Brittany Hofstetter and Paco

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In December 2005, Brittany (Bennett) Hofstetter was in Las Vegas campaigning to become Miss Rodeo America. She never dreamed she'd be back in the City of Lights just two years later with her barrel horse.

The former Miss Rodeo New Mexico wrapped up her pageantry career as third runner-up to Miss Rodeo America, and then set about getting back to classes at Texas Tech University in Lubbock and to her true passion-rodeoing.

The latter is a relatively new endeavor for Hofstetter. She didn't come from a rodeo family and hadn't toured a barrel pattern at speed until becoming a teenager. In high school, she picked up Jill's Royal Leo ("Paco") from family friends Donna and Willard Moody of Arizona.

Paco, whose papers boast such legendary names as Moon Deck, Three Bars, Leo and Royal King just four generations back, was a handful. The first time Hofstetter tried him, he turned the first barrel and then busted in two like a saddle bronc. The second time, he ducked the second barrel.

But Hofstetter wanted him anyway. With Donna's help and the passing of a few seasons, the duo got in sync. First, Hofstetter won the Southwest Region for Texas Tech in 2006 (as an Academic All-American); then in 2007 she married tie-down roper Jerrad Hofstetter. He encouraged Brittany to hit the road with Paco, and it paid off.

The former queen and her former bucking horse had the Fourth of July of their lives, earning $14,831 at five rodeos, including Prescott, Ariz., where they won both rounds and the average. By season's end, Hofstetter sat a precarious 14th in the world standings and had to wait five agonizing weeks to see if someone would bump her out of the top 15 at the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour championships in Dallas.

"I couldn't just sit at home and see how it played out," Hofstetter said. "I went to Dallas to watch."

She held on to make it to her first NFR, where she was one of five cowgirls to make 10 clean runs (a feat that hasn't happened in recent memory). Meanwhile, fans watching live and on TV likened 14-year-old Paco to Kelly Kaminski's world champion Rockem Sockem Go ("Rocky"). Hofstetter figures his similar color has a lot to do with that, but so does Paco's penchant for making the same run every time.

"Also, both horses are very fluid in their turns," she said. "They get in and out of them so smoothly. They make it look so easy. Rocky was an awesome horse."

Unlike Rocky, Paco isn't very friendly, Hofstetter said. He can be downright ornery, although he does love to snack on barbecue chips and kettle corn. If she lets him get fresh, he'll still buck a little.

"But I love his personality," she said, "because he's all business when it comes to his job. He takes it very seriously."

Paco had surgery to remove bone chips from his left knee this winter, but Hofstetter said he's coming back really strong this summer. She hasn't listed the NFR as a goal this year, but then it hadn't been a goal in 2007, either.

"My plans right now are to take it one run at a time, enjoy rodeoing with Jerrad and watching him rope, and let the cards fall where they may," she said.

Ellensburg Rodeo, 2007
This picture is from Ellensburg's short round. Paco worked really good there. That can be a tricky pen because the barrels are just out in the middle of the arena with no fences nearby and the ground is usually pretty hard. I used a bit with longer shanks during this run because of the ground and the setup. Paco is so solid that all I really have to do is sit in the middle of him, ride him all the way to his pocket and set to help him rate. When he leaves the barrel, I just make sure not to get behind him so I can help push him on to the next barrel.

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Greeley Independence Stampede, 2007
This picture is from Greeley's short round. Paco was on fire last Fourth of July. He worked every run that week, and this one was no different. He won a check in the second round, short round, and third in the average. I am riding him in a snaffle with a chain noseband and a loose curb here. I ended up going to a little more bit later in the summer, but I had ridden this exact bit on him for five years. Paco is exactly where he needs to be in this turn, he's at his pocket and in great position to finish this barrel strong.

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Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, 2007
This run in the fourth round felt great. Paco worked really well and fired hard for me this night, and we were a 14.18. He's in perfect position on this barrel. I'm pushing him around the barrel while at the same time sitting in my seat to help him turn. My hand is up helping him finish the turn, and basically I'm staying out of his way, just letting him work. In the eighth round, I was a 13.99, and that would have been a guaranteed check any other night. That's kind of how our week went. We'd improve on our time and still be one out of placing. It was a tough barrel race