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Meet the Member Karlee Jennings
story by Michele Toberer
At just 10 years old, Karlee Jennings has gotten a taste of a level of competition that most don’t experience until adulthood. She recently competed as a barrel racer, for the second time, at the International Miniature Rodeo Association Finals held during the International Professional Rodeo Association’s IFR 49, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She was excited to leave the event as the 2018 IMRA Champion Junior Barrel Racer with the help of her bay mare, Beamer. “Beamer is 10, just like me, she’s actually a finished reining horse and I’ve had her about 2 years. I’ve had to finish her on barrels, and us making clean runs at the finals was amazing because we usually struggle with that. We used to always knock the second barrel, we couldn’t keep it up to save my life; but then we got that fixed and started knocking the third barrel. My dad and I really worked with her before we went to the finals, so I was very glad to make all clean runs!”
Karlee and her parents, Chris and Casi Jennings, live in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Chris competed as a bull rider for over a decade, but now works in his family’s business, Lightning Mobile Home Movers; and Casi, now a nurse, once traveled as a little girl with her Papa Jim as he hauled bulls for Bailey Rodeo Company. Karlee is a fifth-grader at Woodall Public School, where she plays basketball and runs track and cross country. She used to play softball, but with her increased involvement in rodeo had to scale back her sports activities. Rodeo has been her focus since entering her first hometown rodeo at just 6 years old, winning third place in mutton busting. That was all it took for her to fall in love with rodeo, and Karlee came home and practiced all week so the next weekend she could enter every event possible; mutton busting, goat tying, flag race, pole bending and barrel racing. She competed on Shyanna, a sorrel mare passed down from her older sister, Brinlee, 20. “Brinlee used to rodeo on her, so she knew all the events. I practiced the week before the Northeastern Junior Rodeo and actually placed 2nd or 3rd in a couple of the events.” Although Karlee still competes in multiple events with the goal of all-around titles, barrel racing is her true focus. In 2018, Karlee was named the Oklahoma Junior Rodeo Association All-Around Champion Junior Cowgirl and left the season finals with three champion saddles from winning barrel racing, goat tying, and the all-around title. She also won a fourth saddle in 2018 in the 15-and-under junior division at the Ward Rodeo Company Stampede series.
Competing in the IMRA has been a highlight to Karlee’s year, and going for her second time to the finals, gave her some wisdom on what to expect when she competed this year. The IMRA barrel racing competitors competed in two rounds, with the top 5 from those rounds qualifying for a short-round. From the short-round, the top two went on to compete in the evening performance during the International Finals Rodeo for the championship round. Karlee will never forget being able to run Beamer under the big lights in front of the packed crowds of the IFR 49. “I’ve competed at a bunch of open rodeos in front of big crowds but running with the IPRA members was like a one-in-a-million experience.” Karlee and Beamer’s first run of the weekend was a 16.7, their second run was a 16.4 and they ran a 16.3 in the short-go. “We kept getting faster and I was so glad we were clean.” In the championship round, they ran a 16.5 and her competitor ran a 16.6, so it was a tight race down to the finish.
Karlee’s goals for 2019 are to make the Indian National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas each October, and she would love to compete there honoring her Cherokee Indian heritage. Her long-term goals include competing in Las Vegas as a professional cowgirl in the WNFR one day, just like her favorite barrel racers, Lisa Lockhart and Hailey Kinsel.