PENDLETON — For most barrel racers, the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds present a challenge. Some fear it, while others welcome the challenge.
The historic rodeo arena is one of the very few that’s covered in grass, which can significantly slow down competing horses, even causing them to stumble.
But for Caldwell, Idaho, cowgirl Nikki Albisu, that infamous stadium is exciting, for a number of reasons.
“They’re historic grounds with a historic rodeo,” said Albisu, 48. “While it is infamous, where else can you run a pattern on grass? It’s exhilarating.”
Albisu, along with upward of 160 other cowgirls, ran the Green Mile Barrel Race on the Round-Up Grounds on Saturday and Sunday. The event was open to anyone who wanted to ride. Competitors flocked from all over Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
“That’s the nice thing about it,” Albisu said. “You don’t have to be a professional to ride here. These are people who just like to go to little jackpots and ride. A lot of cowgirls have this on their bucket list.”
While most racers rode one or two horses on Saturday’s time-only events, Albisu brought three — Blue Ice Shaken, Seven Vision, and Lo Rider. She also brought along Scorcher, a 4-year-old horse, in order to acclimate him to the greenery for future competitions.
“I want to get them used to everything,” she said. “This pattern, the grass, the announcing — all of it.”
She has a grand total of five barrel-racing horses on her ranch back in Caldwell, where she and her mother Linda Whitford raise and train them.
“I love the training,” Albisu said. “Some people don’t have those skills. It wouldn’t be the same to go out and buy your own trained horse. I love being around all of this. I love every part of it.”
And it doesn’t end there — Albisu’s life is steeped in rodeo history. Her grandfather Harry Charters, a champion bulldogger, was inducted into the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame in 2006. Her husband Rich Albisu is an experienced team roper. In fact, it was the rodeo that brought the couple together, having met at the Northwest Regional College Rodeo in Idaho years ago.
“To have my mom be able to come and see her horses out here is really important,” Albisu said.
Albisu first took up horse riding when she was 3 years old — as soon as she could properly fit on a saddle. Later on, however, her career got in the way —her superintendent position at the Ontario School District caused her to step away from barrel racing for 15 years.
“I just got busy with my career,” she said, “but I’m so happy to be back.”
She’s been back in the barrel racing business for the past three years. This year was her second running the Green Mile, and she has an idea or two of where she wants to take things from here.
Although Albisu is a regular Round-Up attendee, she’s never once competed. If everything permits, this year stands a chance to change that.
“If I have a horse that’s capable of riding here, I could see myself in the Round-Up (this year),” she said. “I think that’s a goal for just about everyone. I’m excited about it.”