Unlike pro barrel racers focused solely on making the Finals each year, Brandie Halls is primarily a trainer, riding the wave of her greatest protégé ever-I Am Not Te.
The 14-year-old blaze-faced gelding, better known as Slim, was born on her family's Wyoming ranch as part of a program that Halls herself accidentally started when she was only 9 years old. She waved at a ring man three decades ago to bid on a filly she thought was pretty. Thus her parents, Gene and Linda Lay, built their performance-horse breeding program around Slim's dam and sire-the Three Bars-bred mare Why Not First and their Azure Te-bred stallion Blazin Te Bar.
Halls, who won on both of Slim's parents as a teen, says crossing them turned out to be God's plan for her. "Te Bar" handed down his speed and "Nottie" passed down her big hip and Clabber-bred "try" to all her colts for almost 20 years. The products included winners like Te Bar's Flip Flop Te and Really My Te; and Nottie's Notta Lotta Te and Why Not Te, on whom Halls banked more than $80,000 before selling him to NFR barrel racer Vana Beissenger.
Every colt was personally broke by Brandie and her husband, Shawn, and of all Brandie's winners, the most famous of the bunch is undoubtedly Slim, who helped pay for Halls' place near Carpenter, Wyo., with the whopping $80,000 he earned in 1999 (including victories at the Speedhorse Silver Cup futurity and World Championship Futurity derby).
During Slack at Hermiston, Oregon
With my left hand, I'm just guiding Slim around this barrel. My right hand is pushing on the saddle horn, with my elbow locked into my hip to help me keep my rear in the saddle.
In a turn, my upper body is generally shifted to the outside as I lift on my rein and try to keep Slim's body round. I try to keep my hips centered with my horse. Sometimes, though, Slim will stand me out in my outside stirrup because he's so powerful and quick - and then it can just be survival!
I'm looking to the spot on the ground where I'd like Slim to go to next, and my inside leg is bumping his ribcage to help keep him round and moving forward. In this picture, Slim is reaching for ground and is the perfect distance from the barrel, for him.
He'd already packed Halls to more than $100,000 and multiple circuit finals rodeos when he galloped into his first NFR in 2002 to bump her from 13th to fifth in the world. He took her back in '03, then finished an oh-so-close 16th in 2004. It was in 2006 that Halls and Slim shattered the NFR arena record and finished fourth in the world after having entered just half the number of rodeos as that year's world champ.
Last year, they qualified for their fourth NFR, mostly due to a phenomenal late-summer run, and Slim earned his second runner-up AQHA Barrel Horse of the Year honor. He and Halls pulled down $11,622 for winning the average at Hermiston, Ore., and Greeley, Colo., on runs pictured on the following two pages.
The photos depict a sorrel powerhouse who is one of very few rodeo horses you'll ever see run in nothing but a smooth ring snaffle and no tie-down. The love he has for his job is evident in the way he runs like a man-afire to the first barrel and just drops and cranks. In fact, his turning style is the same as that of all his brothers and sisters, Halls says.
"They seem to have this fire that you can tap into and it gives them a lot of drive and heart," Halls says. "They haven't all been easy, but what I like the most is that they're aggressive horses. Once they're locked in, they just do it."
While the Lay Ranch currently stands a palomino Driftwood-bred Blazin Te Bar son and a gray Streakin Six/Tiny's Gay stallion, they also annually sell prospects closely related to their beloved superstar.
In 2008, Halls is campaigning two promising colts out of Notta Lotta Te and Slim's full sister A Not Te Lady. They are 4-year-old Really A Lotta Te and 5-year-old Really Not Te, both by the Lays' phenomenal barrel horse, the late Really Jettin.
Despite her love for the young horses, the petite trainer says she'll stay on the rodeo trail this year with Shawn and their 6-year-old daughter, Shae, for the simple fact that Slim is capably paying for Shae's college education.
In fact, Halls typically gives Slim all the credit for clocking the fastest time ever recorded in the Thomas and Mack Center, out of 230 runs by the greatest horses in the world.
"I'm just blessed to get to ride him," she says.