Saddle Up

When your horse takes off, the acceleration can literally pop your back. And the feeling that you get when she’s changing gears is a high you can’t explain to anyone,” beams Tammie L. McKnight as she describes her favorite pastime — barrel racing. An electrical engineer in Orlando, Florida, McKnight has participated in competitive rodeos since age 10. Her father, who is also her trainer, purchased her first pony when she was 8. “I was glued to it,” she recalls.

McKnight, 33, competes every weekend in barrel races, the only event in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in which all the competitors are female. Contestants enter an arena at top speed on an American Quarter Horse, ride a cloverleaf pattern around three specially positioned barrels, and then sprint out of the arena. An average run lasts 14 — 17 seconds.

Originally from Crockett, Texas, McKnight races at the amateur level but aspires to become the first African American woman to rank among the top 50 professional barrel racers in the world. She also hopes to become the first African American woman to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo held each November in Las Vegas.

Competition costs are staggering. Start-up expenses for professional barrel racers range from $80,000 — $100,000 with yearly maintenance running into the tens of thousands of dollars.

McKnight plans to hit the professional circuit this November or in 2004. Currently seeking sponsors, she doesn’t want to depend on traditional clothing or alcohol backers. “I would like to bring attention from viewers who would not normally watch rodeo, [viewers] who might be wearing FUBU, Timberland, or Sean John,” she says.

Potential sponsors may contact McKnight via e-mail at or visit

Getting Started
JOIN AN ORGANIZATION. Check out the National Barrel Horse Association (www, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (

READ A BOOK. Barrel Racing: The A.R.T. (Approach, Rate, Turn) of Barrel Racing by Sharon Camarillo (The Lyons Press; $13.99) provides insight into the sport.

TAKE IT SLOW. McKnight suggests working with a mentor who can help you find a barrel horse that is experienced and calm. You may be able to find a mentor through a barrel racing organization.