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Rodeo Mom

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Korrina Hughes Balancing Life As Mother, Rodeo Barrel Racer

By Joe Foreman, Editor

She’s raising four children and helping her husband run a successful auction business, but that isn’t preventing Glenwood’s Korrina Hughes from pursuing her passion of raising horses and competing as a barrel racer on the regional rodeo circuit.

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A native of Utica, Neb., Hughes competes in at least two dozen rodeos a year and has worked her way up to become one of the top barrel racers on the Prairie Circuit of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.

“It is a challenge,” Hughes said. “It’s probably a little more difficult for me because most people I rodeo against don’t have kids or their kids don’t go with them. Most of them are full-time rodeo girls.

“The kids are my main priority. If I’m going to a rodeo, they’re going to go with me. If they can’t go or have some sporting event, I’m not going to the rodeo.”

Korrina has been riding horses since she was a child, but didn’t get involved in rodeo until she was a college student at the University of Nebraska.

“I got my first horse when I was 8 years old,” Korrina recalled. “The first week, she bucked me off and broke all my ribs. Mom threw me back on when I was healthy and ready to ride.”

Korrina wanted to do rodeo in junior high and high school, but her parents told her until she could afford to buy her own truck, trailer and rodeo horse, she wouldn’t be competing.

“I worked on the farm and in the fields and bought a truck in high school,” Korrina said. “When I was a sophomore in college, I had enough money saved up and bought my first rodeo horse and trailer.”

Ironically, Korrina and her husband Allan were both members of the University of Nebraska rodeo team but were not in school at the same time. Allan is five years older than Korrina and was on the team in the late 1990s. Korrina joined the team after Allan had graduated. Korrina and Allan met through a mutual friend involved in rodeo after Allan had returned to his hometown of Glenwood to work in his family’s real estate and construction business and start his auction service.

In college, Korrina did some roping - Allan’s specialty – but her primary focus was on barrel racing.

“Barrel racing is kind of an adrenaline rush – just something I like to do,” she said. “It takes a heckuva of an athlete of a horse to do it and I like that.”

As a Nebraska native, Korrina is familiar with many of the rodeo arenas in the state and that’s one of the reasons she opted to compete in the Prairie Circuit after she became a professional rider. The Prairie Circuit includes the states of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The state of Iowa is actually in the Great Lakes Circuit with Kentucky, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri, but rodeo competitors are permitted to compete in neighboring circuits if they desire. For Korrina, going to rodeos in Nebraska requires less time traveling than going to many of the arenas in the Great Lakes Circuit.

“I grew up in Nebraska so I know the arenas,” she noted. “They’re larger, sandier pens. When it rains, you have a better chance of running and not ruining your horse. Some rodeos are co-sanctioned so a rodeo in Iowa, like Sidney, counts toward circuit standing.”

Rodeo’s calendar year runs from Oct. 1 – Sept. 30. To get on the professional circuit, participants must purchase a permit and then must win a minimum amount of money during the season while competing at sanctioned rodeos. Because Korrina competes in the neighboring Prairie Circuit, she’s required to ride in at least 24 rodeos each year. Those who compete in their home circuit are required to compete in only 15 rodeos.

“This summer, I’d say the kids and I went every weekend,” Korrina said. “Some were during the week.”
Korrina tends to her horses 5-6 hours a days, sometimes riding late at night after the children – Logan, Haylee, Kelsey and Tessa - have gone to bed. She also works out regularly in the gym, but said being mentally tough is as important in rodeo as being in good physical shape.

“You have to be a good athlete, but you also have to have ice running through your veins,” she said. “You have to know your horse, the conditions you’re riding on and there’s just a mental toughness that you have to have when you go through that gate. You’ve got the crowd, the announcer and all that noise outside the fence and you’ve even got kids climbing the fence. You, as a rider, have to keep that horse in your hands.”

2017 was the most successful season of Korrina’s rodeo career. It was also the most heartbreaking.
When the season ended on Sept. 30, Korrina and her prized mare, 12-year-old Streakin’ Miss Oak, affectionately nicknamed “Turtle,” had enjoyed their most successful season together and earned enough winnings to compete in the Prairie Circuit Finals in Duncan, Okla. Turtle was one of several horses Korrina has raised and trained in the arena outside the Hughes’ home. Korrina calls herself “old school” because she believes the prime age for a horse to compete is the 10-18 year-old range. Korrina did a few rodeos with Turtle when she was younger and Allan occasionally saddled her up for some roping events, but for the most part Korrina didn’t start riding Turtle regularly in rodeos until the horse had matured to her satisfaction.

“This last year was just like a Cinderella year,” Korrina said. “She won so many rodeos, It’s not uncommon to go out there and place at a lot of rodeos, but she won them. One of the big rodeos last summer, she won by four tenths of a second, which is huge.”

The summer rodeos Korrina and Turtle competed in were all outdoor events, but the Prairie Circuit Finals were held in an indoor arena. Korrina and Turtle adjusted to the indoor environment just fine, sitting in second place after two rounds of competition.  Tragedy struck in the third round, however, as Korrina and Turtle were making their final push for a first or second-place finish.

“When she turned the third rail, she turned it clean and all the barrels were up so I was guaranteed a second-place spot in the average and with a fast enough run we could have won it.”

It wasn’t meant to be, however, as Korrina realized Turtle had been injured after they rounded the third barrel.

“I knew something wasn’t right and I was actually trying to pull her up as she was running home,” Korrina said. “She ran home because of her heart.

“She kept running through it and when we got to the back gate, one of the stock contractors that lets us in and out said, ‘Can you get off of her?’ I said something is wrong and he said, ‘Yes, her leg is broken.’”

Understandably, Korrina was devastated. She finished in fifth place, but she and Allan were left with making an agonizing decision about a horse they and their four children considered to be a part of their family.

“We had to make a decision about her that night,” she said. “Some horses they can save and they can fix. With her being a mare, we could have brought her home and bred her if they could have done surgery to fix the leg, but it was broken bad enough that the surgery option was to give her a peg leg. With a 1,200-pound animal, I didn’t see that as very feasible. If she were spooked in the pasture, she wouldn’t have been able to bend and could have broken another leg easily. She would have also felt pain.

“We made the best decision for her and the worst decision for us. It was tough. The kids rode her and I fed her three times a day. I run these horses all day and they become part of the family. She was hitting her stride. I can’t think of one rodeo this year we went to that she didn’t win or place at, which is crazy. You just take what she taught me and hopefully the confidence she gave me rolls into what I have here.”

Korrina isn’t sure if there’s another young horse in her stable that will run like Turtle, but she intends to find out.

“It’s not over. I’ve set myself up to do my dream in the future and she (Turtle) was a huge step in that,” Korrina said. “I feel a little defeated right now, but it’s not going to stop me.”