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Meet the Member Katie Jo Keller
story by Lily Landreth
Katie Jo Keller of Mulberry, Arkansas, is making her debut at the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas this December. The 17-year-old barrel racer and her mare Ima Fiddleplayer Too “Jazzy” ran at the KKRFV qualifier in Weatherford, Texas, in February, stopping the clock at 15.894 to win the senior division. “Coming out of the alleyway I was pretty pleased, and everything felt really smooth in my run,” recalls Katie Jo. “I was excited and felt good going out of my comfort zone. I really liked the Parker County Arena. I feel like everybody there cared about the ground, and it felt safe. I know a lot of the competitive girls run there, so it felt good (to compete there).” Weatherford is the farthest she’s traveled for a barrel race, and Katie Jo found out about the qualifier through several friends who have competed in the Junior NFR. “I was really inspired by that and I wanted to give it a go. I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas just to see the big NFR, and now compete at the national level.”
Her love of horses comes inherently from growing up on a ranch that raises horses and cows. She also played sports in school but decided to pursue barrel racing more seriously when she was 12 or 13. “I’m an adrenaline junky, and I love the environment.” When she first started competing, she entered junior rodeos and started high school rodeoing, but found her niche in barrel jackpots and the BBR. “I’m a goal-oriented person and I don’t like the feeling of quitting. Barrel racing has taught me a lot of good lessons, like learning to adapt and keep your emotions in check. And of course, the friend group I’ve surrounded myself with has been really encouraging.”
Katie Jo travels with her parents, Jennifer and Brett Keller, and her grandparents, Jane and Jerry Harry, also go with her when they’re not watching the ranch for Katie Jo’s parents. Jim and Elaina Damante, who was the WPRA Rookie of the Year in 2009, have also contributed to Katie Jo’s success. “She’s like a mentor and second mom. Jim has helped me a lot with slow work while Elaina has helped with competition aspects,” says Katie Jo.
She purchased the bay mare she qualified for the Junior World Finals on, Jazzy, last summer. Katie Jo says she and the 10-year-old mare had to learn to meet in the middle with their two different styles, but after working with Elaina for several months, Katie Jo felt confident entering the KKRFV qualifier on Jazzy. Her 7-year-old sorrel mare, Moonshine, came from the Jud Little Ranch in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and Katie Jo has been seasoning her the last two years. Both her mares are running 2D times at Lucky Dog Productions and regional races. Katie Jo also enjoys breakaway roping and is considering competing in it for the all-around points at rodeos since Jazzy is also a head horse. Additionally, she stays busy helping her parents raise beef cattle and run her mom’s breeding operation of Blue Valentine and Hancock horses. “I like helping with the marketing and selling. We sell to individual buyers and we’ve had horses go to English disciplines, roping, and barrel racing.”
Katie Jo finished her junior year of high school in early May through Grace Academy, which allows her to attend classes twice a week and do the rest of her school from home. She plans to spend her summer break barrel racing as much as possible, kayaking, fishing, and going to the gym, where she recently took up boxing.
“My goal for my first Junior World Finals is to place in the top 10. I’d be really happy with that because I’ve put in a lot of hard work. Career wise, I want to major in finance because I want to be in mergers and acquisitions in the investment side of things, or corporate law. My dad is in sales so I’m pretty familiar with that world and I really enjoy it.”