Local rodeo rider has barrels of fun

Kim Kammenzind's whirlwind life lands in her hometown at the Frontier Days Rodeo this weekend, competing in barrel racing.

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Chet, an eight-year-old quarterhorse, shows his affection for owner and barrel racer Kim Kammenzind on their ranch south of Touchet. Kammenzind and Chet will be barrel racing at the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days rodeo over Labor Day weekend.

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Barrel racer Kim Kammenzind poses for a portrait with her barrel racing horse Chet, an eight-year-old quarter horse.

TOUCHET - She's 31 years old and as cute as a button.

She's single, too, and according to her Facebook page, it will take someone "pretty amazing" to change her marital status,

She's also financially self sufficient. And she can ride like the wind.

For Kim Kammenzind, life is a barrel of fun.

Make that barrels of fun, actually.

Kammenzind, a 1996 Touchet High School graduate, has been riding barrel racing horses for about as long as she can remember. She entered her first pee wee race at the age of 5, qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo as a sophomore and a senior, and she cashed her first professional check during her junior year.

The spunky brunette - there's just a tinge of red in her hair from her mother's side - also rode for the rodeo teams at Walla Walla Community College and Lewis-Clark State College. She added breakaway roping to her riding repertoire in college and qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in both events.

And now, she's making a name for herself professionally in the Columbia River Circuit where she is trying to qualify for the circuit barrel racing finals for a second straight year.

No wonder she's having so much fun.

It's easy to picture her blasting down the highway in her one-ton Dodge dually, three-horse trailer in tow, windows rolled down and the radio turned up. She might not be listening to Garth Brooks, though.

"I like country music, but I listen to everything," Kammenzind says. "Rap, rock and roll, jazz. Right now I am into alternative country, and Reckless Kelly is my favorite.

"But I do listen to music as I go down the road."

And she'll be doing plenty of that this month as she and her ace 8-year-old Quarter Horse Chet make their push for a top-12 finish in the final circuit standings and a ticket to the finals in November. This weekend there's her hometown Frontier Days Rodeo in Walla Walla and the Ellensburg Rodeo. Lewiston and Spokane are on tap next weekend and Pendleton and Othello the week after that.

"The circuit's biggest rodeos are going on right now," Kammenzind says. "Making the finals is my goal, and there is still plenty of money to be won."

She and Chet - his registered name is Easy Kippa Dash and he's a former race horse - made it to the finals last year in Redmond, Ore., and won a round. They finished fifth overall in the circuit's final barrel standings and won about $8,500.

But everyone who has ever kicked up dust in a rodeo arena understands that you can only go as far as luck will take you. And right now Kammenzind finds herself in a bit of a rut.

She knocked over a couple of barrels earlier this summer that cost her time and money. Her backup barrel horse, 5-year-old Blackjack O'Malley, pulled a tendon in a jackpot race last week and has been put out to pasture for up to 12 weeks. And during last Friday night's barrel run at the Horse Heaven Roundup in Kennewick, Chet pulled up lame.

Needless to say, Kammenzind didn't cash a check in Kennewick. And she was forced to draw out of Saturday's Kitsap County Stampede in Bremerton and Sunday's North Idaho Rodeo in Coeur d'Alene.

"I've had some bad luck lately hitting barrels or I would have won significantly more money than I have," Kammenzind says. "And now these injuries. Things haven't been going the way they are supposed to."

Chet's injury doesn't appear to be serious, and Kammenzind remains hopeful that he will be ready to run this weekend. If not, she'll be forced to ride a loaner since her third Quarter Horse, 3-year-old Deena, isn't ready for the arena lights and a big crowd.

Kammenzind acquired Chet as a 5-year-old and estimates that she has earned between $15,000 and $17,000 on him in each of the past two years, counting jackpots and 4D races that she has entered.

"He's my first really superstar horse that can compete at this level," Kammenzind says.

Chet was sired by Dash To Fame, who is considered to be the most prominent sire of barrel horses in the United States. And this spring Chet lived up to his pedigree by twice smashing the arena record during the Dodge National Circuit Finals in Pocatello, Idaho.

"That was a pretty big deal," says Kammenzind, who wasn't in the saddle for the two record-breaking runs. She hadn't qualified for the national circuit finals, so she loaned Chet to a friend, Sue Smith of Blackfoot, Idaho.

"Her good horse was sick and she asked if she could borrow Chet," Kammenzind recalls. "She picked him up in Pasco and did quite well. She won $16,000 that week."

Kammenzind was actually in the arena in Pocatello for one of the record runs.

"I have a friend who has a plane," Kammenzind says. "We flew there, watched the rodeo the first night, and then I flew back and taught school the next morning."

Oh, that's Kim Kammenzind's other life. She teaches kindergarten at Ferndale Elementary School in Milton-Freewater and has for the past 10 years.

She comes, she says, "from a family where every one of the women is a teacher and a barrel racer."

She loves her day job, too, and she believes that some of the skills that work for her in the classroom are just as important in the arena.

"Patience for sure," she says, "and adaptability. And understanding that you never know what you are going to get on a day-to-day basis. Horses and students can be a lot alike."

However, fitting her occupation and her avocation into the same 24-hour day isn't always easy.

"That's what makes this such a crazy time of the year," she says of her busy September schedule. "Fortunately, the Columbia River Circuit doesn't really pick up until June, so most of the rodeos come in the summer months."

But, she admits, there is a yearning to do more with her life as a barrel racer.

"I usually go to 20-to-25 rodeos a year, most of them in the Columbia River Circuit," she says. "I have a little handful of others. I usually go to Reno and to Nampa and to Caldwell, and I really want to go to Cheyenne and Salinas next year.

"When you have a good horse, it makes you want to branch out a little more."

Making the Women's Professional Rodeo Association finals in barrel racing is a dream. But unless Kammenzind can boost her rodeo earnings to the $20,000 range and qualify for a series of winter rodeos in the south, it is probably an impossible dream.

"If I had the opportunity and things fell my way and things were going good, I'd go try and make the national finals," Kammenzind says. "But I'd probably have to take a year of absence from school if that ever presented itself, and with the economy the way it is I'd be skeptical of walking away from my job."

That's her practical side showing. Because as much fun as barrel racing might be, Kammenzind treats her hobby like a business.

Her investment in horseflesh is significant, to say the least. And traveling the Northwest gets more expensive by the day.

"We keep track of everything and write off what we can," she says. "Even on a successful year, you can show a loss."

The "we" in this case includes her mother, Barbara Brown, who teaches computer/business classes at Touchet High and owns a 220-acre wheat and alfalfa ranch just south of town where her daughter grew up and still keeps her horses.

Barbara and her sister, Judy Poitras, who recently retired after 40 years of teaching, grew up on some of the finest barrel horses in the valley and continue to compete into their 60s. They have been Kammenzind's inspiration.

"My family has always been involved in rodeo," Kammenzind says. "My mother and my aunt are in their 60s, and they are still going strong. So as long as I am in good health and still enjoying it, I will continue to go."

And going down the road is a rodeo life that Kammenzind embraces.

"There is so much more showmanship with rodeo now," she says. "The music, the lights, the specialty acts. They've really made it more appealing for spectators.

"And then there's the fair food and all the fun of traveling. We all have our favorite places that we look forward to going to."

And rather than forming rivalries between fel low contestants, friendships are bonded.

"We really all support each other," Kammenzind says. "The only person you compete against is that electric eye. You're not looking to beat so and so. Your only goal is to have the fastest time possible in the conditions."

And when the race has been run, they know they can count on one another.

"One of my very favorite parts," Kammenzind says, "is if you happen to have a flat tire, six people stop to help you out. And if you run short of hay and need to borrow some, there's always someone there for you. I really enjoy that."

Hometown rodeos always take on extra importance for those involved in the sport. And Kammenzind, who will race at Frontier Days for the fourth time, is no exception.

"I think your hometown rodeo is always the toughest," says Kammenzind, who cashed her only Frontier Days check in 2007. "It's hard to win in front of all your family and friends.

"And Walla Walla is a very tough rodeo because all of the big rodeos are up here right now. All of the girls in the Top 15 are here. There's good added money and lots of entries."

This year's Frontier Days Rodeo is doubly important as far as Kammenzind is concerned.

Her grandfather Harold Barnes, Barbara and Judy's father, is being honored as one of this year's Frontier Days Legends. A Touchet Gardena-area rancher, Barnes, who died in 1973, was heavily involved in the horse industry and a huge supporter of the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days. He served as a Walla Walla County Commissioner from 1963 to 1972.

Legends ceremonies are scheduled during Saturday night's performance. Kammenzind will be in attendance along with the rest of her family Saturday and then compete during Sunday's final performance.

"It would be nice to do well and do grampa proud," Kammenzind says.

Then it will be on to Lewiston, Spokane, Pendleton and Othello. And perhaps parts unknown.

For sure, she'll be living a life that she loves. But she'll also be wishing for a little better luck.

"It takes one good run to turn things around," Kammenzind says. "It would be great to do it at the hometown rodeo."

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