The Princess Ride
They told her it couldn’t be done, but Chani Payne turned a race horse into a barrel racer. Now they’re vying for Rookie of the Year.

Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Chani Payne took a race horse and taught her to run barrels, in spite of the fact that trainers told her she wouldn’t be able to handle such a high-spirited horse.
Staff photo by Angela Pitts

Oct. 9, 2005 - For some, barrel racing is about the money. For others, like Chani Payne, it’s all for the love of the sport.

�The money is nice. It gets you where you need to go. But that�s not what it�s really about for me,� explained Chani, the 19-year-old daughter of Gordon and Mary Ann Payne and Karen and Travis Cook, all of Sulphur Springs, who admitted she�s always loved a good challenge.

And that’s just what she got when her father paired her up with a 4-year-old quarter horse named Princess that used to race for Mary Bonham.

�She�s pretty special,� said Mary Ann of the now 8-year-old mare that�s as feisty as ever. �Gordon really knew what he was doing. The two of them make a very good team.�

But it wasn’t without a lot of determination, and a bit of stubbornness herself, that Chani turned a race horse into a barrel racing horse, something that one trainer made the mistake of telling her she would not be able to do.

�He pretty much told us that I would never be able to handle her,� recalled Chani.�

�I really don�t know that ANYBODY else could work with that horse, other than Chani,� said Mary Ann.

The payoff has been big for Chani, who is currently the first place contender for the 2005 Rookie of the Year honor in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association.

�Barrels come first, everything else is second right now,� Chani said. �It�s a good status symbol to know that I�ve proved myself my first year.�

Chani’s first year with the WPRA was supposed to be just a learning experience, according to her stepmother, Mary Ann.

�Our intention was to just learn the ropes, how to enter, what rodeos to make, things like that,� Mary Ann said. �She�s surprised herself very much.�

According to her father Gordon, results should be in before Nov. 15 when the top 15 money earners will proceed to the finals.

�Anybody can beat anybody on any given day,� he said. �We might make it, we might not.�

�Any of them could very well catch up,� Chani added.

But for now, her $41,455.02 in winnings puts her in the lead for the 2005 Rookie of the Year, with Joleen Seitz of British Columbia, Canada, close behind with $38,171,32, and Maegan Reichert of Mount Pleasant holding third with her $33,655.81 in winnings.

Mary Ann remembered days when she would look out the window and see Chani kicking away while Princess remained frozen in a stubborn stance.

�She was determined that horse was going to learn to run barrels,� Mary Ann laughed. �Then one day it just clicked, and she (Princess) just got it.�

It was slow going at first, according to Chani. She said Princess, being a track horse, was ready to run-full speed, all the time.

�That was all she knew,� explained Chani, who had to slowly walk Princess through the pattern and get her used to the barrels.�

�There�s no doubt she could outrun any barrel horse, no problem,� Chani said, laughing. �But it�s those turns that can make you or break you.�

Luckily for Chani, she has had a “make you” experience as the two have worked their way up through the ranks, beginning with area play days and then futurities and derbies.

�I compare those to a young girl�s debut into society,� explained Mary Ann. �They are like exhibitions introducing them into the circuit.�

Chani and Princess always placed in the top five, according to Gordon. Then they started making area rodeos within a 200-mile radius. Chani won some and placed a lot, and in rodeo, “money is points,” he said.

In 2002, Chani profited approximately $16,000 in barrel racing, according to Gordon. She ran the past two years in the United Professional Rodeo Association, winning the UPRA Rookie of the Year in 2003 and the UPRA Reserve Championship title in 2004, with $30,000 in winnings each year.

�I won the most money of any event for the year,� said Chani, speaking of her 2004 total, �which is unusual because barrel racers usually get paid less than anybody.�

Chani puts her money to good use, according to her parents. She pays for all her own entry fees, vet bills, diesel fuel, and she bought Princess a new horse trailer, complete with sleeping accommodations, among many other extras, for herself.

�Sulphur Springs Ford helped sponsor her truck,� said Mary Ann. �And Alliance Bank gave her a good sponsorship.�

�Hauling as much as she does, she�s probably going to need some more sponsors, though,� Mary Ann added.

The two travel every week, racing in two or three rodeos on weekends in nearby states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico. 

Horse and rider have undoubtedly developed a special bond over the years.

�We just have an understanding,� Chani explained. �I don�t expect any more from her than what I know she can give, and she gives it all she�s got.�

Chani said when it comes time to race, she lets her mind go blank and leaves the work to Princess.

�I�ve always said, �thinking loses races.� The horse knows exactly what to do. If I try to drive her, I�ll screw something up every time,� she said with a laugh.

According to Chani, the horse can feel the condition of the ground and is more adept at judgiing the steps than the rider sitting in the saddle.

�Too many girls think too much and worry about things,� said Chani. �I just leave it to her. She knows what to do.��

And evidently so. Not only are they standing in the number one position for 2005 WPRA Rookie of the Year, they also are ranked 17th in the world.

�I�m just having fun being young right now,� said Chani with a shrug. �I would definitely like to make a career of it. Otherwise I might have to get a real job.�

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