Russell Friend is just starting his fourth year in the Senior Pro association, but he has established himself as a leader, as someone actively promoting […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
In her fifth year of competition in the CePRA, Michelle Piha has set a goal to qualify for her first finals. “I didn’t get to go a lot last year because I was trying to get with a new horse, but I want to go at it hard this year,” she strategized. While Michelle could be considered a newbie in the equine world, having only been horseback for the past 15 years, she has surpassed the initial titles and is currently sitting in the top 15 of the CePRA barrel racing standings. “I love the people and the way they are run. The CePRA takes it a step above the local events and provides rodeos on a more professional level,” Michelle said of the organization.
The oldest of six siblings, Michelle grew up as a bona-fide city girl and was not raised with a background in horses, but in her heart she always knew she wanted one. “I would ride every chance that I could get, which was things like girl scout camp or trail rides on vacations, and then read every book and watched every movie there was about horses. I’ve just always loved them, and now that they are a big part of my world, I can‘t imagine a life without horses,” she described. It wasn’t until Michelle had graduated college and obtained her first job that she finally bought her first horse and several years later introduced herself to the world of barrel racing. “I got a late start, but I’m finally catching up. I would say that my biggest challenge has been juggling work and finding time to ride, practice and haul,” she said. Michelle will take on the cloverleaf pattern upon her 11-year old bay mare “Vana”, whom she purchased about a year ago from fellow barrel racer, Carol Tracy. “Vana’s brother [owned and jockeyed by Tracy] was named CePRA Horse of the Year about three years ago. She is such a nice mare and I would love for her to win the same honor,” she said. In true horsemanship fashion, Michelle considers her horses, not only friends, but partners. “God put them here for us to enjoy, love and care for. I try to do my part by keeping them comfortable, in-shape and by doing anything else that I can to make them strong competitors,” she said.
Living on a ranch east of Douglas, Kans., with her husband (David), the couple of almost nine years, raise angus cattle in a cow/calf operation. “He is my number one fan and has always supported me, from helping me find my first barrel horse to letting me get out of helping with hay season to go rodeo. He used to ride rough stock and has dabbled in roping, but his shoulder is shot from playing baseball in college and now devotes his time to the cattle,” Michelle explained. For the past 17 years, Michelle has worked for Boeing, but the closing of the Wichita site has caused her to change direction. “Boeing offered me a position in Oklahoma City, but I could not leave my mom who is battling lung cancer,” she said. Four weeks ago she accepted a position as the Director of Program Management for DJ Engineering. “It is a major learning curve. It is really fast paced and I am very excited. The best part is, it is great to want to go to work in a job that you love and then return home to a hobby that you love,” she expressed.
Michelle’s decision to stay put was based on her mom (Carol McCreary), who was diagnosed with lung cancer. “She has always supported me and is my motivation. Watching her fight just pushes me to want to do the same thing,” she expressed. Michelle’s dad (Tom) also supports her. “He’s not into horses, but is very encouraging even though he teases me about how much better a motorcycle is,” she said. “He has taken on a major role in helping my mom. His devotion has really touched me and his strength inspires me to demand success in everything I do.”