- Associated Press - Friday, July 7, 2017

ABILENE, Kan. (AP) - Some joke that Micah Samples was born on a horse.

“I was on a horse with my mom pretty much right after I was born,” Samples told the Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/2sNrM5p ). “Or as soon as I could set up there.”

Throughout much of her life, the soon-to-be 24-year-old cowgirl has been in a saddle.

She started competing in barrel racing at the age of 5 and competed in her first professional rodeo, the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo, at age 8.

She cashed her first barrel racing check, $800, after she placed in the Abilene rodeo at the age of 14.

Though she was just an amateur at the time, her entries were made possible by the Bankes Barrel Racing team, Abilene, which allows amateur barrel racers in Dickinson County to compete each night in Abilene’s Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association sanctioned event.

Samples earned her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association card the year she turned 18. She will compete in the Wild Bill Hickock Rodeo, which runs Wednesday through Saturday at the Grandstand in Eisenhower Park, Abilene. She is scheduled to ride Saturday.

Amateur Dickinson County barrel racers also will be competing each night as part of the Bankes Team, similar to Sample’s amateur days.

Abilene’s hometown fans have been very supportive of the amateur barrel racers, Samples said.

“They get excited about it,” she said. “They always got so loud and behind the Bankes’ barrel racers. I don’t know of another pro rodeo that lets locals ride and compete like that, and the opportunity to get paid.”

Should an amateur rider place, Auburn Pharmacy, Abilene, the event sponsor, covers the prize money.

This year Samples is competing in a limited number of rodeos while spending more time training several young horses. Rodeos in Manhattan, Abilene and Hill City are on her schedule.

“I am mainly trying to get the young horses seasoned and experienced so hopefully by winter or definitely a year from now they are ready and I am ready to start going a lot more,” she said.

But for now, she’s not hit the circuit full time.

“I plan on riding and competing for the next few years. I hopefully will have a nice enough group of horses to rodeo on,” she said.

Samples also cares and trains close to 50 horses on the farm of her parents, Mike and Donna Samples, located just northwest of Abilene.

“I don’t have many other hobbies than this,” said Samples, who graduated in May from Northwestern Oklahoma State in agriculture science with a minor in mass communications. “I get up early in the morning and ride, and try to get everything done before it gets too hot. We have so many horses.

“It’s a full-time job.”

The Abilene rodeo is part of a four-rodeo circuit in Kansas that attracts the top cowboys and cowgirls in professional rodeo. The rodeos in Abilene, Dodge City, Hill City and Phillipsburg can be a springboard to the National Finals Rodeo.

Two years ago in Dodge City, Samples was the only Kansan to make the finals in barrel racing.

“It’s such a big rodeo,” she said of the one in Dodge City.

While barrel racing provides more opportunities at rodeos, Samples prefers roping, which she did in college and competed in professionally at United Rodeo Association-sanctioned events.

“They were always in Iowa and Missouri, so while I was in school they were always pretty much impossible for me to get to,” she said. “I would go over the Fourth of July and hit some of the bigger rodeos, but I have not had the opportunity to be very consistent.

“I probably prefer roping over barrel racing. It’s more enjoyable for me,” she said. “It (roping) has been put on the back burner now because I have so many barrel horses.”

Breakaway roping is similar to calf roping but without the tie-down.

“It’s quick. About two to three-second run,” she said.

She also does team roping. She competed in barrel, breakaway and team roping in college as well.

“I hope to be more of an all-around and not just barrel racing,” she said.

Being mentally and physically prepared is the key in barrel racing, she said.

“Confidence and trust in your animal, that you can go out there and win,” she said.

Her mother, Donna, also was a member of a Bankes Barrel Racing Team, Abilene. Her father, Mike, Mike manages the Farmers & Ranchers Livestock, of Salina.

Each year the Wild Bill Hickok rodeo committee selects the image of a cowboy or cowgirl to be featured on a limited-edition belt buckle that’s for sale.

Donna Samples is on the 1993 buckle, and Micah is on the 2015 buckle.

“It’s exiting to be a part of something that she has and say we’ve been on it together,” Micah said.

Bud Bankes, who owned Bankes Pharmacy, Abilene, came up with the idea of allowing the amateur riders to compete with the pros with the idea of sparking interest in the local rodeo.

“We were all talking about what we could do to spike this rodeo. Give it some punch,” Bud Bankes said. “My daughter (Mitzi Gose) had been doing some barrel racing and I was watching these girls in our area. They were really good barrel racers.”

The 2015 rodeo is the 22nd year that locals have participated. When Kylie Bryant, Hope, a member of the Bankes Barrel Racing Team, competes on Friday, her horse, Mickey, will be making its 16th trip to the competition, said Linda Bankes, Bud’s wife. The horse had been ridden by two other Bryant sisters.

Bankes recalled the crowd’s reaction in previous years when an Abilene native participated in the rodeo.

“When he came to Abilene, the crowd would really get excited because it was a local guy,” he said. “I thought: ‘How about if we see if we can get a local barrel racer to run and create some excitement there?’”

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com

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