Rodeo Queen

Out of the saddle, barrel racer is a normal teen

photos and story by Marissa Weiher

When Amee Riley was 2 years old, the horse she was riding got spooked and bucked her off. Seventeen years later, Amee still is careful when she saddles up her horse Banjo for a barrel race. If she’s nervous — he’s nervous. And she gets the jitters before every single race. “You can feel his heart beating and beating,” Amee says.

Barrel racing is a rodeo event where a rider runs a horse in loops around three barrels in a three-leaf clover pattern. The fastest rider wins. Amee has done enough races and won so many times that she can’t keep track. She was even named Missouri High School Rodeo Queen for the 2011-2012 season after winning a competition that includes interview and horsemanship categories.

Barrel racing was developed specifically for women. When the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association was founded in 1948, its primary event was barrel racing, which remains so today. For a woman like Amee, who lives on an 80-acre farm and whose mother used to race, barrel racing is a way to make an impact on the rodeo circuit.

Amee lives with her dad, Bob Riley, in Boonville, and he does his best to accompany her to every race. Bob watches everything she does during a long day and picks out things she needs to work on.

“I’m like, ‘Yeah, whatever, Dad,’ and it’s like I don’t listen to him,” she says. “But I really do; I just don’t act like it. Then I go try what he said, but I don’t tell him I really tried it.”

The farm she and her dad live on gives Amee room to practice with Banjo and their other six horses. “I practice and practice so I can get better,” she says. “But with school and work, it’s not very easy to keep my riding schedule.” She attends State Fair Community College and thinks she might want to be an equine chiropractor someday, but Amee dreams of making it to the National Finals Rodeo. “I’m gonna try, but it’s going to be hard,” she says of the prestigious competition. “Very hard.” Barrel racing might involve lots of work and calming of nerves, but Amee loves everything about it. “To go in there and have a good clean run is the best ever,” she says. “I hate being done if it’s a good day.”

Published in the May 15, 2014 issue of Vox Magazine