story by Lindsay Humphrey Very few people get the opportunity to compete on their childhood unicorn through high school rodeo. But that’s exactly the case […]
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Meet the Member Payton McNiel
story by Lindsay Humphrey
“I’ve tried other events, but I really like barrel racing. It’s where my heart is,” said 17-year-old Payton McNiel. “I’d rather work barrels on young horses all the time than breakaway rope for an hour.” Three barrels equals three chances for success in Payton’s mind. The only variables she focuses on in her favorite event have minds of their own but synch up perfectly when they barrel down the alley together. “Barrels is more about just you and your horse. In barrels if you set your horse up well and work together, you’ll probably have a good run.” Payton has learned a lot about building that working relationship with a barrel horse as she’s been training her next great one.
“Three years ago my good mare, Itchy, tied up and then got EPM, so I was trying some older horses out to replace her. But to get a really good horse you have to spend a lot of money.” The next logical move was to buy a young horse and get it ready for rodeo herself. Payton found Louisiana-bred and raised Baller, out of Brisco Can Get It. “He’s probably one of the fastest horses I’ve ridden. He’s not scared or nervous out in the arena like most younger horses. He’s all about running and doing his job.” His ground manners, however, are a different story. “On the ground he’s not the best. He bites and tries to smile at me, he tries to play around. He’s got a big personality.”
When Payton’s mare went down, she was disappointed that her rodeo season got cut short unexpectedly. She has since realized it was all a blessing in disguise. “Teaching a young horse taught me a lot about training, but also a lot about the event itself. It’s certainly never boring and it’s made me a much better rider too.” Although both Itchy and Baller helped form Payton as a rider most recently, there’s one horse in particular she credits with building her rodeo career. “She wasn’t my first horse, but she was one of them. Lady won a lot for me; she was just awesome. We did every junior rodeo on her, every single event.” Both Payton and her older sister, Hayley, 19, got to ride Lady. Their younger sister, Cheyenne, 10, didn’t get to ride her, but mostly because she wasn’t too interested in rodeo. Along with Lady, Alissa Kelly has played a big role in pushing Payton to be the competitor she is today.
Itchy eventually recovered from her bout with EPM and is still Payton’s main mount today. “My goal for this season is to keep my mare sound. I’ve had some issues with her, so I’m doing everything I can to keep her safe and healthy. That’s the most important thing to me.” Baller will tag along for Payton’s senior year in the NMHSRA. He’s not on the roster to compete, he’s simply on the trailer to get more experience under his belt. “COVID set us back, so I didn’t get to season him as much as I would’ve liked to this spring and summer. I was going to try and run him this year, but I’m probably going to save him for college rodeo.”
Although Payton’s parents, Chris and Summer, are with her every step of the way for rodeo, it’s her grandpa who hauls her down the road. “The biggest influence in my life is my grandpa. He helps me and travels with me all the time.” He’s also the main reason Payton got bit by the rodeo bug in the first place. “My grandpa was a team roper and when we were little, he would take us on walks on his horse until we fell asleep. When we got older my sister did the six and under. I would cry because I had to do the leadline. We just grew up around horses and that’s how rodeo happened.” As Payton rodeos her way through the fall semester of her senior year at School of Dreams Academy, she’s looking at her options for college in Texas. “I’ve been thinking about going to school in Texas because that is where a lot of rodeo happens. I’ve been looking at a school called Panola, it’s a two-year school and they have a rodeo team.”