When she was a student at Dawson Community College, Britany Fleck needed a horse to break for a class she was taking. A filly named Dasher Dude filled the bill.
Little did Fleck know that filly would help break her on to rodeo's biggest stage.
Riding Dasher Dude - also known as Rootie - Fleck became the first North Dakota woman to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in barrel racing. The 10-day event begins Thursday.
Fleck is 12th in the world standings - the top 15 qualify for the NFR. She clinched a spot during the final weekend of the season at a rodeo in Omaha, Neb. She began that weekend in 16th place.
"I knew I was close, and then I won the first go-round in Omaha," Fleck said. "I was very excited, because (Omaha) put me in for sure."
Fleck, who just missed the NFR last year, placing 17th, has won $63,120 this season.
The 28-year-old Fleck - who grew up on a ranch south of Mandan and currently resides in Bismarck - took to the sport at a young age.
"I've always been around horses," Fleck said. "I've been riding since I was 5 years old and was a team roper in high school."
Fleck qualified twice for the national high school finals and went on to compete at Dawson, then Chadron State in Nebraska.
Her pro career has taken off the last several years.
In 2009 Fleck won the Badlands Circuit title - by a margin of just $1.96 - and qualified for the Dodge National Circuit Finals rodeo, finishing the year ranked 49th.
Fleck more than doubled her earnings in 2010, to $45,323.
This year she has scored victories in the Killdeer Mountain Roundup Rodeo and the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo by one penny.
She estimates that she competes in 60 to 80 rodeos per year.
"I put on a lot of miles, and sometimes I don't get a lot of sleep," she said. "You have to unload the horses every six hours or so.
"I wrap their legs, get a haybag ready, clean the trailer, put in new shavings, water them, and let them rest," she said. "It's a lot of work."
But that hard work has paid off, never more than with Rootie.
Fleck said it can take years to train a horse for barrel racing, but Fleck said she saw potential in Rootie as they worked together.
"Rootie had a little bit extra talent," she said.
Fleck said there are several factors that make for a good barrel racing horse.
"Speed is important," she said. "You look for the right conformation, their build, straight legs, a low hock set. My preference is I like smaller horses. They're easier to turn."
Fleck said that she is trying to approach the NFR like any other rodeo, even though it obviously isn't.
"Each go-round the winner gets $18,000, and the average winner gets $46,000," Fleck said. "My goal is to win as much as I can and maybe win a go-round buckle. That would be amazing."
Fleck is the only North Dakotan who qualified for the NFR.
By LOU BABIARZ-Tribune Sports Editor
DCC is grateful to the Bismark Tribune and LOU BABIARZ-Tribune Sports Editor for giving permission to publish this story here.