The Duncan Banner
Hard work and determination to keep going has defined June Holeman. She never set out to be an inspiration to younger women who share her passion for barrel racing. It just happened.
At 70 years old, she still lifts her own hay bales, grooms her horses and she still gets in the saddle. Well, she does more than just get in the saddle. Holeman is still winning races — against girls young enough to be her granddaughters.
Rodeo fans who attended the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Rodeo Finals that was held Oct. 17-19, saw June in action as she raced her way to a win on the second night with a 16.03. On the first night, she raced a 16.46. On the third night, she again raised a loud roar from the crowd as they cheered her on. That was enough to land her an overall award of finals champ.
“I can’t believe it. My husband can’t believe it either, until he sees the buckle,” she said after. Her smile and the bounce in her step spoke volumes.
“My fans are keeping me going. I do have some arthritis and plenty of colts at home to take care of. I should sell some of them,” she said during an interview earlier that day. Holeman travels the roads alone, competing in about 60 races a year. Her husband, Donnell, watches over things at their ranch in Nebraska. He used to calf rope, but doesn’t compete any longer.
After getting kicked by a horse in 2006, June almost had to give up competing. That ranch woman determination spurred her back into the races. She was on the road competing when she was kicked and ended up with a severe life-threatening infection. She spent some time in the Houston hospital. June said her husband does worry about her and she follows his advice.
“I can’t hardly saddle anymore, but my husband says, ‘do your own chores.’”
One might think that she’d cheat being on the road when it comes to the work, but her counterparts said she won’t accept help.
“She’s flat out tough, she does everything,” said Emily Miller, 21, who was in the top 12 for this year’s Prairie Circuit finals, alongside June. Emily laughed and said that they’ve asked her many times if she’d let them help and they just wouldn’t tell. She refuses.
“She loves challenging herself.”
Jessie Eagleberger, 23, also admires June.
“She’s inspiring, being the age she is. She does it by herself, she drives and does everything alone. That’s even hard for someone our age. She’s independent,” Eagleberger said. “To be that competitive, to have that mentality is amazing.”
June began riding horses as a child and eventually that evolved into competing. She started school when she was 4 and therefore, graduated a year early at age 16. Both her parents ranched and taught school, but the schooling wasn’t something June wanted to do. Yet, she’s learned a wealth of lessons being a competitive barrel racer and now the younger generation admit they have a lot to learn from the older racers like Holeman, Florence Youree and the late Mildred Farris, who died earlier this year.
Carol Chesher, a Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) member for 8 years, is a little bit older than Miller and Eagleberger. She, too, has great admiration for Holeman.
“The fact she has the tenacity and finds a way to make it work. It’s about you and your horse working as a team. It’s about getting out there and rodeoing her horse, training,” Chesher said. “These young ones realize they have a support system.”
In 2005, Holeman rode into the National Finals Rodeo with the oldest competitor title and still holds that reign. As much as she loves that memory, the smaller rodeos are just as important. She only joined WPRA as a cardholder in 1994 and recently earned her gold card. She’s competed in Duncan at the Stephens County Fair & Expo Center before, for the Chisholm Trail Stampede Rodeo and was glad to return this year.
“I just barely placed at Hastings, Neb., to get qualified,” she said. “I love Duncan. It’s a nice size town and has everything. The arena has a wonderful ground, too.”
Does she have plans to ‘retire’ anytime soon?
She almost sold her “winning” horse, Hopes Money Boy, a which is “16-2 hands” she said, and bigger than her longtime companion, Sparky. She’s hoping the new horse will help her earn the money for a new trailer, which she said is something she desperately needs.
Retirement isn’t something June even wants to consider.
“This is my way of life. It’s what I work at but it’s getting harder with my arthritis and my left shoulder out. I’m just going to hang on and shut up. I’m on for the ride.”