Three’s a Charm: Stevi Hillman Tops Go No. 3 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo

Hillman and Famous Lemon Drop capture their first 2021 go-round win in Las Vegas, Nevada’s Thomas & Mack Center.

Photograph by Kenneth Springer, courtesy WPRA

Hillman and Famous Lemon Drop capture their first 2021 go-round win in Las Vegas, Nevada’s Thomas & Mack Center.

After placing sixth and fourth, respectively, in the first two rounds, Stevi Hillman and Famous Lemon Drop have steadily worked their way up the placings and round No. 3 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge on Sat., Dec. 4 was all theirs. With three runs under their belts, the Top 15 barrel racers in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association are sprinting their way through rodeo’s 10-day marathon, which culminates on Sat., Dec. 11 when gold buckles will be awarded.

Stevi Hillman.

Hillman, of Weatherford, Texas, first teamed up with the 5-year-old palomino mare Famous Lemon Drop, owned by Matt and Bendi Dunn, in March. “Lemon Drop” is by freshman NFR sire First Down French and out of the Dash Ta Dame daughter, A Famous Lady. She was bred by Shannon Akerstrom’s Western 37 Barrel Horses. Hillman posted a 13.70 to add $26,997 to her WPRA career earnings, which are closing in on the $1 million mark. This is Hillman’s sixth NFR.

“I’m super proud of Lemon Drop, she’s just a 5-year-old and you never know what to expect from any horse here let alone a 5-year-old, and every night she’s just gotten stronger and seems to like it,” said Hillman. “I missed the first barrel the first night, and we’ve kind of been trying to find that spot, that’s the hardest thing about this pen. Tonight, I feel like she was dialed in. I got in a little too straight, but I knew if I’d just squeeze around it, this could be pretty fast. That’s the cool thing about her, she’s just so honest.”  

Hillman, who adjusts extremely well to different running styles, has had Lemon Drop with her since March and said the futurity standout exceeded her expectations by adjusting to the demands of rodeo.

“Dakota Monk trained her and Bendi and Matt Dunn bought her as a 4-year-old,” said Hillman. “I got her just this year in March, so I’ve gotten to know her in a short amount of time.”

Hillman attributes Lemon Drop’s ability to handle the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of the NFR to the foundation she received during her training.

“I always say it has to go back to the foundation that people put on them, whether it was Western 37 from the ground up and then Dakota’s training—all of that plays a part and we’re all a team together. Also, the horse has to have the mind to take it. That’s what we were doing this year, kind of seeing if she would handle the rodeo world and man, did she. After Ellensburg I told myself, ‘this mare is probably going to handle the Thomas & Mack,’ because she handled all that pressure.”

Accompanying Hillman in the alley is her husband Ty, who she says is always a calming force for her and her horse. She was excited to capture a round win on a night when the Dunns were at the Thomas & Mack to see it, along with her parents. In addition to thanking Lemon Drop’s connections, as well as her sponsors and supporters, Hillman says her faith plays an all-important role in all she does.

“God has a plan and a purpose, and it is our time at the moment and I’m thankful to be on the platform to serve Him and glorify Him,” she said. “He gets all the glory.”

WPRA World Standings leader Hailey Kinsel unfortunately caught a barrel to move to eighth in the average. There were nine runs under the 14-second mark in round three and five runners who unfortunately downed barrels.

Follow Barrel Racing Magazine to stay up to speed on our coverage of all the great stories coming out of the 2021 Wrangler NFR. You can listen to more about Hillman’s approach to the NFR practice sessions, her NFR horse care strategy, and more in our lengthier interview with her on “The Money Barrel.”

National Finals Rodeo – Go Round 3 Results 

  1. Stevi Hillman, Famous Lemon Drop, 13.70, $26,996.97
  2. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Ima Famous Babe, 13.72, $21,336.32
  3. Ivy Saebens, KN Fabs Gift Of Fame, 13.73, $16,111.10
  4. Wenda Johnson, MacGyver Moonflash, 13.77, $11,321.31
  5. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, 13.77, $6,966.96
  6. Jordon Briggs, Famous Lil Jet, 13.83, $4,354.35
Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi and Ima Famous Babe won 2nd in round No. 2 with a 13.72.
Ivy Saebens and KN Fabs Gift Of Fame won 3rd in round No. 2 with a 13.73.
Wenda Johnson rode MacGyver Moonflash to a time of 13.77 for fourth.
Dona Kay Rule and High Valor placed fifth with their 13.78.
Jordon Briggs rode Famous Lil Jet to a 13.83 for fifth.