Sabrina Haugen’s passion for rodeo and barrel racing runs deep
by Bethany Wesley
This summer, after a 15-year-old girl spent a full week fine-tuning her barrel-racing skills under Sabrina Haugen’s tutelage, the girl’s father inquired as to how much he owed.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. My reward will be her getting a check,’” Sabrina recalled, looking back on the experience. “(The girl) wants so badly to get a check at a rodeo. That will be, for me, more of a reward than anything else.”
Sabrina, a champion barrel-racer herself, has stepped into this latest stage of the sport just as she has all the others that preceded it: with passion.
“I’ve just recently started to do clinics with younger kids who are just getting started,” she said. “I love doing that. I love seeing the kids evolve.”
She was in second grade, about 7 years old, when her grandparents first took note of her passion for horses. It was deer season – she wasn’t supposed to be out riding – but there she was, riding bareback through the field when the horse stopped and Sabrina fell. She tried to catch herself with her arms and ended up breaking her wrist.
She finally got her first pony when she was 9.
“For years I begged (for a horse) every day,” she said. “Finally, my grandpas like, ‘You need to get her a pony. It’s time.’”
Sabrina, who graduated from Bemidji High School in 1996, didn’t grow up at home around horses, but her paternal grandparents had a pony. But once she got her own pony at home, she got involved with the North Star Riders and then 4-H.
She soon moved on from that first pony and got a grade quarter horse gelding, a horse Sabrina showed all throughout 4-H and high school.
“He was a good boy,” she said. “He ended up winning the state 4-H show in three of the four events. He was a neat horse. He was very green broke when I got him. It was definitely one of those learning experiences.”
She initially got into barrel-racing for the prize money it offered. Once the Minnesota Barrel Horse Association was established, Sabrina said the options for barrel-racing – and winning some dollars – expanded.
“Barrel horses are expensive now,” she said, in explaining why the prize money was alluring. “Probably back in the early 2000s, that’s when I got my first rodeo-caliber horse.”
They were successful too, earning their way to the Minnesota Rodeo Association finals in 2007.
“We definitely hauled a lot; we traveled the road a lot,” Sabrina said, looking back on the roads she’s traveled for her barrel-racing career. “We spent a lot of time on the road. One night we went from Superior, Wis., over to Sheboygan, which is way over there. All night long we traveled to get to that rodeo. … We kind of lived on the road.”
And “we” those days had expanded beyond just Sabrina herself. By then, she had married her longtime high school friend, Kenny, who graduated from Bemidji High School in 1993, and they had two young sons at the time, one 3 years old and the other just an infant.
“It was a challenge,” she laughed. “But that’s one thing that’s really nice about the barrel-racing world, or the rodeo world. Everybody’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to run, can you watch my kids?’ and they’re all really good about it. Everybody brings the kids.”
The rodeo world is a small world, she said, and everyone got to know everyone. The friendships she developed have really helped ground her and shape who she became.
“It’s a different community,” she said. “They’re willing to help you out as long as you’re a good person. If you’re one of those people who is kind of cutthroat, people are going to kind of stand off away from you.”
But that was never Sabrina’s style. She went out to compete of course, but she did so against herself. She noted that the MBHA’s system has separate divisions, which always presented opportunities for her to grow.
“That’s what I like about it. Especially with the divisions, I could say, ‘OK, today we’re running in the 2D (second division), next week let’s try to get to the 1D,” she said. “I don’t really set out to beat anybody in particular. I just always want to make my horse better.”
Today, Sabrina competes in MoJo’s Rodeo, which has appearances throughout northern Minnesota such as Bagley and Gonvick, closer to home.
“I do barrels and now they have junior barrels and they allow little boys to ride in it if they want, so my youngest, who’s 9 has been doing that,” she said. “They also have mini bronc horses – mini ponies – that they let the little guys buck out on and so now he’s shown interest in that and thinks that he wants to do that. I’m like, ‘Oh no, what about the roping?’”
But, really, she said, she’s all for it.
“I think it’s a good sport because they can continue with it for life if they choose to, and they could make it into a business if they wanted to,” she said. “I’m happy that they’re into it because it builds a lot of character. It teaches them a lot of responsibility. They have to be fed at certain times, and they have to be taken care of. You have to clean their stall every night, bring the pony in and feed him. … I think it teaches a lot of life skills, that you have to be on time, how to manage your time, that someone’s counting on you.”
But still, there’s the thrill of the competition too.
While Sabrina herself admits that the larger money payouts come when she sells a horse, she hasn’t yet been able to part with her 8-year-old, a horse she calls Shaggy, though his registered name is Hammer and Gold.
“My horse has just been doing amazing. He’s won five of the last eight rodeos he’s entered,” she said. “I’ve had him about five years now – which is a while, considering. I usually get them at 2 years old and sell them at 5, 6 years old. … But I just can’t quite part with him yet. He’s like my dog, he’s my friend.”