By Jolee Jordan
Central Point, Oregon — For Arizona barrel racer Nicole Riggle, the “Shoe” definitely fits when it comes to running barrels.
Shoe is Riggle’s main rodeo mount, a stout bay gelding who is registered with the American Quarter Horse Association as Shoeless Joe Biankus. Now 13 years old, Shoe and Riggle first got together three years ago, during Riggle’s rookie season in the WPRA.
“I bought him from [barrel racer and producer] Bobo McMillan,” notes Riggle of the son of Captain Biankus. “He was already a really nice open horse and Bobo had run him at a few rodeos.”
Riggle was riding a tough grey mare she called Cici that year, so she put Shoe on the road as well to get him seasoned to life as a pro barrel horse. She finished fifth in the rookie race that year.
In 2014, Shoe became the main mount for Riggle, carrying her to the pay window at several big rodeos and landing in the top 50 in the WPRA World standings. Unfortunately, Shoe’s season came to an abrupt end at the Lewiston (ID) rodeo that fall.
“He got hurt in September,” Riggle says. “He was off all of 2015.”
With just a year’s delay in the plan, Riggle has tackled the 2016 rodeo season at full steam. Shoe came back in time for the start of the season in the fall of 2015. He picked up right where he left off, winning big checks at places like Billings, Mont., and Shreveport, La.
“I started him back this year and he feels stronger than ever,” says Riggle, who is sponsored by Seabuck, Usher Brand, Aqua Stride Hydrotherapy at the Tucson Equestrian Center, Lame Away and F1 Noni.
That fact seemed apparent during the first weekend of June when Riggle traveled the West Coast for rodeos in Santa Maria, Calif., and Central Point, Ore.
Riggle and Shoe dominated the weekend, winning in Oregon and taking second in California for a two-rodeo haul of $3,542. Shoe showed his versatility, handling the wide open spaces of Santa Maria with just as much ease as the 13-second indoor pattern in Oregon.
“He was trying his hardest,” Riggle agrees.
With the summer run officially kicked off, there were lots of rodeos to enter on the weekend but Riggle went for quality over quantity for Shoe.
“Ground is his biggest thing,” she notes. “If it gets harder, he can’t grab it but I knew that both Central Point and Santa Maria have good ground and I like those two rodeos.”
Riggle started at Santa Maria, where she posted a 17.49 second run on the WPRA standard pattern.
“Santa Maria is a really fun rodeo; the crowd is amazing there,” notes Riggle, who left winning first but would be bumped from the lead by rookie Katie Pascoe, who posted a 17.42.
Moving north to Oregon, Riggle and Shoe scampered through the pattern inside the Seven Feathers Event Center in 13.67 seconds. Kelsie Miller would come closest at 13.73 but Riggle would earn the victory worth $1,858.
“He worked really good,” Riggle says of Shoe’s effort at Central Point’s Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, noting that she works hard at making sure he finished his turns strong. “I have to make sure he stays round and that I don’t ask too soon and let him cut the turn off. This is especially true for the first barrel, it’s the most important there.”
“He made a great first barrel and then on the second, we got really close on the back side and I had to lift my leg over it,” she laughs. “He made three, pretty, close turns.”
The win in Central Point was special for Riggle and not just for the confidence it gives her riding into the summer.
“I love Central Point; it’s like coming home,” says Riggle, who grew up in Washington.
Riggle is sticking close to her roots in the Northwest for a few days and will compete in the Sisters (Ore.) Rodeo later this week before headed out to Livermore, Calif., and then to Utah. She is claiming the Wilderness Circuit this year after several years in the California Circuit.
“In 2014, Shoe won a ton of money at the Utah rodeos so I thought I’d stick with the ones that I know he does well at,” says Riggle, who has put a lot of thought into her game plan for this season.
“I’m going to as many rodeos as I can . . . I’ve got my mind set on making the Finals,” she says. With Shoe running on top of his game as well as a super back-up horse—the grey she calls Opey—Riggle is already ranked 25th in the WPRA World standings with over $16,000 won this season.
“Opey excels in bad ground, the places that Shoe doesn’t like,” says Riggle, noting that includes any places where the ground is harder.
With two horses that she can win aboard, Riggle is sending two rigs on the road this summer. She plans to send Opey with her mom Debera to Canada for the summer while keeping Shoe south of the northern border. Friend Kelly Estes will be helping out with the driving and keeping the horses feeling their best with her PEMF machine.
“It definitely takes some teamwork.”
Riggle also has been working on the mental aspect of life on the road.
“I’m not going to watch the standings anymore,” she laughs. “I’m just trying to focus on each run, making each one count, and not stressing out.”
For more information on the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.attheexpo.com and for the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, visit elksrec.com.