Eleven-year-old barrel racer Kira Stowell is on a roll.
She currently sits in the number one spot in Pee Wee Barrels in the British Columbia Rodeo Association (BCRA) standings, with just two rodeos left to ride.
Of the 10 rodeos she’s attended this season, Kira and her running quarter horse Black Jack have settled for second in barrel racing just once. Her chances of winning the top prize for the year, a saddle, look good.
“I’ve made the top 10 for barrel racing in B.C. since I was six,” says Kira, a long-legged pre-teen with big, doe-like eyes.
“This is my last year in Pee Wee and I really want the saddle.”
This ambition is the reason Kira and her parents decided to travel to more rodeos than usual this year.
Kira’s parents both also compete in rodeos, so it’s a family affair. Her mother Launi says she’s been rodeoing on and off for 20 years. Kira grew up around horses, and has been riding since before she can remember.
In preparation for rodeos, Kira and her mom ride four to five days a week at home. Because Black Jack is an experienced barrel racer, Launi says he just needs conditioning during the week, rather than training.
Kira rides him on on the trails behind their home on the Nazko Highway, and will occasionally take him into the Stowells’ arena to work on things.
“My mom helps me a lot,” says Kira.
“She goes to some clinics and she teaches me stuff she learns that might help.”
But Kira has been doing this so long already, she’s at the top of her game this year in her Pee Wee class.
Her main event is barrel racing, but she also competes in pole bending, during which she and Black Jack weave back and forth through six poles as quickly as possible, and goat-tail tying, a timed event during which the rider races towards a goat in the ring, jumps off the horse while it’s moving, grabs the goat and ties a ribbon around its tail.
Launi says part of the reason they decided to travel to more rodeos this year is so Kira could try more of these other events.
“You don’t get goat-tail tying in many rodeos. They had it in Bella Coola and Anahim Lake. And even poles, they don’t have them that often.”
Kira is as good at pole bending as she is at barrels: she’s won all four pole-bending events she’s entered this year. But her favourite is still barrel racing.
“I like that you bond with your horse, and that every race is not exactly the same pattern, so you get to work with that.
“It’s fun travelling around and it’s fun riding a horse. I like barrel racing because it’s a sport that you get really jacked up for,” says Kira.
“For a young girl, she’s very driven,” explains Launi.
“She has her goals set out, and she goes for it.”
That drive and passion is clear. Kira has an impressive collection of buckles won at various rodeos around the province.
She recently returned from Chilliwack Rodeo, where she again won Pee Wee barrels, with a time of 19.26 seconds. She brought home $125.80 for her win. Kira says she puts all her rodeo earnings straight into her bank account.
“I’m saving it for school.”
The 11-year-old is a ways off spending her winnings , but more imminent is her move up to the BCRA’s Junior category next year.
Kira says her next rodeo goal is to enter into breakaway roping, which isn’t offered at the Pee Wee level.
“I’ve been working with my mom’s horse Dexter to be a rope horse,” she says.
But for next year, the family has decided to reduce the number of rodeos they attend.
“We’re taking a little break from rodeoing and going on a holiday,” says Kira.
With a meaningful look at her mother, she continues: “But I want to become pretty good in roping and hopefully after next year I can start rodeoing more again…
“It does take up a lot of our summer,” she admits with a grin.
This year’s rodeo season is coming to its end, and Kira is off to her second-to-last rodeo this weekend, in Smithers.
After that, she’ll attend one in Barriere, and then wait with fingers crossed for the BCRA to calculate the final standings.
“I try to make a goal and go for it. I’m pretty passionate about [barrel racing] because I like doing it,” says Kira.
With such obvious devotion to her sport, she shouldn’t be surprised if she finds herself in possession of a fancy new prize saddle come September.