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Dona Kay Rule
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
Dona Kay Rule is a 5 Star Equine Products Team member, and she’s headed to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this month.
One of best friends, High Valor “Valor” is going along.
Actually, he’s the reason she’s headed to Vegas.
Valor, a ten-year-old sorrel gelding, out of Rare High by Valiant Hero, is the 2019 AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year.
He was purchased late in his fifth year, and Dona Kay started him on the barrels at age six.
The long-time horse trainer was hauling and riding her good horse Juice at the time, but Valor went along. “My program is that wherever I go, whoever’s in the barn goes along. I exhibition when I can, and by the time Valor was ready to enter, I’d enter both horses.”
Valor is big and strong, and it took a while before Dona Kay decided she wanted to let him run. “He was the first full-on race horse I bought,” she said. “In the past, I’ve preferred half cow horse, half race horse.” But the barrel horse world is changing and she has adapted with it. “In today’s climate, you’d better have some power,” in your horse, she said. “It doesn’t matter how good a trainer you are. If you don’t have power, you’ll get outrun.”
Dona Kay began training horses under the tutelage of Billy Perrin for a year in the 1970s, then struck out on her own. She likes to bring a horse along slowly, believing that confidence and manners in a horse are just as important as performance. “It takes me a long time to train one,” she said, “because there are so many variables when you get to an event. Somebody will push a baby stroller in front of you, and you need to be able to stop your horse and get his head back together.” She likes taking horses to the pasture or around the outbuildings at an event to expose a horse to a variety of things. “I’ll go to the pasture, we stop, we turn. I set him up correctly for things I know I’ll ask him to do in the arena.” At rodeos and barrel racings, it’s no different. “You ride him around, stop when people are in the way, ride him through people, let him know everything’s all right. You get him to count on you, to ask, am I all right? Yes, you’re fine,” she said.
Not only is Valor especially competent in the arena, he’s good outside of it, too. He’s a kind horse, his rider said. “He’s really interested in stuff around him, and he doesn’t have any silly quirks.” He loves Dona Kay and relies on her. “He does count on me,” she said. “He’s my vehicle, but he’s also my friend.”
Dona Kay calls herself a “planner,” when it comes to preparing for the Finals. “I like to know what’s expected of me, so I can plan that and schedule in time for Valor. I need to not be in a mad rush every time I put a halter on him.” Prior to heading to Las Vegas, she will put some runs on her horse, to keep him fresh and ready.
She has used 5 Star Equine Products for years and especially likes the saddle pads. “I really like the quality and the consistency of the wool,” she said. “I like a wool pad next to my horse. It wicks moisture, compresses and refills. Good quality wool makes all the difference in the world.”
She also likes the fact that 5 Star Equine saddle pads can be ordered to match boots. “That’s a plus: they match. Things have come so far from the old days. Now we have things that match, and it always feels nice to have nice things.”
Dona Kay’s faith is important to her, and she’s learned to let go and let God handle things. “Letting go is something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, not to fret about stuff. It’s pretty amazing what God will put in your life, if you’ll just let him.” She asks God to use her every day. “Pretty much every day, I say, ‘God, take me and use me wherever you need me today. There are times I’ve been able to help. It’s not about Dona Kay doing well, it’s about where God needs me. It’s not about me, it’s really not about me,” she said.
She and her husband John’s kids, son Marshall, his wife Nicky and their son, and daughter KK, her boyfriend Clay Dumos, and their daughter, will come to Las Vegas, taking turns staying home to take care of the family’s cattle. “We’re going to play musical airplanes so somebody can stay at the place,” Dona Kay said. She and John have been married 39 years.
She knows God’s hand was on her all year. An example she recalls was when her truck broke down at Cody, Wyo. this summer. She limped it to a man’s shop on July fourth, and he worked on it for four hours, not charging her for it. “God had his hands in that,” she said. “I get a little choked up,” she said, thinking of the many situations that worked out because of her faith. “I don’t want to be in control,” she said.
And when she is at the WNFR, just as in her life, she’ll let God guide her.