Laura Lee Thomas of Union City, Penn. took the rodeo world by storm this summer as she and her mount Verily Six Bugs ran one of the most consistent summers is recent memory, knocking just one barrel and placing or winning at every major rodeo of the season. For a duo that didn’t begin running until the end of June, this summer was something special. But then again, most people have come to expect that type of dynamite style from Thomas, who has qualified for two IFRs and won the APRA three times. This year, Thomas and “Tanner” claimed the APRA title yet again, winning the average at the AFR and winning Horse of the Year to round off the season. Thomas isn’t done yet, though. As you’re reading this, she’s en route to St. Tite, where she’ll compete against almost 100 other barrel racers for $15,000 in added money in the biggest IPRA rodeo of the year. Sitting 9th in the IPRA World Standings, Thomas and Tanner hope to solidify a spot at the IFR. After St. Tite, Thomas will switch gears and get Tanner ready to run in the Sweepstakes at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, putting the seasoned rodeo veteran to the ultimate horse show test.
Over the next few days, The Barrel Racing Blog will give you a chance to get to know Thomas and Tanner like never before. You’ll learn how Tanner was trained, what kind of gear Thomas loves, and much, much more.
How did you begin running barrels?
I was 2 years old and began “barrel racing” bareback on my pony. As I got older I had my mom’s older horses to ride until I began training my own. She had a real nice gelding that I got to run a bit as a teenager in the youth classes.
Who taught you to ride?
My mom (Joan Wurst) – I grew up in a rodeo family.
How long have you been training horses?
Officially about 28 years but I trained some for myself and family when I was a teenager.
Rodeos or barrel races?
Rodeos! You can’t beat the atmosphere at rodeos. I do go to barrel races to season some of the less finished horses.
What are your biggest accomplishments horseback?
When I was younger I received a Master Showman award at the State 4-H show I was pretty proud of. It was a bonus award you could earn while showing halter if you did an exceptional job.
I also placed in versatility at the Quarterama showing in Hunter Under Saddle, Western Pleasure, Reining, and Barrel Racing. Ironically I did the worst in the Barrel Racing! I always thought this class was pretty cool if you could get one horse to do well in all the events.
I think more recently qualifying for the International Finals Rodeo two times was pretty cool!
In 2006 I was honored by having the AQHA High Point Stallion with Tanner when he was just a 4 year old. I only took him to 3 shows. Rita was pretty thrilled receiving this award too!
Most recent was over Labor Day weekend at the Painted Pony Ranch for the American Finals Rodeo where Tanner and I placed in every go round, won the average, and the year end! Our average time was quite a bit quicker and we ended up with a lot more money than the #2 cowgirl. This makes me a 3 time APRA Champion and a 2 time AFR Champion. I won both the AFR and year end on Three in 1999. Tanner won the year end twice now and one average.
What horses have you had the most success on?
I have been blessed with several nice horses but there’s really four that stand out to me. Seems like I end up with someone wanting to buy my horses before I get them totally ready to rodeo, it sure helps pay the bills. I do like to see others go on and do well with horses I’ve trained and/or raised!
“Three Pink Flowers” – aka “Three” won so much for me! He was an amazing horse I ran for about 7 years before his untimely death. His death was really heart breaking for me! I had to force myself to even go to the barn and could still cry now thinking of the bond I had with that horse! His death was very unexpected! He was an extremely tough horse and loved rodeo! We (my family) raised him; we owned both the sire and dam. I broke and trained him myself. We sold him for a short time and I begged my parents to buy him back when he was for sale again (at the time I was riding mostly for them). I should’ve just bought him myself, but didn’t really have the money. Three came back to me biting, kicking, bucking, you name it! He really ended up being a one person horse with the exception of Mandi (our daughter) being able to run him very well. My Dad (Bill Wurst) team roped on him a lot too but he had me ride him down a lot before he did. Three would sometimes get “high” on a steer so he could kick at it and yes he bucked with Dad too. After I started placing at the IPRA rodeos on him I told my Dad that team roping horses are easier to come by the really good barrel horses, he shouldn’t make Three work so hard during the week roping when I had so many rodeos to go to! He knew I was kidding him but somewhat serious about resting him and saving him for rodeos and eventually he completely quit roping on him.
“Verily Six Bugs” – aka “Tanner” is the horse I’ve been running for about 4 years, owned by Rita Gambino of Outlaw Acres. He had almost a year off during that time due to a suspensory injury. He has been extremely amazing! He is hard to compare to Three since I didn’t have them very long at the same time, but Tanner may be more consistent as I tipped more barrels on Three sometimes due to his running style. Tanner is very honest in his running style.
“Mr Dutch Jack” – aka “Jack” did pretty well for me. He does literally all the timed events in rodeo, plus poles, and drives as well. He’s semi retired now at age 25 but still pretty sound and teaching our boys how to rope! My husband (Bruce) and I fought over him a lot since I wanted to take him to barrel races and he wanted to take him roping. Eventually I started another horse and quit using Jack altogether. I passed him on for our daughter Mandi who did very well with him and won some saddles, buckles, and such.
I had a very nice black mare that I raised, “Teaz Classic Jet” – aka “Classy”. My family owned both the sire and dam on her as well. I ran her for a few years and sold her on Long Island where she’s still doing well for her owners. She was very consistent and tried real hard. She was just getting into the swing of rodeos and I was placing on her when I sold her. She is related to Teresa Quay’s great gelding “Chico” who took her to several IFR’s. Chico is semi retired now too, but has been seen at some rodeos this summer still running well as a backup. My family raised him as well and gave him away as a weanling!
Tell us about Tanner. How is he bred, age, etc.
Tanner is now 8. He has a fantastic pedigree – all on his papers are Packin Sixes, Streakin Six, Bugs Alive in 75, Top Moon, and On The Money Red! His Dam, Miss Emma Pyron, has several outstanding performers to her credit. The breeders, Ken and Pat Smith of Washington State, still have his sire and dam.
He is an extremely smart horse, in fact, one time he was bowing a bit leaving the first barrel more than I liked. He was 4 at the time and I thought I’d set up barrels in a straight line and work him to the right making him finish hard and not stay bent. Well…I went to a rodeo that weekend he SMOKED the 1st then tried to turn the 2nd to the right too! It wasn’t his fault really. I don’t do that with him anymore, some horses are too smart for this exercise. I didn’t do it a lot either but I think once was too much for him.