LEMOORE — A local girl will get to race among the stars in Las Vegas next week.
Abigail Gillum of Lemoore will be one of 147 cowgirls competing at the KKRun for Vegas/JrNFR Barrel Race set for Dec. 11-15 in Las Vegas. The event will be held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), the sport’s grand finale.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by these kids and they have earned the right to compete in Las Vegas,” Kelly Kaminsky, the event’s organizer and a two-time world champion barrel racer in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, said in a press release.
Each of the kids will be competing for over $130,000 in cash and prizes and a chance to earn a qualifying spot in the American Semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas, in February.
Abigail, a sixth-grader at Island Elementary School in Lemoore has been barrel racing since she was 5 years old.
Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around three preset barrels in the fastest time, without hitting the barrels. Abigail’s fastest time on and NFR standard pattern is just over 14 seconds.
The 11-year-old said she loves barrel racing competitions and spending time with her horse, Hammer, doing things like grooming him and making him look “pretty.”
Every day after school, Abigail plays with Hammer, spends time with him and rides him for over an hour in the dry riverbed behind her home. All of this takes about three hours a day.
“The sand helps him build muscle,” Abigail said.
On the nights she can’t do those things due to prior engagements or school-related activities, Abigail will wake up at 5 a.m. the next morning to ride him for a few hours before school starts.
All of this commitment and Abigail still has the time to play other sports like basketball, soccer, softball, swimming and other horse-related activities.
The KK Run for Vegas/JrNFR Barrel Race is one of the most prestigious youth Western events in the country and only the top qualifiers have earned the right to compete.
In August, the family, which includes Abigail’s father, Joseph Gillum, 10-year-old younger brother, Aiden, and 1-year-old sister, Sawyer, traveled 2,700 miles through California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Idaho in nine days for various competitions.
It was after seven days of traveling that Abigail earned second place at a competition in Utah, guaranteeing her ticket to Las Vegas.
“This is a great opportunity for these girls,” said Kaminski, who is also a five-time NFR qualifier and a two-time reserve world champion. “This is a very exciting time for every child [and] every family that will be a part of it.”
During the competition, each competitor will run the cloverleaf pattern twice during the week and the top 20 girls with the fastest two-run cumulative times will advance to the championship round on Saturday, Dec. 15.
The top three girls will get prizes and the winner will receive a buckle. The girl with the fastest average time will also win a CM Trailer.
All of the competitors are 16 years old and younger and come from across the country, Mexico and Australia. Abigail competes in the Jr portion for competitors 11 years old and under.
Abigail’s mother, Kerrie Gillum, used to barrel race when she was younger.
“I guess you could say she was kind of born into it,” Kerrie Gillum said.
Kerrie Gillum commends her daughter’s dedication, work ethic and maturity, saying not many kids could handle the amount of work and time spent traveling that Abigail does, all while still being an honor roll student.
“She cleans the stall, carries the water bucket, saddles him,” Kerrie Gillum said, adding Abigail’s thankfulness is what keeps them going.
Abigail also takes lessons at Stairs Ranch in Lemoore, where she works with trainers Lyndee Stairs and Abi Price, which her mother also attributes to her success.
Kerrie Gillum said the success is also a testament to Hammer, saying not many horses are good with a lot of traveling, but he is out there every day with Abigail and they trust each other.
“He’s a good boy,” Abigail said of Hammer, adding his treat of choice is carrots.
Along with working with Hammer, Abigail said what she loves most about competitions is meeting other competitors and forming friendships with them.
Abigail is also the Laton Rodeo Princess and has had the opportunity take part in local parades representing the Laton Lions Club, something she said she has enjoyed.
Abigail said she is excited about the competition in Las Vegas, which she leaves for on Friday.
“Fingers crossed,” she said.