Kelly Maben and Bubba

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In professional barrel racing over the past 10 years, it’s safe to say there’s been only one Bubba.

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Kelly Maben, a young English teacher from tiny Spur, Texas, first stepped on Mystic Angela ("Bubba") when he was 7, after her parents, Randy and Lisa Ogden, had trained the former racehorse. Lisa had actually competed on Bubba as a green 5-year-old in a round at the 1998 NFR.

Bubba’s lineage is a barrel racer’s dream. His sire, Mystic Eye, is by a son of Three Chicks (and grandson of Top Deck), out of a Johnny Dial daughter (and granddaughter of Leo). And Bubba’s dam, Angela Channing, is by a grandson of Easy Jet (crossed on a Hempen daughter), out of a Lady Bugs Moon daughter (crossed on a son of Tonto Bars Hank).

Maben and Bubba made their NFR debut in 2004, and went back the following two years, blowing the doors off the Thomas and Mack Center in 2006 to the tune of $130,000.

After that unbelievable Finals, things were going well again in 2007 until Bubba broke a bone in his foot at Calgary in July. In 2008, things again started out well until Bubba tore both hind suspensory ligaments at San Antonio in February.

Turns out the big-hearted Bubba had been running with sore suspensories for years. He had surgery to relieve the swelling and then an entire year off. It marked the first summer since she was 7 that Maben wasn’t rodeoing.

Tricks of the Trade

Feed: Omolene 200 and grass hay

Supplements: Formula 707 Joint Essentials

Other Therapies: Veterinary Care by Dr. Randy Lewis

Saddle: Custom Coats

Saddle Pad: Classic Equine

Leg Gear: Classic Equine Legacy

To her delight this winter, 17-year-old Bubba came up completely sound, so he got the nod at about three rodeos and won money at each. Part of the reason he was injured is his tendency to slide past the barrels and then pivot on his hind end—a style he continues to use.

But he’s enjoyed a relatively long career anyway because Maben has never taken him to more than 30 rodeos a year—even when she made the Finals. Instead, she stays home with her job, her husband Tye, and their 4-year-old daughter Macye, who’s already going to junior rodeos and riding three horses a day.

Again this summer, Kelly and her wonder horse will only go to the rodeos Bubba loves, such as Pecos, Texas; Greeley, Colo.; and Cody and Cheyenne, Wyo. In the meantime, she will season a potential Bubba replacement.

Six-year-old Smarty Wabbit, a great-grandson of First Down Dash and Easy Jet, was also trained by the Ogdens and went to a couple of futurities. Maben is hesitant to compare him or any horse to Bubba, but did say he uses that same style that she really likes.

"Everyone would like to go back to the NFR," she said. "I went three times, and that’s more than anybody could ask for, but I’m just not the kind of person who wants to go to 100 rodeos. I hate the road and I hate driving, but I love running my horse."

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Placing in the First Round at Denver

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This was Bubba’s first run after a year off, and he ran like the champ he is. This picture really shows the way he drags that big butt, and it feels so cool when he does. 

His pictures make it look like he’s going by the barrel, but believe me, his next step is in the other direction. Not many horses can do this, and it’s a really fast turn, but it’s also hard on their hind end, which is why he’s had problems after all these years.

I still have my hand really low in this picture and I never have to pull much at all. With Bubba, really all you have to do is ride him past the barrel and sometimes pick your leg up to miss it on the back side.

I use a home-made hackamore on Bubba and a very loose small-chain tie-down that’s taped. He doesn’t like to be pulled on and with the hackamore I can help him without getting in his way. He’s competed in the same bridle since he was 3, which is really strange for a barrel horse.

Placing in the Second Round at Fort Worth

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Sometimes if the first barrel is a long ways down the pen, I’ll carry a bat just to keep Bubba from drifting too much into the barrel. He drifts anyway, which is fine as long as he doesn’t get in too quick.

I’m not good with the bat thing, so it’s funny that I dropped it there. I usually try to drop it before I get to the barrel, but I do remember that run and I was thinking, "Why do I still have this thing in my hand?"

All of these pictures are his first barrel since he’s a lefty. I’m always sitting with my hand straight out over the barrel, just being very patient because I know he’s coming back.

To ride him on this turn is to go by, pause, and then hold on for the ride. He’s so fun, because he’ll just drag and slide and then leave out like nothing you’ve ever felt.

He’s usually looking at the camera when his picture is taken and I always tell people that’s why he pauses behind the first barrel—he’s waiting for the flash! 

Breaking the arena record at the 2006 NFR

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If you could say Bubba ever runs differently at one place, it would be the NFR. I don’t know if that angle to the first barrel is just perfect for him or what, but he never disappointed me at the NFR. 

He seemed to run with a rounder shape there on the first barrel, and I think some of it was just that it was a perfect angle for him, or maybe the hard, slick ground just suited him. Anyway, that first barrel was like a dream every round, and believe me I did not need a bat there—I needed all my focus to hold on for the ride.

He loves that place, and each night he just got better and better. I think this picture was just taken kind of at a different time, but my hand is always in the same position, and patience is the name of the game because even though you may feel like he’s a little slow on the first one, he will make it up everywhere else. He’s so fast!