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Meredith Holt, Published December 22 2013

ND, Minn. barrel racers weigh in on the reality of TV show 'Rodeo Girls'

BISMARCK - When she was 15 or 16, Shanda Morgan brought a horse she trained herself to a barrel-racing clinic.

“He was nothing special; he wasn’t even registered,” recalls the 35-year-old Bismarck woman.

The woman teaching the clinic, who was from Texas, noticed. She told her, “You need to get your daddy to buy you a $20,000 horse, ’cuz your horse isn’t gonna make it.”

But he was hers, and Morgan used the snide remark to fuel her training.

“The next year when she came back, I went and ran it at her barrel race, and I won it,” she says proudly.

In the world of competitive barrel racing, it’s not how much you spend on a horse, it’s how well you work with that horse.

“If you can’t ride it, you’re not going to win anything,” Morgan says.

To competitors’ dismay, A&E’s new reality series “Rodeo Girls” might have viewers thinking differently.

In the pilot, which first aired Dec. 11, rich socialite Darcy La Pier rolls in with a $200,000 “Ferrari” of a champion horse.

“Most people around here have to make their own champions,” Morgan says.

La Pier left Hollywood for the rodeo circuit after her third husband, the CEO of Herbalife, died. (Her first and second spouses were the owner of Hawaiian Tropics and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

The other four riders featured in “Rodeo Girls” are skeptical, and the trash-talking ensues.

Then stereotypical cowboy player Anthony Lucia, a trick-roper, starts making the rounds …

Morgan, who lived in Texas for five years, knows the guy, and says “that’s exactly how he is.”

Badlands rodeo, however, isn’t all about the hair, makeup, bling and drama, as the Southern brand is portrayed on the show.

“I mean, nobody around here flies on a private jet to a rodeo,” she says.

ON THE ROAD

Lacey Huben, Miss Minnesota Rodeo Association 2013, watched the show shortly after its first airing.

“It’s a reality show, that’s for sure, but it has its pros and cons,” she says.

The 23-year-old Sauk Rapids woman, who competes in barrel racing and ladies’ breakaway roping, says barrel racers like the “Rodeo” five do exist, but they’re not the norm.

“We haul rodeo to rodeo, and sometimes we go a week without showering, and we go there and we do what we love doing and go to the next rodeo, but you do have those girls who like to get all dolled up and put on a show,” she says.

In the series premiere, Marvel “Marvelous Marv” Murphy’s cousin Ty tells her, “Quit being so lazy, cut the makeup, and go ride!”

Huben, who’s been involved in rodeo since she was 13, says there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, but hard work is more important.

She practices almost every day but gives her horses a day off.

“They get a good 45-minute workout of long-trotting and exercises in or out of the arena,” she says.

A horse-trainer friend of Morgan’s said she noticed “a lot of squeaky saddles” on “Rodeo Girls,” implying they haven’t been getting much use.

The show makes it seem like it’s about who you are, who you know, what you own and how you look, instead of training.

“Here, people will pull their stock trailer to a rodeo because they’re not trying to impress anybody with what they have. They’re just trying to go and work on their horse,” Morgan says.

During the summer, Huben hits up one to three or four rodeos a weekend, fewer in the winter.

Morgan, who’s been rodeoing “since she could sit up,” spends about the same amount of time on the road as Huben, but her family comes with.

Husband Don, whom she met on the University of Wyoming rodeo team, is a calf-roper and bulldogger (steer-wrestler).

They spend long days and long nights traveling, doing chores, training and competing. Then it’s on to the next one.

“Rodeo’s such a family sport. It teaches great responsibility and good morals, and we want to instill that in our kids,” she says.

Their two sons, ages 8 and 10, are too young for “Rodeo Girls.”

“Too much smut,” mom says.

Besides, she says, “They know what rodeo’s all about. They know it’s not glamorous.”

FRIENDS AND FOES

So what does it take to be a real “rodeo girl”?

“You need to be hardworking, friendly, willing to help out and give and take advice, but not act like you’re better than everyone else,” Morgan says.

This summer, the Morgans blew a tire on the way home from a rodeo, and no fewer than four people stopped to help.

“Rodeo people are some of the ones you can count on the most in your life,” she says.

Huben and Morgan talk about the lasting friendships they’ve made in their sport, not the gossiping and back-stabbing of the “Rodeo Girls.”

“Even after we moved away and came back, you pick up where you left off. It’s like you were never gone,” Morgan says.

Huben says there are friends and foes in rodeo, like there are in any sport, but if the pen’s muddy, for example, she’s going to warn her competitors.

“I don’t care if you’re my friend or foe; it’s about the horses, too. I don’t want to see anybody’s horse getting hurt,” she says.

The show’s Darcy La Pier and her $200,000 horse might not get that same courtesy from her peers.

But even if “Rodeo Girls’ ” take on barrel racing is skewed for the sake of ratings, Huben says it’ll at least give viewers some insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

And, like Morgan says, “It’s very entertaining.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590