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Minco's Dona Kay Rule qualifies for first National Finals Rodeo at age 61

Dona Kay Rule of Minco has qualifed for the National Finals Rodeo in barrel racing for the first time at age 61. The NFR begins Thursday in Las Vegas. [PHOTO BY JADE CRAGO]
Dona Kay Rule of Minco has qualifed for the National Finals Rodeo in barrel racing for the first time at age 61. The NFR begins Thursday in Las Vegas. [PHOTO BY JADE CRAGO]

Dona Kay Rule has spent most of her life helping other barrel racers get to the National Finals Rodeo. Now at age 61, the Minco cowgirl has ridden herself to the NFR for the first time.

Rule is one of 13 Oklahoma cowboys and cowgirls who have qualified to this year’s NFR, which begins Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the oldest. But she is no newcomer to the rodeo world.

For 30 years, Rule and her husband, John, owned the National Saddlery shop in Stockyards City. John made the saddles and Dona operated the retail business.

“His forte is a calf roping saddle,” Dona said of her husband’s work. “A lot of calf ropers and a lot of steer trippers really liked John’s saddles.”

From 1988 to 1998, John Rule made the saddles for each world champion in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Now Dona is in the hunt for a world champion saddle of her own.

“I really never struck out and gave it a solid try until this last year,” she said. “I thought to myself, I better get on it or get over it at this age.”

In the past, helping operate the saddle shop and training barrel horses kept Rule too busy to hit the road to chase the NFR on her own. She always competed in barrel racing locally and was regular qualifier to the Women’s National Finals Rodeo over the years, competing in all the timed events.

Rule always bought and trained barrel horses, but with two kids in private schools, would always sell her best horses. Her children grew up and have families of their own, and she and her husband recently sold the saddle shop.

No longer saddled with the duties of the saddlery business, Rule found herself with less obligations at home and more time and freedom to rodeo professionally. With encouragement from her family, she hit the road with Rosie the Rodeo Dog, her 2-year-old Australian Shepard, and began competing in rodeos across the West.

She earned more than $96,000 during the pro season and qualified for her first NFR. Two other Oklahoma cowgirls qualified. Emily Miller of Weatherford, another first-time qualifier is seventh with almost $100,000 in earnings. Ivy Conrado is 11th in the world standings with more than $93,000 in earnings.

Rule’s horse, a 10-year-old gelding named High Valor, was the American Quarter Horse’s Association’s barrel horse of the year. Rule had bought the horse from barrel racer Lana Merrick as a 4-year-old and trained it to run barrels.

“I have always had to sell the good ones,” Rule said. “This time I got to keep the good one. Having that special horse is what it took (to make the NFR).”

Express Ranches is sponsoring Rule on her first trip to the NFR.

“I am anxious to see how it goes,” she said.

Kimzey gunning for sixth straight bull riding championship.

Sage Kimzey of Strong City is be seeking his sixth consecutive world championship in bull riding at the NFR. The 25-year-old Oklahoman has dominated the sport and enters the NFR with more than $245,000 in earnings in 2019.

Kimzey holds big lead over Utah’s Stetson Wright and Trevor Kastner of Roff for this year's world title entering the NFR. His younger brother, Trey, qualified to his first NFR at 15th place in the world standings.

Broken Bow roper Clay Smith is the leading money-winner in team roping (heading) and is currently second in the all-round standings. Other team ropers from Oklahoma in the NFR are Coleman Proctor of Pryor and Brenten Hall of Jay (heading) along with Travis Graves of Jay and Joseph Harrison of Marietta (heeling).

Other NFR qualifiers include Riley Duvall of Checotah in steer wrestling, the great-nephew of bulldogging legend Roy Duvall; saddle bronc rider Colt Gordon of Comanche; and tie-down roper Tyler Milligan of Pawhuska.

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National Finals Rodeo

Where: Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas

When: Dec. 5-14

TV: CBS Sports Network

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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