Local barrel racer earns world class honors
Jane Melby of Backus is a world champion barrel racer, claiming sixth place in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo competitions held Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas.
Melby, 44, earned top scores in three of the 10 rounds, competing in a field of 15 premier barrel racers from across the U.S. and Canada.
"The first buckle was exciting," she said of the ornament awarded to round winners, her first in round three.
But the third award held a greater significance. "I was the only one to win three buckles," she reported in a phone interview Monday from Kingman, Ariz. The third buckle came in the final round.
This is the first time in history a Minnesota "cowgirl" has competed in a WNFR. "I didn't know Minnesota had rodeos," an announcer had joked.
The opening ceremonies each night included a grand entry of all 119 rodeo contestants on horseback, Melby carrying the Minnesota flag. The WNFR is considered to be the top competition for barrel racers, bull riders, bronc riders and other rodeo contestants.
Melby grew up on a dairy farm near Nimrod. Her future as horse trainer and barrel racer began on the fairgrounds in Park Rapids 30 years ago.
She debuted as a rodeo competitor in eighth grade, claiming prize money at the Jokela Rodeo.
Today, she's among the top 15 female barrel racers in the world.
"I don't get nervous," she said. "You can't compete when you're nervous."
Qualifiers had to have winnings of $60,000 this year. This compares with last year's $48,000 benchmark. She was banking on $50,000. In early September, she had 25 days to make the cut.
Her "Never Give Up" cowgirl clothing credo came into play.
In November, the Melbys - husband Ryan, daughter Cayla and son Colton - were headed for Las Vegas.
Melby ended the competition on a high note, earning her best score of 13.71 (seconds) in the 10th round Saturday night. She was aboard RC Black in Black, "Beauty" for eight of the 10 races. She rode daughter Cayla's horse in the fifth and sixth rounds.
Melby claimed nearly $60,000 in prize money.
The gold buckles are won for best time in three quick turns around barrels, made in a cloverleaf pattern.
Melby's times and rank for the 10 events were 14.08 seconds, tied for 4th/5th in round one; 19.25 for the second round, when she received a five-second penalty for tipping a barrel; 13.83 in the third round, claiming first place; 14.16 in round four and 14.21 in round five.
Rounds six and seven, Melby's score was upped by a barrel tipping at 19.27 and 19.08, respectively. But she reprised her first place rank in round eight with 13.78 and round 10. She earned a respectable 14.10 in the ninth event.
Beauty's abscessed hoof, which she compares to a ripped toenail, kept the horse out of two of the events. Beauty, 7, will now be "taking time off," the horse's next competition in March in Houston.
Melby will ride Cayla's horse, RC Brooks A Streakin' in January in Denver.
"The fans were the neatest part," Melby said. "Vegas was full of fans from Minnesota, half the audience. Minnesotans were everywhere."
The event was held in the Thomas and Mack Arena, seating 17,000.
The Melby family, owners of Los Gauchos Ranch, will be wintering in Oklahoma, Melby planning to compete in Texas winter rodeos.
Initially, she determined competing in the WNFR would be a one-time endeavor.
"But Vegas was so much fun, we might try it again."