 and she was a 48. I thought we tied. I wish we would have. She’s my friend,” Jacob said.
Jacob also thought that she and Bo bobbled on the second barrel.
“I’m beyond excited,” Jacob said of her winning time beating the fastest-ever second-place time.
“It was great to run that fast and be second. It just shows what a good group of horses that are here,” McLeod said.
McLeod took fourth place in the eighth go-round Dec. 12 with a time of 13.84 seconds. The ninth go-round was on Friday the 13th. McLeod had been issued back number 13.
“It didn’t bother me to have 13 at all, and I was hoping that was going to be my night,” she said.
Had McLeod not hit the third barrel Dec. 13, she would have won the go-round with a time of 13.59 seconds. Lisa Lockhart won the ninth go-round with a run of 13.65 seconds.
McLeod doesn’t attribute her hit barrel to Friday the 13th or her back number. December 13, 2014, will fall on a Saturday.
“I’d be fine with back number 13 next year,” she said.
The Dec. 13 Steer Wrestling go-round was won by first-time NFR qualifier Stan Branco, a former travel partner of Temecula’s Jack VanderLans.
Branco moved from Chowchilla to Oklahoma in December 2012 and to Texas in late 2013. Branco is also looking at purchasing property in Whitesboro.
The five-second penalty Dec. 14 gave McLeod a time of 18.81 seconds in the final go-round. Lockhart’s winning time was 13.88 seconds, so McLeod would have placed first had she not hit a barrel.
McLeod was born in Valencia and grew up in Camarillo. She attended Camarillo High School but did not compete in high school rodeo.
McLeod was 16 when she learned to barrel race from Bess Chaney, whose move to Temecula was one of the reasons for McLeod’s relocation there.
McLeod participated in National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association competition while at Pierce College. She studied at the fire academy and had plans to become a firefighter prior to starting a family.
McLeod was living in Santa Maria before moving to Temecula due to equestrian opportunities.
“I had some friends down there and moved there to barrel race and team rope,” she said. “I actually roped before I ran barrels.”
Bonsall’s Linda Stenerson was the National Barrel Horse Association district director when McLeod lived in Temecula.
“My girls were really young and we became a family. She was like my mom and a grandma to the girls,” McLeod said of Stenerson.
After departing Las Vegas the morning of Dec.15, McLeod’s first stop was to visit Stenerson in Bonsall.
McLeod picked up a three-year-old colt from Stenerson that afternoon and will train that horse before returning him. McLeod arrived at her house in the early hours of Dec. 17.
McLeod has trained horses in Texas since 2005. She obtained her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association card that year after earning the $1,000 she needed to fill her WPRA permit she obtained in 2004. McLeod had $17,655 of career earnings prior to the 2013 season, which was the first in which she competed full-time.
“I was just basically training and seasoning horses, so I never went to the rodeo full-time until this year,” she said.
McLeod had entered the April 5-6 Walker County Fair and Rodeo in Huntsville, Texas, but the horse she was planning to ride was sold prior to the rodeo. Cole and Martin let McLeod use Slick. McLeod and Slick earned a share of tenth place and $75 for splitting the rodeo’s final payout position.
Wins during the first weekend of May at the Guymon (Oklahoma) Pioneer Days Rodeo and the Chisholm Trail Stampede (Duncan, Oklahoma) convinced McLeod to enter more rodeos.
“Our goal was to get into the top 40 and win the winter rodeos,” she said. (Many of the major January and February rodeos invite the previous season’s top earners to compete.)
She never placed in a California rodeo until the winning the May 17-19 Ramona Rodeo. “It was neat. I got to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time,” she said of competing in Ramona.
Although McLeod and Slick finished second in the WPRA-sanctioned Old Fort Days Rodeo at Fort Smith, Arkansas, they won the Old Fort Days Derby competition the previous week. The $29,489.67 first-place check from the Old Fort Days Derby funded their travel for the summer.
McLeod worked her way into the top echelon of the world standings and increased her rodeo activity.
“We didn’t start going until June,” she said. “I thought I’d go June, July, and August and be home in August.”
McLeod and Slick won July rodeos at Belle Fourche (South Dakota), Laramie (Wyoming), Colorado Springs, and Nampa (Idaho). They won the August rodeos in Loveland (Colorado), Hermiston (Oregon), and Missoula (Montana).
“He caught on fire this summer,” McLeod said.
McLeod purchased six-year-old Kellies Chick in July and rode that mare in September, including the September 26-28 Justin Boots Championships competition in Omaha which constituted her eleventh WPRA win of the 2013 season. McLeod won three October 2013 Texas rodeos on Kellies Chick, informally known as Skye, to give McLeod the lead in the 2014 world standings.
“I’m super, super lucky to have two good ones,” McLeod said of her Barrel Racing horses.
“That’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my family,” McLeod said. “It was a little rough on the girls, but they did a great job.”
McLeod’s daughter Katelyn turned 21 on Dec. 4 and arrived in Las Vegas on the night of her 21st birthday.
“I told her at least I would give her a good birthday present,” McLeod said.
McLeod’s daughter Lindsey is 17. Her stepdaughter, Jenna, is 25.