Any sports fan will tell you that while there are countless great athletes who draw us in, it’s the legends who forever connect us with the game. Jordan’s jump shot, Brady’s pass, Woods’ drive off the tee box — they’re iconic examples of talent, grit and determination. In the world of rodeo, we, too, have our greats: The cowboys and cowgirls who have forever shaped the sport, elevated the profile of competition and set a new bar for excellence. There’s nothing better than watching Trevor Brazile back into the box or Luke Branquinho deliver his infamous booty shake after going to the lead in the steer wrestling. One of our newest rodeo icons is the young and talented Hailey Kinsel and her gritty palomino mare, DM Sissy Hayday, better known as “Sister.” The duo has taken the world by storm in just a few short years. Rodeo fans were first introduced to this dynamic team when they split the million-dollar pay-out at RFD-TV’s The American in 2017, and, since then, they have been unstoppable, winning two World Championships, breaking multiple arena records and topping the leaderboard at countless professional rodeos across the country. While their talent and determination in the arena are mature far beyond their years, this team is still just getting started, and we are watching history unfold as they continue to amaze us with their legendary runs.
Rodeo fans were first introduced to this dynamic team when they split the million-dollar pay-out at RFD-TV’s The American in 2017, and, since then, they have been unstoppable, winning two World Championships, breaking multiple arena records and topping the leaderboard across the country.
It’s no wonder Kinsel grew up to be the tough-as-nails cowgirl that she is; she was raised in a part of our country still somewhat described as the wild west. Kinsel’s hometown of Cotulla, Texas, is about an hour from the Mexican border in the southern part of the state, and it isn’t exactly a jumping metropolitan. In fact, if Kinsel wanted to go to a rodeo when she was younger, she had to drive at least 2 hours to get there. She joked, “If I was going to go to a jackpot or junior rodeo, then I better be serious about it and be going to win because otherwise it would be a long drive home.” This was one of her biggest challenges in becoming the competitor that she is today. She had to learn how to be very self-disciplined at a young age and when she chose to compete in a sport, she had to be “pretty all in,” as she puts it and fully committed to doing just that one thing. Luckily for us, Kinsel chose rodeo.
Kinsel’s parents were always very supportive of whatever she wanted to do, but they made sure that she understood what commitment really meant. They always encouraged her to try all the different sports so that when she did choose something to be passionate about, she was choosing it for herself and not just because that was what they wanted. Her parents didn’t start taking her to the larger junior rodeos and barrel races until she was around 11 to 12 years old, an age where she could appreciate the significance of the events and be dedicated to practicing and trying her best. They helped Kinsel develop her love for rodeo and what it meant to work toward a goal, and work for it she did.
“If you have the nutrition your horses need, then you have the building blocks to succeed.”
— Hailey Kinsel
The World Champion always travels with her own high-quality hay, provides fresh clean water to support hydration in the changing altitudes and supplements with Platinum Performance® CJ, Platinum Gastric Support® and Healthy Weight.
Leslie Kinsel has played a pivotal role in her daughter’s barrel racing career. Kinsel describes her mom as both her biggest supporter and her greatest influencer. “My mom has taught me everything I know, and she always made sure I had access to other people to learn from too. She wanted me to be well-rounded as a rider.” Leslie is known for being a gifted horsewoman who always has an eye for great horses. She taught Kinsel the art of horsemanship, and she also encouraged her to learn from other great horsewomen to develop her own style and ability. A few of the influential horsewomen who Kinsel credits include Lisa Anderson, a highly successful barrel racer and now manager and trainer at the coveted Copper Springs Ranch; Corley Cox, a WNFR Qualifier and Futurity Champion; and Liz Pinkston, another multi-WNFR Qualifier, to name just a few.
Leslie’s brilliant training program has also produced some of her daughter’s toughest horses. Kinsel explains, “She still starts all my colts, and I wouldn't have it any other way. She's very good with the babies and great with any level really.” When Kinsel is out on the road, all of the young horses stay with Leslie to get ready for the day when they can earn a place in the trailer. “My mom knows my horses just as well as I do, and I feel confident that when I drop them off, they are going to come back working great.” This team approach to raising and training barrel horses seems to work out well for this mother-daughter team. Together, they have molded Sister into the champion she is today.
Kinsel and her mom purchased Sister as a 2-year-old from a horse sale and after turning her out to pasture for a few months to let her grow and mature, Leslie went to work riding her on the ranch while Kinsel was in college. Once Kinsel was home from college the summer of Sister's 3-year-old year, Kinsel and her mom started the big yellow mare on the barrels. Ironically, even as a 4-year-old, Sister never showed any spunk, and Kinsel and her mom thought she might end up as a rope horse instead of a barrel horse. Before they made any rash decisions, they started taking her to new arenas to make some practice runs, and that’s when Sister came alive. Then, in her 5-year-old year, when they started entering her and putting her up against the clock, they realized she might be a little faster than they initially thought. After only a few runs with fairly large mistakes common for any young barrel horse, Sister started clocking at the top of the leaderboard, and she and Kinsel never looked back.
Many might think after winning two World Championships that Sister is more of a machine than a horse, but, to Kinsel, it is quite the contrary. Sister is still a very quirky and sometimes lazy horse when she’s not inside the rodeo arena. Even now that she is 9 years old, Kinsel still has to get her into new arenas, so she can spook at the banners and feel the ground. Like any great team, Kinsel can also read her mare like the back of her hand. She recognizes her partner’s few faults, like being strong and on the muscle, and she always has a game plan to combat these weaknesses. She knows the more she is able to walk and trot the pattern, the better off she is. Sister has been taught the same self-discipline and commitment that is instilled in her pilot. After all, the same woman raised them both.
Hailey Kinsel and Sister’s journey to become World Champions took only a few short years. A look at how fast this team rose to the top.
2017 started out as any other year. Kinsel was in her senior year of college at Texas A&M, and she was just like every other young college student attempting to figure out her future. That was until she and Sister set foot into AT&T Stadium for RFD-TV’s The American in February. That was Sister’s 6-year-old year, and she was just starting to get her feet wet in the rodeo world. She had won roughly $30,000 going into The American at a few small futurities and college rodeos, but she would soon win a whole lot more and the world would meet the record-breaking duo, Hailey Kinsel and Sister.
The duo’s win at The American launched them into a year full of firsts. That same year, they won first place at the College National Finals Rodeo, they won a Gold Medal and $50,000 at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo and they qualified for their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). Kinsel, being a WNFR rookie, knew that she needed to stay focused for her first WNFR and since she didn’t want to spend the month leading up to the finals being nervous, she ended up moving to Weatherford and riding 3-year-olds for Danielle Campbell, another multi-WNFR Qualifier and Futurity Champion. The strategy seemed to work because when the Finals rolled around, the duo was unstoppable. Not only did they go from ranking 7th in the World Standings to Reserve World Champion, they also set the new arena record at the Thomas & Mack with a blistering 13.11! All things considered, 2017 was a life-changing year that sent Kinsel and Sister on a path to stardom.
If you ask any elite rodeo competitor what their biggest challenge is, most of them will admit in some fashion that it is staying on top of the game. It is always a challenge to get to the top but staying there can be a whole new ball game, or in this case, rodeo. This challenge hasn’t seemed to bother Kinsel and Sister as they work toward their third World Championship. When asked what the secret to their success is, Kinsel uses one word: consistency. Consistency in the care and nutrition she gives to Sister and consistency in her own emotions and reactions when she runs her great mare down the alley.
Kinsel contributes much of her success to the care and nutrition that Sister has been afforded. Dr. David Dutton has been Kinsel’s vet since she was a little girl, and he has been with her every step of the way. Dr. Dutton was the one who recommended Platinum Performance® to her all those years ago, and, in Kinsel’s words, “It’s just always worked.” She makes sure to keep Dr. Dutton updated on everything related to Sister with late-night phone calls and quick text messages whenever his advice is needed. There are so many things that change when traveling, and these changes make it that much more important to keep a consistent veterinary and nutrition program. Kinsel recognizes nutrition as her number one priority, saying, “If you have the nutrition your horses need, then you have the building blocks to succeed.” She makes sure to always travel with her own high-quality hay, provide fresh clean water to support hydration in the changing altitudes and supplement with the Platinum Performance® CJ, Platinum Gastric Support® and Healthy Weight oil to support Sister’s health and performance while traveling down the road. Kinsel explains, “Sister has never had a major injury (knock on wood), and I truly believe that is because of the veterinary care and nutrition we have given her.”
Along with a consistent feeding and care program for Sister, Kinsel also makes sure to keep herself and her routines consistent. Sister is confident in her abilities because she knows what to expect out of her partner, even in the most stressful situations. As Kinsel is quick to point out, Sister has no clue if they are running at a $20 jackpot or down the alley to win $100,000 at the Calgary Stampede. “Sister has a ton of confidence in me and her abilities, but she has zero confidence in the outside world,” explains Kinsel. The best that she can do is try and treat every rodeo the same by micromanaging all the details that go into their warm-up routine, so Sister is self-assured when she steps into the arena. Kinsel admits that even after winning over a million dollars in her career, she still gets nervous. To combat her butterflies, she stays focused on following her routine and then uses the adrenaline to her advantage, propelling Sister to victory.
Hailey Kinsel has a team of horses that any barrel racer would consider “The Dream Team.” All of her horses are fed Platinum Performance® CJ and Healthy Weight oil every day. When she is traveling and competing, she also gives them Platinum Gastric Support®, Platinum Longevity® before racing and Platinum Renew® to support muscle recovery after racing. Here is a look at Kinsel’s line up.
A 9-year-old palomino mare out of Sherry Cervi’s great stallion PC Frenchman’s Hayday. Kinsel describes her legendary mare as “the spookiest horse I’ve ever been around. To this day, she's still very boogery. She will spook at pretty much anything including banners, sheep, wagons, and even people sometimes. You also can’t pony Sis, she is terrible to pony! She has to be saddled every day and ridden or else she gets fat.”
A 16-year-old black gelding by the great Sticks and Stones. TJ helped Kinsel to fill her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) permit, and he qualified her for the College National Finals Rodeo three times. TJ is known to be a big goober and has what Kinsel describes as “Elephant Mouse Syndrome.” He is tall and stout, scared of everything and even at the age of 16, she still does not consider him a seasoned barrel horse. TJ’s most important job is being Sister’s best friend. Sister is happiest when she is with TJ.
A 6-year-old sorrel mare by Lions Share of Fame. Kinsel has had Nala since she was a 2-year-old and at the age of three, Nala went down the rodeo trail with Kinsel and Sister, so she has seen all the sights, and nothing seems to phase her.
A new palomino mare to Kinsel’s team. Owned by Hodges Farm, she has been confusing many of Sister’s fans who mistake the new palomino horse for Sister. Jules is 7 years old and by Mighty Jess. Kinsel is helping season her for the Hodges family, who are close family friends, and so far, they seem to be making quite the team.
The miniature horse that rules the roost. His main responsibilities include keeping the place mowed and supervising the other horses when Kinsel is away.
We all know this year has had its challenges, and no one knows that better than the professional rodeo athletes. Most rodeos throughout the spring and summer were canceled, causing these athletes who typically make their living on the rodeo trail to figure out how to make ends-meet elsewhere. Some opened up new catering businesses, selling food out of their horse trailers, while others, like Kinsel, drove longer hours to remote locations where the rodeos were still allowed to carry on. These events were generally only one go-round long, meaning contestants would have less chances to win a portion of the pay-out. For barrel racers in particular, the timing of when they drew up would have a huge impact on the time they clocked. Just imagine, when we are talking hundredths of a second, how much longer it takes to run through the mud versus dry and dusty dirt. For barrel racers, it’s the ultimate “luck of the draw,” and it has been the theme for 2020 as ground conditions were literally changing overnight. With hundreds of barrel racers itching to run, these remote rodeos with uneven ground conditions saw a record number of contestants entering this year, and the competition was fiercer than ever before.
Kinsel and Sister have been rolling with the punches and adapting to the surroundings that 2020 has brought with it. This has never been more evident than after their record-setting run at the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo in Kansas. Kinsel started off the morning in Dodge City running in slack, vying to make it back as one of the top 10 fastest times for the evening performance. By this point in the year, this duo is usually at the top of their game, running every few days for the past three months. However, this is 2020 and circumstances saw them both feeling a little rusty with very few rodeos under their belt. The morning didn’t go as planned. Sister was feeling strong and the team went by the first barrel, clocking a 17.43 on a standard pattern. For the average barrel racer, this would be a good time and was still solid enough for ninth place that morning with a shot at the evening performance. For Kinsel and Sister, the time was disappointing and left Kinsel questioning whether or not to run Sister in the performance that evening. She had done the math and knew that if she wanted to make it back to the short go, she was going to have to run a 16-second time, which would be about half a second faster than her run that morning and a blistering fast time by any barrel racer’s standards. She knew Sister could do it, but what she didn’t know was if that night was going to be the night, especially since she had drawn bottom of the ground as the last one out.
After the slack was over and Kinsel was still undecided on her mount that night, she saddled up Sister again and went back into the arena for a tune up. Together, they walked back and forth to the stake (where the first barrel was marked) for over an hour. Kinsel explains, “Sister is a horse of repetition. Sometimes she just needs to be reminded to slow down a little bit.” After that, Kinsel was feeling more confident in Sister’s demeanor and even told her mom, “I have a good feeling about tonight.” She explains the choice she had as, “When you don’t do good, you are in a hole. You can either sit in your hole and keep digging around or you can fill it in, stand on it and go on. I decided to fill in my hole, and I just had a good feeling.”
A good feeling it was. Kinsel held true to her positive mindset of being lightning fast and perfect all in the same run. “When I came out of the arena, I couldn’t see my time, but I could hear the crowd cheering, so I was hoping I was a 16,” she remembers. “I really didn’t know for sure and then I finally heard my time and I was in shock.” Kinsel and Sister stopped the clock that night to be a 16.63 to not only win the round and break the record of the fastest time on a standard pattern at a WPRA rodeo but to also live up to the tagline for the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo of “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” Kinsel jokes, “The third time really is the charm” after saddling up her beloved mare three times that day to get their chemistry and game plan just right.
The win at Dodge City started a five-week winning streak for the duo. They went on to break the arena record at the Lawton Rangers Rodeo in Oklahoma with a blazing 16.90 and then placed at least fourth at every rodeo they ran at for five weeks straight. Kinsel explains, “It finally felt like we were rodeoing again.” She and Sister were so thankful to be back out on the road doing what they love and to be able to win was just icing on the cake.
Even though 2020 has been a year full of the unknown, there is still one thing for certain: Hailey Kinsel and Sister aren’t going to let a pandemic slow them down. The duo is already making plans to prepare for the 2020 WNFR, which announced its new one-time location in Kinsel’s home state of Texas. This will be their fourth trip to the WNFR, and even though the rookie nerves have now worn off, Kinsel still feels something special with every WNFR she gets to be a part of. “It’s the one rodeo that you can’t just enter, it’s so elite. There’s nothing that compares to running down that alley, whether it is the first time or the 36th time.” Even though there are still many unknowns about the new set up at the WNFR this year, Kinsel is confident that she and her palomino mare will be ready to end 2020 with a bang and give her mom a few more of those celebratory bell kicks as this legendary team runs back down the alley.
by Lindsey Stornetta,