ProFile: Jessica Routier
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
In her first year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Jessica Routier set her rodeo career on fire. And she had some help in doing it, aboard an exceptional horse.
Routier, of Buffalo, South Dakota, rode Fiery Miss West, “Missy”, won over $250,000 for the year, and finished the rodeo season as reserve champion, second only to the 2018 world champ Hailey Kinsel.
Missy, an eight-year-old palomino, was Jessica’s futurity horse just two years ago. Owned by Gary Westergren of Westergren Quarter Horses in Lincoln, Neb., she is an exceptional horse who is unusual for her self-awareness, Jessica said. “You see quite a few young horses running these days, but to have one that makes runs like she does, with no mistakes, is pretty rare.”
Jessica’s exceptional year began with her RAM Badlands Circuit championship in 2017, which qualified her to compete at the RAM National Circuit Finals in Kissimmee, Fla., in March. There, she finished in second place, which put her at her highest rodeo rankings ever: the top twenty in the world. A trip to the WNFR was within reach. So at the Guymon, Okla. rodeo, she sat in her trailer with an atlas and a rodeo schedule, mapping out her rodeo year, knowing that she might have a chance to make the Finals.
Jessica competed at 58 rodeos, traveling all over the nation, but never being gone from home more than two weeks at a time. Missy, her untried mount, handled them all. “There’s not a lot of different things I have to watch out for” with Missy, Jessica said. “That helped us last year, where we didn’t know where we were going (the arena conditions and set ups). She’s really adjustable to all the different situations.” Missy never ran like an amateur. “There wasn’t once where I felt she had a novice horse moment that screwed something up for us.”
Jessica has been rodeoing since she was a little girl, growing up in Montfort, Wisconsin. The daughter of Jon and Shelly Mueller, her mom trained horses and both parents rodeoed a bit during their college and young adult days. Jessica was always interested in horses, competing at Little Britches Rodeos and the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association where she did every girls event, winning the Wisconsin high school cutting title four years, the goat tying three years, and the poles and breakaway twice. She is a three-time Wisconsin all-around champion as well.
With a rodeo scholarship to National American University in Rapid City, she competed under the tutelage of Glen Lammers. He was the main reason she chose NAU, and she appreciated his help. “He was a really involved coach who wanted to help anyone who worked hard. He was just a really great rodeo coach,” she said.
She qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo four times, winning the national barrel racing title in 2003. She graduated in 2006 with a master’s degree in business.
During her time in college, she met the man she would marry. Jessica was friends with Jessica Painter Holmes, Riley Routier’s cousin. At the time, Jessica Painter was dating Casey Holmes, a good friend of Routier’s from Wisconsin. Painter and Casey “set up” Jessica and Riley on a date; the four of them were going spotlighting for rabbits. Not being a hunter, it wasn’t an activity she enjoyed. She didn’t like the date, but she still liked the guy. “I don’t really know why I liked him after that,” she joked. Jessica Painter ended up marrying Casey Holmes; they live close to the Routiers.
The Routiers married in 2007, making their home on the ranch ten miles from Buffalo. The ranch has come down through Riley’s mom’s family, the Painters, and Riley and Jessica’s kids are the sixth generation to live there. Riley’s dad Harold died twenty-eight years ago; Laurie, Riley’s mom, married Terry Goehring. Laurie and Terry, Riley and Jessica, and Riley’s brother Ryan all live on the ranch, working together but with their own herds.
Like her mom, Jessica rode outside horses, up to a dozen horses a day. She met Westergren through mutual friends and business acquaintances, John and Liz Holman from Hot Springs. He was looking for someone to start his horses, with the ultimate goal of getting one of them to the WNFR. Jessica gets Westergren’s horses as two-year-olds. Someone else puts thirty to sixty days on them, breaking them. Then she gets them back, putting lots of ranch miles on them and slowly starting them on barrels. At that point, she and Gary decide if the horse is a good fit or not. If it is, it stays. If not, Gary sells it or if it’s a mare, takes it back and breeds it. She and Gary have worked together the last seven years, and she’s ridden a lot of really nice Westergren horses, but Missy was special. She reminded Jessica of Smoothy, the horse she won the College National Finals Rodeo on. Missy “had a lot of good qualities that I knew I liked.” Missy is a natural fit for Jessica’s riding style, too. “She’s one that I never had to really think about how I need to ride her correctly when I go into the arena. It’s natural. The way I want to ride is the way she wants to be ridden.” That’s a rare occurrence, Jessica said. “I’ve always said there are a lot of good horses and a lot of good jockeys out there, but finding two that fit together is important.”
Missy does have a quirk, however. She doesn’t like to face cows, head on. Jessica discovered the trait while working the alleyway during AI season. “I think that’s one of the things that made her tough at a young age,” Jessica said. “We made her work through her fear. She was right in there with the cows, and she had to work through it. She’s as tough as nails. I think it’s good for a young horse to have to face their fears and learn to trust you.”
She and Riley have five kids. Their son Braden is thirteen years old, a seventh grader and a math whiz. All year long, Braden kept track of his mom’s winnings. Daughter Payton is ten and a fifth grader who fell in love with trick riding after seeing trick rider Roz Beaton at the Badlands Circuit Finals in Minot, N.D. six years ago. Now she trick rides at regional rodeos and is working on getting her PRCA card so she can work as a specialty act.
Twin daughters Rayna and Rose are three years old, and daughter Charlie, age two, makes up the family.
Life in Buffalo is wonderful, especially with a family. “I love it here,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a better place in the world to raise kids.” Being gone for much of the summer was a prime example. The whole community stepped in to help babysit and take care of kids while she was gone and if Riley was out on the ranch and unable to take the kids with him. “The whole community will do whatever they need to, to help you. It’s a small town. You know everybody and everyone feels like family.”
Her experience at her first WNFR was wonderful, and Jessica hated for it to end. There wasn’t time to sightsee and play tourist, but they made time to shop. The stomach flu hit the kids; almost every night at the rodeo, one child wasn’t able to be there, but Jessica never got sick. Both sets of grandparents were in Las Vegas and able to babysit when needed.
She doesn’t have big plans for 2019; she’s waiting to see what Missy has in mind. Finishing second in the world will allow her to enter the big winter rodeos, which will hopefully help her move up into the top fifteen in the world standings earlier. She would like to give Missy the month of April off, to pull embryos from her. “We’ll see what we get done in the winter and that will determine how much we need to go in the summer.”
This year, Jessica will know what rodeos are a good fit for her and Missy. “I have a better idea of what places are good for us to go to. Last year was a great big learning year, and it went well despite the fact that I hadn’t been to most of the places we went to. This year we have more experience under our belts.”
She’s going to let it play out, “like we did last year. It’s hard to say you’re going to push hard (to qualify for the WNFR) when you only have one horse because you don’t know if they’ll get tired or need a break.” Making the WNFR is important, but she realizes that there are other important things, too. “It’s a goal again but it’s not a do or die goal.”