Meet Miracle Mays

"I learned a lot from Lindsey Sears this year" – Brenda Mays

I’ve got a confession.

It seems pretty sacrilegious to admit this, but I don’t actually like watching rodeos. I’m a horrible spectator. In fact, I’m generally hanging out at the trailer or riding horses, popping over just long enough to watch my husband rope before getting on my barrel horse to run.

If it’s not someone I know, I can pretty much take it or leave it… but if I know the person competing it completely changes the dynamic.

I just spent the last two days watching my daughter dance in the Nutcracker ballet. I know next to nothing about ballet, it’s not something I would normally be even remotely interested in, but because my kiddo loves it and has worked so hard at it, you can bet I was captivated with every moment she was on stage and would not have traded watching her for the world.

Now there are exceptions…

For instance, I love watching the NFR. Ten days of the best the rodeo world has to offer is some amazing watching. Unlike your average rodeo, everyone there is at the top of their game, and have proven they deserve to be there. There are no weekend cowboys at the NFR.

We all have our favorites, and in the barrel racing sometimes it’s hard to pick just one. Well, today I’d like to give you the inside scoop on one of the toughest, hardest-working and talented barrel racers today. I want you to get to know her and her awesome family just a little better, and I bet when you get done reading this you will be as big a fan of Brenda Mays as I am.

But first, I’d like to introduce you to Lynn Mays, Brenda’s mom, because there’s no denying that her influence has played a critical role in helping Brenda become and continue to be the success she is today. She’s a wealth of experience and information, and as anyone who’s ever met Lynn knows, one heck of a nice lady. Being that the Mays family comes from my neck of the woods here in Central Oregon, I’ve had the privilege of watching them in action for years. I’ve watched as the Mays training program has turned out one successful barrel horse after another, including the big, black phenom, and 2010 WPRA Horse of the Year Judge Buy Cash, affectionately known as Jethro. Lynn qualified for the NFR back in 1975, so she knows a thing or two about being a successful barrel racer, and has watched the sport change throughout her lifetime.

I asked Lynn a few questions and this is what she had to say:

How have you seen the sport change over the years?

More money, more one go round rodeos, more rodeos that you have to qualify to get into, and way more entries. As far as vet care, there are so many more therapeutic and diagnostic things available, such as irap, shock wave, prp, mri, ultra sound, etc. I was very fortunate to have a retired race horse trainer, Chum Summers, that helped me with keeping my horse sound and running. He had some great leg remedies that I still use today, and he taught me so much about the care and conditioning of a horse. Ground conditions: We have it so much better(most of the time) now than we did back then. I can’t imagine running now on some of the conditions we did back then, but great strides have been made in the preparing of ground and there are some great implements now for working ground. As far as the horses, there are way more really tough ones now. There top horses were tough back then,and would be now, but there are just more of them now. I think the fastest I ever ran on my NFR horse was a 17.3. He ran a lot of 4-8’s, but now at many of the rodeos, that will get you a bottom hole check, if any! Drug use: Many more therapeutic drugs available now. I think bute was about all there was back when I went. Now there are many more, banamine, ketophen, things for bleeders, which I really don’t remember hearing about bleeders then like there is now. Probably were there, just maybe didn’t have the knowledge or available diagnostics that there are today. Illegal drug use in horses, it’s always been around, just don’t think on as broad a scale. I was very naïve about such things but Chum told me about some of the stuff that was used on the track.

What was the most memorable win of your barrel racing career and why?

I think the thing that comes to mind isn’t about one win, but about 9 in a row that Roanie won after a change of shoers. Would have been 11 but I got a barrel at those 2. That is when I really realized how much difference a shoer can make! I thought I had a good shoer until I had to get him reshod in California and I went to a guy in Grass Valley, Bill Neice. What a difference! I’ve been fortunate now to have had the same shoer since 1982 and I haul back to Roseburg to get them done. Jim Leach, thank you, and on the road I use Kerry Burger.

If you had to boil your proven training program down to a few key points, what would they be?

Having broke horses, that you can control every part of their body, not being in too big a hurry with them and keeping them liking it.

You and Brenda obviously are a great training team, what would you say are both of your strengths/weaknesses when it comes to training horses?

Brenda can do both, train and run. Anymore, I’m mainly a trainer and can get on and fix some part of their handle that may be a little lacking. I can feel what is off and needs to be fixed. No way could I run one anymore when you have to go that fast! I can ride them, keep them in shape when Brenda is flying between rodeos, things like that. But she is the jockey!

What is your favorite part of being on the rodeo road with Brenda?

Seeing different places, and the great friends we have out on the road that I wouldn’t get to see if we weren’t rodeoing!

Everyone knows Jethro, but what is Dora’s story? (Dora is the sorrel mare that Brenda runs)

In Nov of her 4 yr old year, she set back at the trailer and unknown to us at the time, she broke her coffin bone in her left front. Wasn’t lame for a while and then it seemed to be an abcess, so doctored for that. In Jan of her 5 year old year, we were in Az and Brenda was back riding her. Seemed to be just a little off on hard ground, so had the mobile vets from CSR ultra sound her. Found the fracture, which was about a 3rd healed, so gave her 6 months and she was healed up totally. Decided to give her the rest of the summer off and in Aug., she somehow broke a bone in her guttural pouch(just being in her pen, no less!) that got infected and caused her to be paralyzed on the left side of her face. Her left ear drooped, her eyelid had to be sewn shut because of no blinking motion, her face twisted off to the left, and she couldn’t chew on that side. She looked like she had had a stroke. She came thru surgery at OSU good, which saved her life, but they gave us a 50/50 chance of her ever being even a broodmare, let alone rideable. With lots of prayers and a product from Silver Lining called CNS at the time, she ran her 1st race in Aug of her 6 year old year, and is running and winning today. She is truly a miracle horse!

Then just a couple weeks ago I had all three ladies: Lynn, Brenda and sister Vicki out at the shop picking out some new tack, so you know I had pick their brains a little!

One thing Brenda kept coming back to again and again, was her appreciation for the team of people that keep her and her horses going strong. Her sister Vicki who I learned is a fantastic driver, and expert at tire-changing in a pinch… even two flat tires at once (ask her about Reno this year). Brenda was quick to admit that she would never be where she is today, without all the behind the scenes people who she appreciates so much.

Brenda hauled a lot with Lindsay Sears this year, and all three ladies couldn’t say enough good things about that family and the help and hospitality they provided her. While Brenda and Lindsay’s horses were divided into two teams, the girls were frequently flying from rodeo to rodeo, while the Sears family helped haul the horses across country to the next event. They were always there taking stellar care of Brenda’s horses, getting down and dirty icing legs, and treating them as if they were their own. Brenda says she got a first hand look at the hard work Lindsay and her family dedicate to their horses, staying at their home at various times throughout the year, where they took her in and made her feel like family.

If you’re from the Northwest, and you’ve been to the Central Point rodeo in the last 7 years, you will know that this Pro Rodeo has been dominated by Brenda and Jethro who have day-lighted the competition year after year. Her signature move of running through the gate (which is situated at the far right hand corner of the arena) and straight at the first barrel, making what appears to be an impossible approach, actually came about by pure accident. Apparently, the first year she ran Jethro here, he actually took off in the parking lot, and instead of pulling him up she just let him go which proved to be a great move, as he pulled off the win and has continued to do so every year since, making these wins Brenda’s most memorable of her career.

The relationship and understanding Brenda has with Jethro is evident to anyone that’s ever watched them run. Going into this year’s NFR I learned that this relationship will be at the center of Brenda’s game plan. She will listen to how he works each night, and let Jethro decide when he needs a night off, and then she will break out her back-up horse Dora, who has proven she is force to be contended with herself. While Jethro is a bit more “free wheeling” then Dora who has more natural rate, Brenda says she rides both her horses in pretty much the same fashion, making only small adjustments between the two.

It was evident that keeping both horses healthy and feeling good was the main focus for the NFR. In addition to her normal competition routine with feed, exercise and therapies, she also adds daily Acuscope treatments done by Kelli Jo Hammack to ensure Jethro and Dora are feeling their best.

Among the products she’s used over the years, Brenda expressed her belief in Silver Lining Herbs in helping with the longevity and continued health of her horses. She also loves her Larry Coats saddles, and has always been impressed with their functionality and quality.

Both Jethro and Dora are Judge Cash bred horses, so I was curious what it is about this bloodline that works for the Mays’ training program. Lynn and Brenda were quick to communicate that these horses are extremely strong- both mentally and physically. That they possess a gritty constitution that gives them the ability to handle the rigors of being a rodeo horse. A grittiness you can’t put into a horse, it’s something they are born with.

It’s my belief that the horses aren’t the only ones with this inner strength and grit. The Mays family trains all their own horses, they don’t depend on high dollar prospects or drive fancy rigs, they have earned the success they have achieved one sweaty saddle pad at a time. They are not strangers to training world-class barrel horses in a simple dirt patch, and will be the last ones to brag about their abilities or successes. They are good people with big hearts, that let their horses success speak for themselves.

So while there’s no denying that Brenda’s Dora mare is a miracle, when you watch Brenda and Jethro run through the gate tomorrow night at the Thomas and Mack, you can be sure it wasn’t just a miracle that got her there!

Until next time ~ Jess

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