Gayle Smith
Gering, Neb.

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May 20, 2010
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June Holeman - A rodeo inspiration

June Holeman is an inspiration to rodeo. During the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo, spectators and fellow competitors cheered on the 66-year-old competitor and her 21-year-old horse, Sparky, as they ran the clover leaf pattern for a great finish. Holeman is admired by her fellow athletes for her endurance, and her willingness to keep trying. Sparky is a fan favorite because he was bred and raised by the Sutton Rodeo family.

"I was thrilled to be second at Rapid City," she said. She placed fifth in the first go, and second in the second go round for the second place finish. The rodeo was one of the veteran barrel racer's first stops in a long series of rodeos she hopes will qualify her for the 2010 NFR.

Holeman, who makes her home on a ranch near the small town of Arcadia, Neb., has been around horses since childhood. "I was raised on a ranch 10 miles west of Arcadia," she explained. "I have lived in Arcadia all my life."

Holeman has an older sister, Pollyanna, and a brother, Laddie Leach, who taught her about horses.

"My brother taught me how to ride and train horses," she said. "He is gone now, but he was a great trainer all of his life."

She and her siblings grew up riding their horses to the small country school they attended through 8th grade. "My mom taught there for awhile, and when I was really little, I rode with her," she said.

Holeman first became competitive with horses when she was four- or five-years-old. "There was a branch to the north of us who organized horse shows and a saddle club," she says. "I started out competing there. Later, I ran in junior rodeos, and eventually in the Nebraska Cowgirls Association. They would put on all-girl rodeos."

Holeman noted the association was a big group at one time, but eventually disbanded, and the Nebraska State Rodeo Association took over the barrel racing event.

Although Holeman competes in the NSRA, M-SRA and NBHA, she is most proud of being able to compete in the Prairie Circuit of the WPRA.

"I didn't join the pro rodeo as a member until the 1990s," she said. "I had won most of the rodeos in this area, so I moved on to the pro rodeos because it was more of a challenge."

After joining the WPRA, Holeman and Sparky went on to win the Prairie Circuit, which is made up of competitors in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, in 2005. That win made her eligible to compete in the NFR.

Holeman feels she owes much of that success to Sparky.

"Sparky was 12 when I got him," she said. "I have used him for the last nine years. He was started in barrels, but mostly he was used in breakaway roping. I got him from my friend, Sheryl DeGroff. Sparky got us to the NFR by being consistent. He won a few, but he placed nearly every time.

"I probably embarrassed Sparky at the NFR," Holeman continued. "I accidentally threw the reins over his head, I hit a barrel, and I had to reach over and set up another barrel that was going down. We ended up seventh in the average, but I wasn't proud of my riding. I am trying to qualify again, so I get a chance to go back and do better."

Sparky has been to the NFR three times, Holeman explained. He went the year before and the year after 2005 as Molly Powell's backup barrel racing horse.

"Going to the NFR was probably my biggest thrill," she said, "but the biggest drawback is you don't get to see any of the rodeo because you stay so busy."

Qualifying for the NFR isn't an easy task, Holeman relayed.

"Last year, Sparky fractured his leg and was out most of the year," said Holeman. "To get in the top 50 in the world to qualify for the NFR, you have to do well at all the top rodeos. I don't know if you can even qualify for the NFR without competing in the top rodeos."

Now that Sparky has recovered, Holeman is hoping to resume her tedious rodeo schedule.

"I think Sparky must have nine lives," she said. "He just keeps coming back. At his age, the hauling is hard on him. He has to have more rest when we get there. There is no other horse that old that is hauling that hard."

Despite her age, Holeman keeps competing in barrel racing because she feels she can still be competitive.

"It gets harder every year because of the younger girls on really big horses," she said. "The competitors are often very young and ride a super horse. They also learn younger than they used to, and have access to lots of clinics taught by women well-known in the barrel racing industry. They get off to a really good start."

Holeman has also had to learn to compensate for a bad back and knee.

"My balance and timing are not as good as they used to be," she said. "My knee is the one that I use to get on my horse, so it makes it tougher. I am still going because I still have a lot of horses at home that need to be sold. That is how I have always paid my way. It is harder when going professional, because you don't always get to use the arenas to ride, so you can't haul a colt because he has to be able to run if your best horse gets hurt."

Holeman said the colts she trains at home are barrel racing prospects. They range in age from 10 and younger. "I am way behind on my training," she explained. She no longer starts the horses herself. "I used to train some crazy outlaws when I was young."

Now, she typically has someone put 30 days riding on them before she starts them to prevent her from becoming injured.

"My daughter, Tammy Mohr, passed away last year from a horse riding accident," said Holeman. "She used to be my best trainer until she had her two little boys and started teaching school. She just didn't have much time for training after that."

Last year, Holeman started working with a new mare, who she feels has a lot of potential.

"She was a reining horse who wouldn't slow up for the slow circles, so they started her on barrels," she said. "She is little, and I call her Lena. Her AQHA name is Smart City Gal. She is running with Sparky around home now. She has beat Sparky a few times, but she still needs some more experience."

Holeman said traveling down the road is tough on her and the horses.

"When I qualified for the NFR, my husband, Don, was able to travel with me," she said. "Since then, he has developed heart trouble and he can't go with me anymore. I travel by myself and it is hard taking care of everything on your own."

To be competitive in barrel racing, Holeman said both the athlete and the horse have to be in top notch shape.

"This winter has been really hard for us," she explained. "It has been tough to ride outdoors. I have been traveling early to some of the rodeos so I can get in a couple days riding inside ahead of time."

Arenas are all different, and Holeman encouraged competitors to look at where the barrels will be placed, the start line, the alley and the gate situation before making their run.

"I saddle up my horse before the rodeo, and ride five minutes to make sure my horse is sound," she said. "Then, I just warm-up 15 minutes walking and trotting so I don't take the energy out of my horse."

It is important to stay calm before the run so the horse doesn't get nervous. "If I can do that, my horse will go into the gate nice," she said. "I don't whip until after the first barrel. I whip a couple times on the second, third and home because my legs won't work anymore for kicking."

Holeman said she encourages anyone interested in the sport to start with an older, calm and honest horse.

"I encourage people to start at the 4D barrel races that are held now," she said. "From there, they can advance to rodeos and faster horses as they feel ready. It just depends on how hard you want to work at it."

What has kept her going is the love of rodeo and the people involved in the sport.

"The girls are very helpful, and the committees are very hospitable. Sparky has fans out there that love us. He loves the applause," she said.

Holeman said she plans to continue competing as long as she can.

"I am hoping for at least another five years," she said, "until my back gets worse, or something like that stops me."

She also enjoys watching future generations of her family carry on the sport she loves. Another daughter, Teresa McCormick of Lewellen, Neb., competes in the NSRA and in some 4D races. Holeman's granddaughter, Abby Ford of Omaha, Neb., will return to the barrel racing competition this spring. She is also very competitive in the amateur rodeos. Holeman's son, Donnell, lives near Cheyenne, Wyo. He calf ropes and shoes horses.

June Holeman is an inspiration to rodeo. During the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo, spectators and fellow competitors cheered on the 66-year-old competitor and her 21-year-old horse, Sparky, as they ran the clover leaf pattern for a great finish. Holeman is admired by her fellow athletes for her endurance, and her willingness to keep trying. Sparky is a fan favorite because he was bred and raised by the Sutton Rodeo family.

"I was thrilled to be second at Rapid City," she said. She placed fifth in the first go, and second in the second go round for the second place finish. The rodeo was one of the veteran barrel racer's first stops in a long series of rodeos she hopes will qualify her for the 2010 NFR.

Holeman, who makes her home on a ranch near the small town of Arcadia, Neb., has been around horses since childhood. "I was raised on a ranch 10 miles west of Arcadia," she explained. "I have lived in Arcadia all my life."

Holeman has an older sister, Pollyanna, and a brother, Laddie Leach, who taught her about horses.

"My brother taught me how to ride and train horses," she said. "He is gone now, but he was a great trainer all of his life."

She and her siblings grew up riding their horses to the small country school they attended through 8th grade. "My mom taught there for awhile, and when I was really little, I rode with her," she said.

Holeman first became competitive with horses when she was four- or five-years-old. "There was a branch to the north of us who organized horse shows and a saddle club," she says. "I started out competing there. Later, I ran in junior rodeos, and eventually in the Nebraska Cowgirls Association. They would put on all-girl rodeos."

Holeman noted the association was a big group at one time, but eventually disbanded, and the Nebraska State Rodeo Association took over the barrel racing event.

Although Holeman competes in the NSRA, M-SRA and NBHA, she is most proud of being able to compete in the Prairie Circuit of the WPRA.

"I didn't join the pro rodeo as a member until the 1990s," she said. "I had won most of the rodeos in this area, so I moved on to the pro rodeos because it was more of a challenge."

After joining the WPRA, Holeman and Sparky went on to win the Prairie Circuit, which is made up of competitors in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, in 2005. That win made her eligible to compete in the NFR.

Holeman feels she owes much of that success to Sparky.

"Sparky was 12 when I got him," she said. "I have used him for the last nine years. He was started in barrels, but mostly he was used in breakaway roping. I got him from my friend, Sheryl DeGroff. Sparky got us to the NFR by being consistent. He won a few, but he placed nearly every time.

"I probably embarrassed Sparky at the NFR," Holeman continued. "I accidentally threw the reins over his head, I hit a barrel, and I had to reach over and set up another barrel that was going down. We ended up seventh in the average, but I wasn't proud of my riding. I am trying to qualify again, so I get a chance to go back and do better."

Sparky has been to the NFR three times, Holeman explained. He went the year before and the year after 2005 as Molly Powell's backup barrel racing horse.

"Going to the NFR was probably my biggest thrill," she said, "but the biggest drawback is you don't get to see any of the rodeo because you stay so busy."

Qualifying for the NFR isn't an easy task, Holeman relayed.

"Last year, Sparky fractured his leg and was out most of the year," said Holeman. "To get in the top 50 in the world to qualify for the NFR, you have to do well at all the top rodeos. I don't know if you can even qualify for the NFR without competing in the top rodeos."

Now that Sparky has recovered, Holeman is hoping to resume her tedious rodeo schedule.

"I think Sparky must have nine lives," she said. "He just keeps coming back. At his age, the hauling is hard on him. He has to have more rest when we get there. There is no other horse that old that is hauling that hard."

Despite her age, Holeman keeps competing in barrel racing because she feels she can still be competitive.

"It gets harder every year because of the younger girls on really big horses," she said. "The competitors are often very young and ride a super horse. They also learn younger than they used to, and have access to lots of clinics taught by women well-known in the barrel racing industry. They get off to a really good start."

Holeman has also had to learn to compensate for a bad back and knee.

"My balance and timing are not as good as they used to be," she said. "My knee is the one that I use to get on my horse, so it makes it tougher. I am still going because I still have a lot of horses at home that need to be sold. That is how I have always paid my way. It is harder when going professional, because you don't always get to use the arenas to ride, so you can't haul a colt because he has to be able to run if your best horse gets hurt."

Holeman said the colts she trains at home are barrel racing prospects. They range in age from 10 and younger. "I am way behind on my training," she explained. She no longer starts the horses herself. "I used to train some crazy outlaws when I was young."

Now, she typically has someone put 30 days riding on them before she starts them to prevent her from becoming injured.

"My daughter, Tammy Mohr, passed away last year from a horse riding accident," said Holeman. "She used to be my best trainer until she had her two little boys and started teaching school. She just didn't have much time for training after that."

Last year, Holeman started working with a new mare, who she feels has a lot of potential.

"She was a reining horse who wouldn't slow up for the slow circles, so they started her on barrels," she said. "She is little, and I call her Lena. Her AQHA name is Smart City Gal. She is running with Sparky around home now. She has beat Sparky a few times, but she still needs some more experience."

Holeman said traveling down the road is tough on her and the horses.

"When I qualified for the NFR, my husband, Don, was able to travel with me," she said. "Since then, he has developed heart trouble and he can't go with me anymore. I travel by myself and it is hard taking care of everything on your own."

To be competitive in barrel racing, Holeman said both the athlete and the horse have to be in top notch shape.

"This winter has been really hard for us," she explained. "It has been tough to ride outdoors. I have been traveling early to some of the rodeos so I can get in a couple days riding inside ahead of time."

Arenas are all different, and Holeman encouraged competitors to look at where the barrels will be placed, the start line, the alley and the gate situation before making their run.

"I saddle up my horse before the rodeo, and ride five minutes to make sure my horse is sound," she said. "Then, I just warm-up 15 minutes walking and trotting so I don't take the energy out of my horse."

It is important to stay calm before the run so the horse doesn't get nervous. "If I can do that, my horse will go into the gate nice," she said. "I don't whip until after the first barrel. I whip a couple times on the second, third and home because my legs won't work anymore for kicking."

Holeman said she encourages anyone interested in the sport to start with an older, calm and honest horse.

"I encourage people to start at the 4D barrel races that are held now," she said. "From there, they can advance to rodeos and faster horses as they feel ready. It just depends on how hard you want to work at it."

What has kept her going is the love of rodeo and the people involved in the sport.

"The girls are very helpful, and the committees are very hospitable. Sparky has fans out there that love us. He loves the applause," she said.

Holeman said she plans to continue competing as long as she can.

"I am hoping for at least another five years," she said, "until my back gets worse, or something like that stops me."

She also enjoys watching future generations of her family carry on the sport she loves. Another daughter, Teresa McCormick of Lewellen, Neb., competes in the NSRA and in some 4D races. Holeman's granddaughter, Abby Ford of Omaha, Neb., will return to the barrel racing competition this spring. She is also very competitive in the amateur rodeos. Holeman's son, Donnell, lives near Cheyenne, Wyo. He calf ropes and shoes horses.

June Holeman is an inspiration to rodeo. During the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo, spectators and fellow competitors cheered on the 66-year-old competitor and her 21-year-old horse, Sparky, as they ran the clover leaf pattern for a great finish. Holeman is admired by her fellow athletes for her endurance, and her willingness to keep trying. Sparky is a fan favorite because he was bred and raised by the Sutton Rodeo family.

"I was thrilled to be second at Rapid City," she said. She placed fifth in the first go, and second in the second go round for the second place finish. The rodeo was one of the veteran barrel racer's first stops in a long series of rodeos she hopes will qualify her for the 2010 NFR.

Holeman, who makes her home on a ranch near the small town of Arcadia, Neb., has been around horses since childhood. "I was raised on a ranch 10 miles west of Arcadia," she explained. "I have lived in Arcadia all my life."

Holeman has an older sister, Pollyanna, and a brother, Laddie Leach, who taught her about horses.

"My brother taught me how to ride and train horses," she said. "He is gone now, but he was a great trainer all of his life."

She and her siblings grew up riding their horses to the small country school they attended through 8th grade. "My mom taught there for awhile, and when I was really little, I rode with her," she said.

Holeman first became competitive with horses when she was four- or five-years-old. "There was a branch to the north of us who organized horse shows and a saddle club," she says. "I started out competing there. Later, I ran in junior rodeos, and eventually in the Nebraska Cowgirls Association. They would put on all-girl rodeos."

Holeman noted the association was a big group at one time, but eventually disbanded, and the Nebraska State Rodeo Association took over the barrel racing event.

Although Holeman competes in the NSRA, M-SRA and NBHA, she is most proud of being able to compete in the Prairie Circuit of the WPRA.

"I didn't join the pro rodeo as a member until the 1990s," she said. "I had won most of the rodeos in this area, so I moved on to the pro rodeos because it was more of a challenge."

After joining the WPRA, Holeman and Sparky went on to win the Prairie Circuit, which is made up of competitors in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, in 2005. That win made her eligible to compete in the NFR.

Holeman feels she owes much of that success to Sparky.

"Sparky was 12 when I got him," she said. "I have used him for the last nine years. He was started in barrels, but mostly he was used in breakaway roping. I got him from my friend, Sheryl DeGroff. Sparky got us to the NFR by being consistent. He won a few, but he placed nearly every time.

"I probably embarrassed Sparky at the NFR," Holeman continued. "I accidentally threw the reins over his head, I hit a barrel, and I had to reach over and set up another barrel that was going down. We ended up seventh in the average, but I wasn't proud of my riding. I am trying to qualify again, so I get a chance to go back and do better."

Sparky has been to the NFR three times, Holeman explained. He went the year before and the year after 2005 as Molly Powell's backup barrel racing horse.

"Going to the NFR was probably my biggest thrill," she said, "but the biggest drawback is you don't get to see any of the rodeo because you stay so busy."

Qualifying for the NFR isn't an easy task, Holeman relayed.

"Last year, Sparky fractured his leg and was out most of the year," said Holeman. "To get in the top 50 in the world to qualify for the NFR, you have to do well at all the top rodeos. I don't know if you can even qualify for the NFR without competing in the top rodeos."

Now that Sparky has recovered, Holeman is hoping to resume her tedious rodeo schedule.

"I think Sparky must have nine lives," she said. "He just keeps coming back. At his age, the hauling is hard on him. He has to have more rest when we get there. There is no other horse that old that is hauling that hard."

Despite her age, Holeman keeps competing in barrel racing because she feels she can still be competitive.

"It gets harder every year because of the younger girls on really big horses," she said. "The competitors are often very young and ride a super horse. They also learn younger than they used to, and have access to lots of clinics taught by women well-known in the barrel racing industry. They get off to a really good start."

Holeman has also had to learn to compensate for a bad back and knee.

"My balance and timing are not as good as they used to be," she said. "My knee is the one that I use to get on my horse, so it makes it tougher. I am still going because I still have a lot of horses at home that need to be sold. That is how I have always paid my way. It is harder when going professional, because you don't always get to use the arenas to ride, so you can't haul a colt because he has to be able to run if your best horse gets hurt."

Holeman said the colts she trains at home are barrel racing prospects. They range in age from 10 and younger. "I am way behind on my training," she explained. She no longer starts the horses herself. "I used to train some crazy outlaws when I was young."

Now, she typically has someone put 30 days riding on them before she starts them to prevent her from becoming injured.

"My daughter, Tammy Mohr, passed away last year from a horse riding accident," said Holeman. "She used to be my best trainer until she had her two little boys and started teaching school. She just didn't have much time for training after that."

Last year, Holeman started working with a new mare, who she feels has a lot of potential.

"She was a reining horse who wouldn't slow up for the slow circles, so they started her on barrels," she said. "She is little, and I call her Lena. Her AQHA name is Smart City Gal. She is running with Sparky around home now. She has beat Sparky a few times, but she still needs some more experience."

Holeman said traveling down the road is tough on her and the horses.

"When I qualified for the NFR, my husband, Don, was able to travel with me," she said. "Since then, he has developed heart trouble and he can't go with me anymore. I travel by myself and it is hard taking care of everything on your own."

To be competitive in barrel racing, Holeman said both the athlete and the horse have to be in top notch shape.

"This winter has been really hard for us," she explained. "It has been tough to ride outdoors. I have been traveling early to some of the rodeos so I can get in a couple days riding inside ahead of time."

Arenas are all different, and Holeman encouraged competitors to look at where the barrels will be placed, the start line, the alley and the gate situation before making their run.

"I saddle up my horse before the rodeo, and ride five minutes to make sure my horse is sound," she said. "Then, I just warm-up 15 minutes walking and trotting so I don't take the energy out of my horse."

It is important to stay calm before the run so the horse doesn't get nervous. "If I can do that, my horse will go into the gate nice," she said. "I don't whip until after the first barrel. I whip a couple times on the second, third and home because my legs won't work anymore for kicking."

Holeman said she encourages anyone interested in the sport to start with an older, calm and honest horse.

"I encourage people to start at the 4D barrel races that are held now," she said. "From there, they can advance to rodeos and faster horses as they feel ready. It just depends on how hard you want to work at it."

What has kept her going is the love of rodeo and the people involved in the sport.

"The girls are very helpful, and the committees are very hospitable. Sparky has fans out there that love us. He loves the applause," she said.

Holeman said she plans to continue competing as long as she can.

"I am hoping for at least another five years," she said, "until my back gets worse, or something like that stops me."

She also enjoys watching future generations of her family carry on the sport she loves. Another daughter, Teresa McCormick of Lewellen, Neb., competes in the NSRA and in some 4D races. Holeman's granddaughter, Abby Ford of Omaha, Neb., will return to the barrel racing competition this spring. She is also very competitive in the amateur rodeos. Holeman's son, Donnell, lives near Cheyenne, Wyo. He calf ropes and shoes horses.


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The Fence Post Updated Aug 14, 2012 05:08PM Published May 20, 2010 02:35PM Copyright 2010 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.