Sarah Rose McDonald

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Kenneth Springer

By Jolee Jordan

Colorado Springs, Colorado—For six years the team of Fame Fling N Bling and Sarah Rose McDonald wowed barrel racing fans across the country. From the tough NBHA events of the Southeast to the bright lights of Las Vegas, everybody loved to watch the gritty roan mare get down and dirty, defying the laws of physics as she bended around the barrels.

She was quite simply . . .  magic.

In a heartbreaking Facebook post, Georgia cowgirl McDonald announced on January 3 the loss of her amazing equine partner Bling. Bling suffered kidney failure following an extreme episode of tying up. She was ten years old.

“She was the most magical horse,” McDonald wrote on Facebook. “She made all my dreams come true.”

Social media erupted with an outpouring of emotion from fans and rodeo insiders as well as several of McDonald’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) competitors.

“Our horses are so special and so loved,” wrote four-time WPRA World Champion Sherry Cervi. “My thoughts go out to Sarah Rose McDonald today.”

“My heart is broken for my friend on the loss of her great mare Bling who was her best friend,” wrote Jana Bean. “I can not even imagine how hard this is for you! Our thoughts and prayers are with you and may God give peace and comfort right now.”

photoSarah Rose McDonald and Bling
Photo by Jackie Jensen

McDonald’s hauling partner, Taylor Jacob, expressed the loss from a more intimate vantage point.

“I am beyond saddened about the passing of Bling,” she wrote on Facebook. “We all know she was an amazing athlete and that Sarah and Bling were an electric duo to watch around the barrels, but I had the pleasure of seeing them together behind the scenes.”

“I can honestly say the love they had for one another was incredible. I can’t count the number of times that I came around the trailer to find Sarah loving and kissing on Bling. Bo and I will both miss Bling tremendously. Love you Sarah!” 

Bling was bred by Western 37 Barrel Horses in California, a daughter of the Fulton’s great PESI enrolled stallion A Streak of Fling. Her dam is the Dash ta Fame mare Short Penny. McDonald’s uncle Stephen and his partner in A & M Performance Horses, Larry Ammons, bought Bling through the Fulton Performance Sale as a yearling. The elder McDonald did much of the training before passing the reins to Sarah for finishing and competing. 

“She was special when she came off the trailer at the house,” McDonald says, adding that her unique roan color fit the name “Bling.” “The look in her eye was different than any look I’ve ever seen. Her name, beautiful color, sweet personality, and athletic talent was the total package.” 

In fact, McDonald won the first race in which she entered Bling as a four year old. 

“The move she made at the right handed barrels was like nothing I ever felt. It felt like you were running full speed 100 mph across the pen and then all of a sudden, she dropped her front end in towards the barrel and wrapped it.”

Together the pair won the All American Youth barrel race in Jackson (MS) and all three rounds of the tough Shamrock Showdown NBHA in Jacksonville, Florida. Sarah has been Bling’s only jockey.

Though barrel racing fans knew about the youngsters from Georgia well before rodeo fans, Bling and her jockey captured the imaginations of all. After winning at divisional races for many years, beginning when Bling was just four and McDonald only 18, and gracing the cover of the Barrel Horse News an impressive four times, the pair made the jump to pro rodeo in 2014.

In just a handful of rodeos, Bling helped McDonald fill her permit and buy her WPRA card in March of 2014. The pair headed West later that summer, determined to try their hands at large outdoor venues, a new experience for them after years spent running in small indoor arenas.

Bling served notice that she loved rodeos—indoors or out—putting together an incredible run through the summer and fall of 2014. The pair staged an incredible come from behind win for the 2014 WPRA Rookie of the Year title after earning $12,500 on the final weekend of the regular season. She won over $64,000 in seven months.

Like her super mount, McDonald took to rodeo like a fish to water.

“I really enjoyed all the personal time I got to spend with Bling on the rodeo road,” she notes. “I loved being around her, and constantly checking on her. She was always on my mind. My day starting with checking on her and taking care of her and ended with kissing her goodnight. The special bond that we had was a blessing!”

With the rodeo world’s full attention, McDonald and Bling won the All American Pro Rodeo Series Finals in Waco that fall then returned to Texas in the winter of 2015 to win the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo and finish third at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, jumping out to the WPRA World standings lead.

2015 would be a cakewalk to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) for the pair; once in Vegas, the other WNFR qualifiers bestowed the Scoti Flit Bar Rising Star Award upon the flashy roan. Bling proved there was no star brighter that week, winning or sharing the win in three go rounds. She placed in four more to earn an event best $139,827 inside the Thomas & Mack.

McDonald finished third in the WPRA World standings after earning $284,426, the sixth best season in WPRA history.

Bling’s greatest came straight from her attitude. 

“Bling would always go stand by whatever horse she wanted to in the warm up pen and talk to them,” McDonald says. “She had a strong personality that was hard to not notice. She loved to take off in the alleyway and she loved running in front of the crowds!”

McDonald notes that Bling’s unique turning style was often what caught fans’ attention.

“It was so thrilling to be on her back! She got down low, kept a low head set, and left the barrel hard. When she went in the arena, she wanted to win and she hustled hard.”

The winning continued for McDonald in 2016 as she earned victories at Clovis (CA) Rodeo, the Lea County Fair & Rodeo in Lovington, NM, and at the Days of ’76 in Deadwood, SD. She eased into her second WNFR ranked eighth in the WPRA World standings.

Bling would earn three WNFR round checks along with money in the average to collect $69,654 at the 2016 WNFR. After finishing the season with $159,018, McDonald’s lifetime WPRA earnings were pushed over half a million, most of that earned aboard Bling in just three seasons as a pro.

McDonald has raised foals out of her mare including two that are now competing in the arena as well. Her legacy will continue with McDonald in the saddle.

“I’m sort of scared and lost,” McDonald admitted. “I have three futurity colts in my trailer; a five year old and two four year olds. I’m so proud of them—they’re doing awesome for their age and makig great progress . . . . but they are babies!”

The two four year olds are Bling’s babies.

“I love them!” she notes “They are so special to my heart!” She also has two three year old babies that are proud to call Bling their mama.

“They are all spunky and seem to have huge hearts,” McDonald says of the babies.

McDonald always comes back to the try and heart of her great mare, noting that a mistake at the first turn just meant Bling would roar back harder.

“She shined so bright for everyone to see,” McDonald noted on Facebook. “She did way more than just win, she healed us, taught us lessons, and gave us hope.”

“She brought us together, led the way, and proved that there can be no limits put on something meant to be.”