Molly Otto’s Journey to Top 15 Status
On a wing and a prayer, Teasin Dat Guy launched from a successful 2020 futurity year into contention for a 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification under the skilled horsemanship of North Dakota futurity trainer, Molly Otto.
Otto and Teasin Dat Guy have been together for two years and counting, but their story began a generation back, with Teasin Dat Guy’s dam, Teasin Jetolena, owned by Katie and Dustin Lindahl of Cannon Falls, Minnesota.
“Teasin Jetolena was the first horse I ever rode for Katie. I got to ride her for a month or two while she was pregnant with her second child,” Otto said. “She was the 2D queen – a really nice mare.”
The Lindahls later selected Frenchmans Guy to cross with Teasin Jetolena to produce her first and only foal to date. Born in 2016, “Chewy” was quickly nicknamed for her inclination to chew other horses’ tails. The palomino filly was broke to ride as a 2-year-old by Nettie Baker, and before the end of the year, certified as a mounted patrol horse and hauled to mounted shooting events with Dustin. In July of her 3-year-old year, she arrived at Otto’s to begin her futurity prep. Chewy seemed to take everything in stride.
Due to the scarcity of barrel racing events in her area, in the past, Otto has utilized rodeos as a fun tool to season the futurity horses entrusted to her care. When she earned her first Badlands Circuit Finals qualification in 2019 on a futurity colt, RC PYC Back In Bay, owned by Chuck Nelson, with a little help from Lindahl’s Sixappeal (“Jimmy”), it was a fun bonus. In 2020, she became more intentional, setting her first rodeo-related goal to qualify for the circuit finals a second time.
“I counted on running Jimmy most of the time and thought I’d run Chewy at a few of the rodeos Jimmy wouldn’t like, or the set-ups that didn’t fit him, to give her a little seasoning,” she explained of her ancillary plans for Chewy’s futurity year.
She leaned on the young mare a little more than anticipated when Jimmy was sidelined with an abscess at the first rodeo of their Fourth of July run.
“I had to run her at six rodeos in four days over the Fourth, and she just got better and better every run. We didn’t place; it was really tough with 285 barrel racers at every rodeo because of COVID,” Otto said, not the least bit disappointed in the palomino’s performance. They did place in Circle, Montana, and Killdeer, North Dakota, winning just enough to earn Otto a second circuit finals qualification.
“Chewy was built to rodeo. She is stress-free, she eats and drinks everywhere on the road. She has an 8×8 stall in the trailer and she’ll lay down in there,” Otto said of the situations she’s encountered without a stall available to overnight in. “If we’re in the grass, I make sure she has a bag or two of shavings to lay down in. She is always on her shavings, even if she’s standing. I spend a lot of money on shavings!”
Expecting the Unexpected
Otto knew the capability of the horse she was riding, but questions surrounding the practicality and rationality of reaching that potential in her own trailer left the trainer with reservations.
“Katie and I had talked about rodeoing. She wanted to know if that was something I wanted to do. I didn’t want to send all my colts home to try to rodeo because the odds of being in the top 15, having just one horse, didn’t seem like something that could actually happen to me,” she explained. “Everyone says if you want to make the Finals, you have to have a certain amount of money saved up to pay your way, and that was never going to be me. Feed, hay, fuel, maintenance on your vehicle; I just couldn’t imagine blowing all that money on rodeo. I have a family at home that needs me, and I want to be with them. But – if things went well and it looked like making the finals was something that could actually happen – I could do it.”
While in Texas for her fourth RFD-TV’s The American Rodeo qualification, Otto entered the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa and a few others. Winning some money in the Lone Star State spurred her just enough to enter some Florida rodeos on a whim.
“I thought I’d enter the rodeos in Florida because it would be fun – but also thought I would turn out, because like, could I actually drive all the way to Florida?” she laughed. “At the last minute, my sisters decided to come with me, and well, a sister trip sounded fun, but I still can’t believe we drove out there!”
Chewy placed in Okeechobee and slipped and bumped a barrel that kept her from placing in Arcadia. It was a decisive road trip for Otto.
“I thought, ‘This horse can do it.’ There were some tough girls out there. It gave me a lot of confidence in her to go out there and make runs and work in all the different types of ground and set-ups. We placed in Montgomery, Alabama, and Goliad, Texas, on the way home, and I thought, ‘We actually might have a shot at this, so I’m just going to keep entering rodeos here and there until I go home.’”
According to [His] Plan
Fast forward to the time this article was written, and Chewy has tallied 11 rodeo wins and two arena records in 2021, and Otto has stitched up the reality of a coveted qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. The season has been laced with tears, hard lessons learned, and homesickness, but also a sharpened internal fortitude, bolstered faith, and relentless encouragement from her husband, Andy, back home – and each victory has come at just the right time.
Take her most recent arena record set in Walla Walla, Washington. Otto and Chewy had just run twice in Ellensburg, Washington, where Chewy seemed to struggle with the placement of the first barrel. The setup in Walla Walla was similar, with the first barrel set a good distance off the fence.
“I really needed to do good, make a good run and win something, but ultimately, I just wanted my horse to work,” Otto recalled. “She walked up there real nice and quiet and I let her go when she was ready. She smoked the first barrel and was literally flying across the pen. They asked me how I felt afterwards and I didn’t know what to say because I was in shock that she could make such a good run, but I was really just relieved that she worked so good and I won a check because I hadn’t been winning much those last couple weekends.”
Lindahl has stayed intimately involved with Chewy’s rodeo journey, planning routes and a schedule to help Otto enter on just the right days.
“At first, I got drawn out of a lot of rodeos because I couldn’t get trades. So, I started entering for the days I needed or ‘out,’ so I didn’t have to pay a bunch of fines if I didn’t make it. I did get drawn out of quite a few rodeos that way, but I kept telling myself, it doesn’t matter. Hopefully, less is more, and I feel like if I’m supposed to make it, nothing will stop me from making it.”
She is quick to credit her sponsors for their continued support, naming Cowgirl Tuff Company, Milestone Veterinary Clinic, Lawson Equine, Cargill, Fulton Equine Feed Company, and most importantly, God. Otto is not shy to share her faith, which has fueled her through the hardest times.
“Every week, I’ve been amazed. Things would not be going well, and then somehow, out of nowhere, I’d win $5,000. Last week, I won less than $1,000, and thought I was going to get knocked really far down in the standings, and I literally didn’t move,” remarked Otto, who was ninth in the world standings with $63,306 won at the time of this interview.
“I can’t explain the way things are happening. It’s working out in this weird way. The only thing I can say is it’s just God,” she testified. “I truly think that no matter what, if I’m supposed to make it, nothing is going to stop me from making it, and if I’m not, no matter how many rodeos I go to, I won’t. So, I just planned to show up and do the best I could do, and believe that God has everything under control and to just trust His plan.”
When the last week of regular season rodeo competition produced a dizzying world standings shuffle, Otto ultimately held down the 15th spot in the rankings with $64,173 earned on the season for the first NFR qualification of her career.