By: Tammie Hiatt
At first glance Staci Russell is not someone you would expect to be a barrel racer. If her Detroit, Michigan address doesn’t make you arch your eyebrows a bit, when you find out she’s only been riding a horse for six years, now she’s got your attention.
A phrase IPRA world champion cowboy Jack Wiseman used to say was “step back non-believers” and this definitely applies to Staci. In 2017 she earned the Mid-States Rodeo Association’s barrel racing championship. Currently she is 6th in the IPRA world standings and is excited about the upcoming rodeo season.
“I want to make the IFR next January,” said Staci. “My ultimate IPRA goal is, to one day, win the world title.”
Staci was first introduced to horses through a lady from her church. “I got to ride one of her horses during a church mission event and I never forgot it. Every break I had from college I would try to take lessons. I was introduced to Keith Morrell in Detroit. He and his family operate Morrell Equine Services, a facility in the city that offers riding lessons and programs for kids. I started taking lessons from him. He’s become what I call, my rodeo dad.”
“I’ve always been an athlete. I loved basketball but I was naturally better at softball and got a scholarship to Tuskegee University,” said Staci. “My dad is a Tuskegee alumni, so I was Alabama bound. Every break I had during college and grad-school I would be back at the barn taking lessons. I was determined to be a good rider.”
“Keith told me I could be competitive and win money running barrels. I said, I’m in,” laughed Staci. “He put me on an older horse to see what I knew. Later he put me on the horse I’m running now. He told me he was for sale and I immediately bought him.”
“My horse, Reese’s Cup, is a 16-year-old sorrel gelding that means the world to me,” Staci said. “His registered name is Boon Barnett and is double bred Doc Bar. He’s the first horse I’ve owned. We are figuring each other out, but I think he figured me out a long time ago! I’m constantly trying to keep up with him.”
“Reese is such a pleaser and I know God put him in my life to fill a void and I can’t do anything but appreciate him and what he’s done for me. Before each run I say a prayer to keep up safe and to let us have a fast run.”
“I’ve had a lot thrown at me in a short time. I never even knew this world of rodeo existed and when I got into it, I loved it,” said Staci. “I am an assistant principal in a Detroit school. I have a good work ethic and believe that you get out of something what you put into it. I use this in both my professional career and my rodeo career. I try to stay mentally strong and keep working at it.”
“I’ve met so many good hearted people at the rodeos that truly want to see me succeed,” said Staci. “I enjoy the fellowship of the rodeo and I try to bring it into other’s lives as well. I take Reese to school and let the kindergarten kids take rides on him. So many kids have never seen a real horse.”
“I’m planning to travel a lot this year. I’m looking forward to the fair rodeos this summer. Reese is really good in the small pens. I’ve already told my principal I will be entering St. Tite in September,” Staci said.
“I recently moved out of the city to be closer to my horse. I board him with Dawn McCarty at Double D Ranch. She has taught me so much about maintaining a horse. She’s also my main traveling partner and advisor at the rodeos and jackpots. I bought a three-story condo that is only 15 minutes from her ranch. I used to drive 45-60 minutes to get back from the barn.”
“I want to be an inspiration to other young girls,” said Staci. “If you’re willing to work for it, you can accomplish anything.”
***Photo: Emily Gethke Photography***