Doc might stand just slightly over 14.3, and appears small in the warm-up pen, but don’t tell him that. He has carried Jennifer Kalafatic to numerous PRCA wins, won the 2014 American Qualifier with a 16.83 on a standard course, and won the Justin Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash. The biggest part of this horse, without question, is his heart.
This petite blonde cowgirl and her little red horse recently qualified for the very first ERA World Finals Rodeo. She bucked the odds to become one of only 2 barrel racers to be included in this shot at history. They had made it through all the qualifying steps to become the only Northwest cowgirl to get to compete for $1.2 million dollars on the biggest stage of their life in Dallas, TX on November 11-13, 2016.
Jennifer has been involved with horses her entire life; she is a successful equine business-woman, running the lucrative Outback Stallion Station in Caldwell, Idaho and getting to touch the horseflesh of some of the great sires of our time. She is also a dedicated mother and wife; married to Nick Kalafatic – a veterinarian who helps her run Outback Stallion Station – with their two beautiful children; her daughter, Claire – 12, and son, Cole-13. But she also has a passion to compete.
She has been a team roper, breakaway roper, barrel racer and has also been involved in several other equine disciplines. But her life changed when she met the little horse she calls Doc; her 15-year-old AQHA sorrel gelding named Phoebes Pepper Who (By Docs Phoebe, out of Whoozee). She purchased him just five whirlwind years ago, when he was ten years old. He was originally started and trained as a cutter by Richard and Hope Jordan.
Doc has now taken her deep into the qualification for the American, given her a big win at the PRCA show in Puyallup, Washington, and many, many others.
“Hope and Richard started him in cutting training, but he had a bit too much of a motor for it… So Hope and Doc started barrel racing, and that was it!” Jennifer said. Doc had found his calling.
Although many barrel horses going down the road right now have a “who’s who” of running bred Quarter Horse bloodlines filling their pedigrees, Doc is all cow bred. What makes him special, says Jennifer, is his huge heart.
“What I love about him is, even if it’s not his setup or not his pen…. He always gives 110% no matter what. He thinks he wins even when he doesn’t. We call him the little horse with the big heart!! He is only 14.3, but it doesn’t matter what kind of ground, if it is deep or muddy, he runs the same pattern and he always turns. He just loves his job, and tries so hard.”
Jennifer says his quirk and challenge are both at the gate…. But not necessarily in a bad way.
“We’ve definitely made big strides for improvement over the years we have had him, and I’ve tried to keep it positive for him. He never refuses the gate, that isn’t his problem, he just wants to go 100 MPH from way back. So the gate has been a challenge for us!” Jennifer said.
Always successful, Jennifer has mostly stayed close to home – as the rigors and time that the rodeo road can shell out have been more than she was able to juggle while running her business and raising her family. That’s why the ERA presented a unique opportunity for her to chase her dreams and still manage to wrangle her busy home life.
“I love the PRCA and the WPRA; they are great associations and I have had some big wins competing at those rodeos. And I will continue to compete in them. I have never questioned the ability of my horse to be able to make it out there, but being able to take the time to travel to as many shows as you have to in order to qualify for the NFR was just more than I could do….. so when I looked into the new ERA system, it seemed like a great fit,” Jennifer said in a recent interview.
Her first stop in the ERA process would come in Salt Lake City, at the famous Days of ’47 Rodeo in July of 2016. It was an ERA Tour Stop for two days, and the remainder of the days included qualifying rounds for those competitors trying to get all the way to Dallas, and have a shot at a Tour slot in 2017.
“It had been a bucket list rodeo for me – to run at the Days of ’47 Rodeo – but in previous years I wasn’t able to get in based on the limited entries. I had always thought that set-up and that arena would be the perfect showcase for Doc and that we could really have some success.”
Basically, Jennifer received information from the ERA on their qualification system, and how to apply for a spot at the Days of ’47 Rodeo. She jumped at the chance. There were four total performances for qualifiers, and Jennifer and Doc won their performance. That automatically moved them forward to compete at the next step of qualifying in September at the Mesquite rodeos. Around those three barrels they ran, getting closer to their goal with each stride.
Step two of the process was the ERA Semi-Finals. Jennifer drew the performance on September 23, which happened to be the very last one. Girls ran throughout the summer to attempt to get to this semi-final, which were held every weekend in September of 2016.
At this point, as the funnel got tighter, Doc and Jennifer would have to be in the top two of their performance to be able to run in the Qualifying Series Final held October 1-2, also in Mesquite. It was a good setup for Doc, a smaller arena that fits his style and his grit. Her family always being a huge support to her, she was really happy they could make the trek down to Mesquite for the September run. Her parents, her kids and of course her husband, Nick, were all there.
“When I made it pretty far into the American qualifying process, and some of my other big races, my parents and extended family had decided to wait until the end to come watch me…. But then I hadn’t quite made the Final, and so they missed it. This time they all decided they didn’t want to wait, and they came in force. It was really amazing to have them all there!” Jennifer said.
“Having a great support system is what allows me to be here now. I believe wholeheartedly that it takes a village to raise kids, keep your business going, and keep rodeoing. My parents are a huge help, they take on a big part with the kids and help with so many things. If we weren’t blessed with our incredible employees (most have been with them 10+ years) -- if we didn’t have great employees that are like family – well, we couldn’t pack up and leave like we do. And of course Nick is so supportive on all ends – he helps with the kids, he goes with me a lot to help drive and he helps get me in the gate!”
When Doc and Jennifer took that stage on September 23rd, they were locked on. She once again won her performance, and with the wind at their backs they prepped for the October Qualifying Final. Only 11 girls would make it to that point. The pressure was getting so thick you could scrape it off your boots.
At the final there would be two runs, with money paid each round and this was the very last stop…. The very last obstacle they had to face in order to punch their ticket to Dallas. The top two in the average would move on and officially be a part of the inaugural ERA World Finals at the American Airlines Stadium in November. I asked Jennifer what one of the most satisfying parts of the entire process has been for her.
“From the very beginning, at the Days of ’47 Rodeo, from the very start, everyone at the ERA has been extremely helpful and supportive … they never made you feel like an outsider. They were so good to me! I think I appreciated that so much. I think they know that this is what will make the ERA thrive,” she said.
Now the time had come for the qualifying final, and due to regular commitments, her extended family had returned home. But Nick was able to stay behind and be by her side for that amazing moment. Jennifer stated that she can’t explain what a calming effect that Nick has on her at these big events. She says he is generally cool and collected, and always tells her, “Just go make a smooth run. Smooth is fast!”
For most competitors though, a huge part of the whole experience is the mental game. Luckily, Jennifer has a theory on that.
“It seems like the bigger the stakes, the better Doc and I do. It’s tough to go to a $20 jackpot and win!” she laughed. “But I don’t know why, at the biggest races, when it really counts… in those situations that little horse just always pulls it out. The bigger the stage and the bigger the show, well, that’s when Doc shines! But I think Nick was even nervous for that last run.”
But Jennifer looked at him and said, “I got this, This is like roping a high man go steer, I don't miss many. The pressure part for me is a push instead of a pull.”
Their first run was a smoker – they won the round, and had set themselves up perfectly for that last hurdle. Then their second run time put them well within the top two in the average, and Jennifer and Doc had made that amazing jump to get to the World Finals. It was a dream come true.
Now, looming ahead, is the big event in Dallas, Texas. There will be World Champions and 2016 NFR Qualifiers there competing against her, and some of the biggest up-and-coming names in the business running right beside her. And that up-and-coming list now includes Jennifer Kalafatic and Doc, from Caldwell, Idaho.
The ERA World Finals, in the barrel racing, will include the original eleven tour girls who have been competing all season, and then the two additional qualifiers from Mesquite. (see sidebar for more information on ERA and Barrel Racing Roster) The other qualifier is Shelley Morgan of Eustace, Texas. But Jennifer is ready to take it all in, and experience every moment.
“This will probably be the biggest venue I’ve ever run in. Puyallup was really my first BIG win, but this, because I’ve made it all the way to the championship round, it will be our biggest rodeo. And it’s the whole experience, not just the rodeo! We will get to take part in a ton of outside events and activities; there are media events and autograph signings and so many exciting things. This truly is the NFR of the ERA,” she said.
And not to mention……there is $1.2 million dollars up for grabs at the ERA Finals Rodeo alone. It’s a huge rodeo with a huge payout, and Jennifer and Doc are now on their way.
Jennifer says to prepare for Dallas, well; she will just keep doing what has worked all along. She says before she leaves for Texas, the only barrels that Doc see will be Richard Jordan working him for just a few minutes.
“Richard and Hope still help me with Doc – and that is so important to our success! I don’t even have an arena at my house. I don’t work him on the barrels at all. I ride him outside a bunch, I think it is great for his brain,” she said. “But before I go anywhere, I will take him over to Richard and he does like a 5-10 minute work on him. It is amazing in that short amount of time how much of a difference I can feel in Doc with just those 10 minutes! Less is so much more…. It just works for Doc’s program. I have to give Richard and Hope a ton of credit for not only what they did with Doc prior to me owning him, but for keeping him tuned for me now.”
When I asked Jennifer about this crazy ride she has been on, she gave us all some philosophical words to ponder.
“The interesting thing about all of this is….Especially in rodeo; you never know when to break into the next level. Is my horse good enough, am I good enough, where should we start? But I’ve never been scared to enter, at any event. I probably was entering at big races before I should have, but it’s just been something I’ve been able to do. I believe you rise to the level of competition. There are tons of capable horses out there, but it’s that one run, on that one day, in that one arena…. And you have to put yourself out there in order to see what happens!”
There will be thousands of eyes across the Northwest and beyond, following Jennifer and Doc come early November in Dallas. All cheering her on and riding with them every step…. Good luck Jennifer and Doc!!