At 16 years old, Annika Ruth is working to carve out a name for herself in the barrel racing industry after a late start.
Annika Ruth of Rolla, Missouri, is taking the amateur rodeo world by storm against barrel racers that are far more experienced than her 16-year-old self thanks to an intense work ethic and background in dance.
Ruth dove into the world of dance headfirst at just three years old. Her life centered around the studio and she dreamt of attending college for dance until an accident changed the trajectory at age 10.
“I did ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop,” Ruth said. “I did competitive dancing in all forms, and I loved it. I did gymnastics to just help with flexibility, too. Then I broke my foot, and we had some issues with my dance teacher at the time and decided to step away.”
Ruth was working through gymnasitcs drills and landed incorrectly on her left ankle in the gym. The result was a broken growth plate and a torn tendon.
“I quit dancing after that, which was hard to do because it’s all I have known since I was three,” Ruth said. “But it led me into horses, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Dance and Barrel Racing Connection
Ruth’s riding ability exceeds that of somebody who just got into barrel racing three years ago. She points to her dancing background as the answer for her breakneck progression in the sport.
“I have good balance and strength in my core,” Ruth said. “A lot of people thought I did English riding before (barrel racing) because I had great posture. Dance taught me that. I have soft hands, and I think that came from the gracefulness you had to do with dance.”
Throughout her five-year riding career, Ruth has trained with some of the best in the industry, crediting Jarena Whitson, Ashley Jennings, Ty Mitchell and Janna Brown for helping her along the way. Ruth’s goal is to ride with multiple-time NFR qualifying barrel racer, Wenda Johnson in the future.
“I pick things up quickly,” Ruth said. “You only have to tell me once and I apply it. In dance, if you didn’t have it in those seven, eight counts you were done for—they were leaving you behind.”
The Horses That Made Annika Ruth
Ruth didn’t start with a barrel horse when she entered the equestrian sphere. Her first horse was then-twenty-something-year-old flea-bitten grade gelding “Trip,” who taught Ruth the importance of patience. The gelding had been through some rough owners and had a bad habit of running off without warning. Over the course of two years she won Trip over by going on trail rides, and eventually they took up the barrel pattern.
“She trail rode for a little while, but that was very boring to her,” Annika’s mom, Jenny Ruth said. “So, she begged us to do barrels. She found some old barrels and took old Trip around them in the pasture.”
When Trip was in his early 30s, Annika decided to retire him and step up. She rode a mare named GM Cash In (Paid Back In Gold x JO Baby Dash) or “Zoey” for two years before retiring her to the broodmare barn. She stepped up once again to the palomino gelding, Zero To Sixty (Heats Hustler x Megga Firewater) or “Turbo,” whom she primarily rides at present.
“(Turbo) is a hard horse,” Ruth explained. “He goes to the left and his style is not your everyday style. He’s one that will run into a pocket, and you don’t touch him (at the barrel), he just drops and turns. He is a big boy, too. He is over 16 hands and just goes in there and turns with all of his might.”
Zero To Sixty’s Battles with EPM and Bone Chips
In 2021, Ruth’s standout gelding took on a battle with Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM). Ruth first noticed the signs in April of 2021 when Turbo started running through her hand at the end of runs, hitting a closed gate at the end of the alley on one occasion.
“The more [my family] thought about the symptoms and looked at him, we were like, ‘We think he has EPM,’” Ruth said. “So, we took him to the vet and got him tested and sent that off. When it came back the vets told us he had it really bad. It took two rounds of an EPM compound to get him back right. He was off for about six months.”
Ruth’s vets mixed up a paste that included Diclazuril, Levamisole and Vitamin E to both battle EPM and boost Turbo’s immune system. Now, all the horses on Ruth’s trailer receive the paste as a precautionary measure.
Turbo and Ruth had a bumper 2022 together, winning Rookie of the Year and the Year-End Championship in the Louisiana Rodeo Cowboy Associationand Rookie of the Year in the Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association.
“Turbo loves rodeo,” Ruth said. “He can handle the traveling and I’m definitely blessed to have him because it takes a special one to do that.”
Ruth’s veterinarian interrupted their championship high after he found bone chips in Turbo’s knees during a routine vet appointment in late 2022. Dr. Scott Handlin worked with Dr. Chad Marsh at Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in Weatherford, Texas, to develop a treatment plan for Turbo. Step one of that plan included surgery as soon as possible.
“Dr. Marsh decided with how hard Turbo is running and where we want to take him, if we didn’t get these removed within the year, he’d be done,” Ruth said. “They said that it almost looks like he was born with them or developed them when he was little because they were symmetrical.”
After a December surgery, Turbo is recovering well at ESMS’s rehab facility. Ruth and Turbo’s veterinary team are confident he will be back to work for Fort Worth’s Junior Patriot race in late February 2023.
“The veterinarians said Turbo has the most heart they’d ever seen in a horse,” Ruth said. “He should not have been running with those chips in his legs, he should have been dead lame.”
Leading the WCRA Field
Ruth has already demonstrated that she can clock with top-level competitors through her amateur rodeo success and looks to join the likes of Jada Trosper, Laura Mote, tie-down roping’s Riley Webb and breakaway roping’s Jordi Edens by bagging a WCRA win in her teenage years.
For eight months, Ruth has been WCRA nominating throug the Virtual Rodeo Qualifier system in the open division at amateur rodeos and jackpots. She currently leads the Rodeo Corpus Christi leaderboard with 1505 points over Stephanie Fryar’s 1332.5 points, and the Women’s Rodeo World Championship leaderboard with 4011.25 points over Sable Miller Emerson’s 2185.5.
The RCC and the WRWC take place just days apart in May 2023, with RCC’s dates in Corpus Christi falling on the 10-13, and Fort Worth’s WRWC on the 18-20.
“One thing I love about the WCRA is the opportunity they’re giving us competitors,” Ruth said. “The money that’s added into these events is crazy to me. I love that you can nominate anything from a little po-dunk rodeo to the biggest jackpot out there, and that all counts towards everything. And they’re super easy to deal with.”
Ruth is currently a homeschooled sophomore at Grace Christian Academy and will graduate high school with an associate degree thanks to college classes she is currently taking. From there, she and her parents have made a deal she can professionally rodeo for one year once she becomes of age to buy her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association permit at age 18.
Until she finishes high school, Ruth is taking full advantage of the opportunities WCRA, amateur rodeo associations and local events offer in her green barrel racing career.