Now four-time world champion Hailey Kinsel weighs in on her rollercoaster journey to the 2022 WPRA world championship and the truth of maturing as a competitor and woman under the industry’s spotlight.
Hailey Kinsel and DM Sissy Hayday, “Sister,” turned in arguably one of the most iconic runs in barrel racing history inside the Thomas & Mack during Round 9 of the 2022 NFR, but the flood of messages she awoke to the morning of Round 10 had nothing to do with her go-round win.
A comment—taken wildly out of content and blasted across social media—that Kinsel made after her Round 9 win sent fans into a tailspin online, and all fingers were pointed at the Cotulla, Texas, native.
“I’m not going to lie,” Kinsel said. “I cried for hours (that morning). It was a lot to take in.”
Kinsel felt defeated over the next few hours. Sure, the 28-year-old had battled over nine rounds and moved from No. 5 in the world standings, to a solid No. 1 position that was hers to lose on the final night of competition. Sure, she outright won three of the nine go-rounds, tied another with Lisa Lockhart and raked in $136,873.72.
But the reality was that none of that mattered as the clock ticked down to the start of Round 10.
The gold buckle came down to a Round-10 run-off, when Kinsel, Jordon Briggs, Lisa Lockhart and Wenda Johnson all had realistic shots at the win, with Kinsel as the frontrunner. Dejected and misunderstood, Kinsel made a choice from her hotel room that afternoon—a choice that would set her up to win her fourth WPRA world title and skyrocket her further into rodeo’s history books.
“I had to run and get ready to go,” Kinsel said. “I didn’t want everything I worked for all year to come down to being too tired to run because of people.”
She put on her favorite worship music and walked around her hotel room, forced down food and tried her best to put the drama out of ther mind. Then, she had one last pep talk from her brother before she went to the arena.
“He sat down with me beforehand and said ‘It’s over, it’s past. It’s behind you, those people don’t matter. Go do your thing,’ and he was right. That was a little bit of a reset button for me,”
And as she drove over to the arena, a conversation that took place a year prior was ringing through her mind.
A friend asked Kinsel before the end of the 2021 NFR, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I told her I could mess up and lose the world championship,” Kinsel said.
Her friend asked, “Well, would you survive?”
Kinsel listed off the other things she would still have without adding another gold buckle, and things clicked in perspective for her with that conversation: she would be okay, no matter the outcome. In 2021 she didn’t end up accomplishing gold, and she returned to Texas in one piece. That lesson served her well in 2022.
“I tried to take the pressure off myself early and know the worst thing that can happen is I don’t win,” Kinsel said, “That’s happened before. Somebody doesn’t win each year. It allowed me to give myself permission to go for it, because I gave myself permission to lose. I’m not going to go in fearful. I’m not going to go in careful. I’m going to go do my thing and hang it all out there.”
What Got Us Here in the First Place?
Kinsel didn’t start the NFR off strong. She knocked the second barrel in Round 1. Danyelle Campbell called it a “blessing in disguise,” for Kinsel. As Campbell predicted, Kinsel came back firing in the second and third rounds, winning both with times 13.61 and 13.59, respectively.
Round 4 (check) brought a fourth-place finish, and in Round 5 Kinsel returned to the go-round buckle ceremony by splitting the round with Lisa Lockhart after running a 13.59. Then things turned rough again.
“Round 6 was probably a harder blow than Round 1, when I hit the barrel,” Kinsel said. “And then Round 7, where I made a good run and was a tenth out of it and didn’t place. 6 and 7 were like ‘Okay, well this might be a little harder than you thought, or this might not be possible at all.’ Just having to accept those things is important for me. Some people like to ignore that and stay uber-positive, and I get that too, but for me it takes the pressure off.”
In Round 8, Kinsel looked more like herself and was 13.54 to place fourth. Just like that, she was back in the world championship race, and everybody was asking if she was still gunning for first. Kinsel didn’t need to answer, because Sister answered inside the yellow arena.
Not only did Kinsel clock the fastest time of the 2022 NFR in Round 9 with a 13.34-second run, her reins flipped over Sister’s head on the backside of the second barrel and she completed the run with those reins on just one side of Sister’s neck. It was arguably one of the most iconic runs in recent NFR years, with fans comparing Kinsel and Sister to greats like Charmayne James and Scamper across social media—an allusion to their historic bridleless run at the NFR in 1985.
After an emotional day, Kinsel vowed to leave all her chips on the table and let them fall where they may.
“If I’m going to, I might as well try,” Kinsel thought to herself. “And if I’m not going to win the world, I may as well win the last round.”
The result was a 13.35-second run that earned her $28,913 for the round, and clinched her at No. 8 in the aggregate, worth an additional $6,995.27. A quick run through the calculators, and her $302,172 on the year meant that Kinsel was going home with a fourth gold buckle, and Briggs with reserve honors.
After a short celebratory hour with family and a trip back to the hotel the full weight of what had just transpired over two weeks in Las Vegas smashed into Kinsel. The following morning, she packed up her room and headed back to the barn to hook up the trailer and turn to Texas. She stopped to sit on her trailer steps, roll up her polo wraps, and breathe for the first time in two weeks.
“It’s exhausting, brutally exhausting,” Kinsel admitted. “I was so tired last night I couldn’t go to sleep. My adrenaline wore off and so did my DayQuil. I was so tired but just laying there. I got my few hours of sleep and I’m ready to go home now.”
The 2022 NFR drama wasn’t something that’s new for Kinsel. Since she garnered national attention while still in college after winning The American Rodeo, Salt Lake City’s Days of 47 Rodeo, and the College National Finals Rodeo in one year before qualifying for her first NFR, she’s been in the spotlight. People have been laser-focused on her professional and personal life. Kinsel had to learn how to handle the spotlight in her place of work, play and escape all at once.
“It’s hard,” Kinsel admitted. “It’s something I have to balance, turn on and off. I have to find time to get away by myself, just be with my horse. I also recognize that I can’t entirely do that, so I’m not going to lose my patience or get frustrated when people are around or look at you funny or want to take a picture when you’re trying to go in the alley. There’s a lot of things that could frustrate you with it I guess, but I try to think of things that are just part of it.”
Kinsel—far from the college kid who first burst onto the ProRodeo scene—has been through a lot in the last five years. Not only did the spotlight mature Kinsel, the Thomas & Mack itself, plus the brutal realities of the rodeo road, helped shape her through each phase of her career.
“I’ve grown up a lot,” Kinsel said, “I went from being a kid who didn’t even know what winning was, to a kid who learned how to lose, to a kid that could do a little bit of both. Now I guess I’m a big kid who can do a little bit of both.”
Listen to the full interview on The Money Barrel Podcast.