Barrel racer Fallon Taylor launches her 2017 tour in Safford

Eric Burk Photo/Gila Valley Central: Lindseyanne Gimler and Pearls, of Hatch, New Mexico, demonstrate their barrel-racing technique for Fallon Taylor in the Run Home Tour clinic.

By Eric Burk

SAFFORD – More than 30 barrel racing fans traveled hours and paid hundreds of dollars to spend a weekend training with 2014 world champion barrel racer Fallon Taylor and her staff in Safford. The event was the first stop in Taylor’s 2017 Run Home Tour, and was hosted by Shawn and Michelle Haralson at the Flying E Ranch.

Taylor’s team conducted two clinics, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Taylor’s assistant, Trisha Shields, led the Saturday clinic and focused on horsemanship training. Tickets to ride in the clinic cost $250, and around 15 people participated. On Sunday, Taylor led a barrel racing clinic and spoke to her fans afterward. Tickets to ride cost $500. Taylor and Shields carefully worked with their students both individually and in groups, offering careful criticism and encouragement.

Eric Burk Photo/Gila Valley Central: Whitney Stevenson – Miller, riding Jedda, practices keeping an independent seat while holding a cup of water as Trisha Shields watches.

Following the Sunday clinic, Taylor spoke to the class in a “tailgate talk,” where she emphasized a single-minded devotion to specific horsemanship goals. Taylor has overcome debilitating injuries to invest her life in building a high-value brand and a strong fanbase of horse-women and girls. She said students should select five mentors to study or develop relationships with whose accomplishments match what the students hope to achieve. Taylor told her students to imitate their heroes in all areas of life, including horsemanship, finances, clothing and food.

“As women, we try to cling on to people forever,” she said.

She added that students might need to change their friends to people who share similar life goals. Taylor encouraged her class to seek people who will challenge the students to constantly improve.

“You can get yourself to the next level by surrounding yourself with people who want the same thing you want,” Taylor said.

Eric Burk Photo/Gila Valley Central: Fallon Taylor interacts with her fans after the clinic.

Shields said that having horses is all about having fun. Although she comes from a working ranch in Oklahoma, Shields noted that in farm and ranch contexts, machinery has made horses largely obsolete.

However, horses are still important to Shields.

“Everyone should own a horse,” she said.

If you cannot afford a horse, she advises working for free in trade for access to a horse. “Find someone and ask what they need help with,” she said.

Taylor and Shields both emphasized setting specific, clear goals with deadlines. Shields said the people in her class were more talented than usual.

“Every single one of them (can) do anything they want to do,” she said.

Eric Burk Photo/Gila Valley Central: Trisha Shields has trained her once-wild mustang, Foxy, to lay down and pose next to her. Shields says the trick places the horse in a vulnerable position next to someone who the horse naturally views as a predator, proving the powerful bond between Shields and her horse.

Whitney Stevenson-Miller came from Marana with her horse, Jedda. Stevenson-Miller is starting a new business and Jedda is a recent business acquisition.

“I decided (the clinic) would be a good place to start,” she said.

Kelly Nichols also brought a young horse. Nichols and her horse, Tucker, traveled from Queen Creek.

“We came today to help improve his training,” Nichols said. She added that the most helpful part of the Saturday clinic was Shields’ focus on engaging the horses body through intentional riding posture.

Sarah Garrett drove six hours from Winston, New Mexico, to ride her horse, Sport, and take advantage of the expertise of Taylor and her team.

“Why not (come), you’ve got two of the most knowledgeable horse people,” Garrett said.

Eric Burk Photo/Gila Valley Central: The horsemanship clinic poses after the class. “Everybody hold up one because we’re going to get one percent better every time we ride,” Shields said.

Many riders said they follow Taylor on Facebook, where they saw her advertisement for the clinics in Safford. Michelle Haralson said she saw Taylor requesting ranches with arenas to host, and she volunteered her arena.

Supporting rodeo events like barrel racing is important to the Haralsons.

“The rodeo community, believe it or not, is really a good community,” Michelle Haralson said. “It’s so much more of a family environment.”

Michelle and her daughters are fans of Taylor, having met her before and having paid to ride her horses at past events. She emphasized the significance of someone like Taylor coming to Safford.

“We feel very privileged that they chose us to come here,” Michelle Haralson said.

Taylor’s tour will make eight more stops across the country through June.