Often in life, we try to veer off the path of what we know, only to come back and realize that it was the path we should have taken in the first place. Jackie Ganter grew up riding horses English-style. From a very young age until about twelve years old, Jackie learned English style and competed English style. She did well, competing in dressage, jumping, and eventing. But growing up in Abilene, Texas, with a mother who barrel-raced Western-style, Jackie finally embraced her upbringing in her teenage years. And she did very well with it.
Jackie switched to Western-style at fourteen years old. Roping and reigning are great events, but her true love, like her mother’s, is barrel racing. She had the most amazing quarter horse, Jet. His quiet leadership and steady racing gave her the start she needed to make a name for herself in the rodeo world.
Quarter horses excel at sprinting short distances and are known to outrun other horse breeds in races of a quarter mile or less. This makes them the ideal breed for barrel racing, which is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.
Jackie had a lot of success in barrel racing in her teenage years. As soon as she turned eighteen, Jackie bought a pro card so she could compete professionally.
Her goal was the National Finals Rodeo, or NFR. Specifically, she went out to win rookie. And at eighteen, she did. And she was the youngest woman ever to win rookie at the NFR. “Jet gave me my career. He put me into a realm of competing,” Jackie said. She qualified the next year for NFR as well.
Jet’s father was a well-known stud named Frenchman’s Guy. Pedigree is important with horses, and Jackie aimed to continue this winning bloodline through Jet. Soon, he sired a colt that Jackie named Sailor.
Sailor is a special quarter horse. He is shorter than the other horses and has to crane his head up to see out of the trailer windows. This puts him at a disadvantage similar to being under 7’ tall in the NBA. But what he lacks in height he makes up for in spunk. “He acts like a rebellious child,” Jackie said. “He picks fights with other horses…and with me.” That cocky attitude wins rodeos, though. Half of Jackie’s wins are with Sailor. And as he becomes more seasoned with each year, she expects great things.
At the time of this writing, Jackie Ganter is thirteenth in the world for barrel racing. By the time of publishing, she will know whether or not she qualified for the National Finals Rodeo this year. People who qualify for NFR are the top fifteen in the world standings. The ranks depend on how much money a competitor has been awarded during rodeo season, ending September 30th. They may compete in up to one hundred rodeos.
Summer is rodeo season, with the largest rodeos happening over the week surrounding Independence Day. “It’s called Cowboy Christmas,” Jackie explained. She competes in eight to ten rodeos during this week. Often, she drives four to five horses to the rodeos in her rig. Sometimes she has to take two rigs to make sure she does not overwork any one horse. Family and friends help. “My mom goes with me to most of my rodeos,” Jackie said. Sometimes, they have to send one rig of horses to one area and a second rig somewhere else. Jackie will fly in between rodeos during those hectic weeks.
The biggest hurdle of the rodeo season is the mental challenge for both Jackie and for the horses. “The rodeo life is unpredictable,” Jackie said. Horses could get hurt; Jackie could get hurt; rain could ruin plans. “It’s easy to get discouraged.” Jackie knows that this life has many challenges that are beyond her control like injury and bad weather. How does Jackie keep from getting discouraged? She diversifies her work by being a small business owner during the off-season, training young horses to race in the future.
Jackie owns a boarding and swimming facility for horses. She raises and trains younger horses and provides swimming therapy and exercise. A horse swimming pool is circular with a ramp leading in. Aquatic exercise has many benefits such as improved heart health, muscular endurance and strength. “We also have the best veterinarian in the whole world, Randy Lewis,” Jackie said. Dr. Lewis is part of the team at the West Texas Equine Clinic.
The location of Abilene works well as a rodeo hub. Jackie has access to the western states, and Abilene is enough of a city to have all the amenities she would need. Plus, Abilene has the Western Heritage Classic.
The Western Heritage Classic celebrates cowboy culture. This three-day event is held at the Taylor County Expo Center in May each year to kick off rodeo season. Vendors sell handmade items like spurs and vintage chaps, cowboy hats and shirts. Children compete in stick horse races. Cowboy chefs compete in a chuck wagon cook-off. Writers share cowboy poetry. Grandparents, parents, and children keep these traditions alive as they hand down skills to the next generation.
“I was raised going to Western Heritage as a baby attending with my parents and their friends, Phil and Jane Guitar,” Jackie said. “From being dressed up to attend Rhinestone Roundup to watching my mom with the famed Match Horse Races, it’s always been a fun family tradition.”
In a place where farms and ranches go back generations, rodeo is sewn deep into the cultural fabric of Abilene, Texas. Barrel racing brings strong, motivated, hardworking women like Jackie Ganter and her mother to center stage to be celebrated. Her quarter horses Jet and Sailor have experienced many wins, and Jackie is hopeful to further create a legacy through their bloodline. These generational legacies keep cowboy culture thriving in our west Texas town.
By Laura Daulton
Photos Courtesy of Jackie Ganter