Raised on a ranch in southeast Colorado, Tana Poppino has spent her entire life around horses. That love and a competitive nature drew her to the world of rodeo at an early age. She participated in the amateur rodeo ranks throughout high school and college but pursued a career at Grand River Dam Authority in their media and communications department which she enjoyed for 20+ years.
Tana worked for the GRDA in Vinita, Oklahoma, which is a state-owned public power producer. They operate 2 coal-fired generating plants, and three hydro plants which produced electricity for about 15 cities and towns in Oklahoma, as well as rural electric cooperatives. She worked for 20+ years in the Media/Marketing Department producing corporate videos, annual reports, company brochures/media and corporate photography. Tana also worked with many cities and civic organizations on their marketing efforts and although she enjoyed her job she never called it her career passion.
The draw of the rodeo always beckoned for Tana to participate more regularly than the weekend competitions that she continued to pursue in her spare time. The ultimate goal on the rodeo circuit for a Barrel Racer is to find that special horse that could compete at the top professional level. In 1999, Tana thought found him, a bay 4-yr-old gelding, whose official name was Perrymans Star, but she called him Amigo.
Competing with the Big Girls
Tana took her time training and seasoning him for three years, and Amigo continued to prove himself a winner. In 2003, Tana took the big step and entered the winter pro rodeos, sanctioned by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, to see how she would do against the “big girls”. Although their first run wasn’t good, Tana and Amigo came back and won the second round at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. For the next three years, she continued to work her marketing job and tried to rodeo on the side using accumulated leave, comp time, and unpaid leave.
Each year, Tana and Amigo would finish in the top 30, and only the top 15 qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. In June of 2006, she was ranked in the top 15, but she had run out of leave and had to make a decision, either quit her job, or quit rodeo-ing. But dreaming and reality are two different things. Tana didn’t want to look back and wonder what if? But she didn’t want to put her family in a financial bind either. After much prayer and reflection, Tana took the leap and left her job to pursue life on the road as a professional rodeo Barrel Racer. Her husband of 25 years, Marty, and son, Brodie encouraged her to go for it.
On the Road Again
After a month on the road, Tana had only won a couple of thousand dollars and after expenses, she was broke. She told her husband that she would finish out the next week at the rodeos and then she’d go find a real job again.
“I also had a long conversation with God about the whole situation, and He gave me a whole new insight. Although I didn’t win a lot that week, things started clicking, and I went another week. We found our “zone” and started winning, and climbed back into the standings, winning enough to qualify for our first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in third place!”
While the earning picked up with additional wins, Tana says her new career is more about passion than finances. It can be feast or famine, but she won $100,000 at Calgary in 2007 which has carried her through the past two years while Amigo had to have surgery in 2008. Tana also broke her ankle in 2009 so the unexpected expenses really did add up. To an outside observer, it might look like Tana is rolling in the dough of her winnings but they don’t see the expenses of travel, veterinary care, and human health care. Tana admits, she has not “made it” yet but she is still going strong.
At the Top of Your Game
While the critical element is having a great horse for a partner Tana also learned that it takes perseverance and really knowing your horse to help him stay at the top of his game. In addition to the now 15-yr-old Amigo, Tana also has 8-yr-old Goose with whom she is partnering. It is definitely a partnership—she takes care of her guys and they take care of her.
Tana has learned the importance of financial planning since she cannot count on regular winnings. She advises others interested in pursuing a high risk career transition to never look back and never give up.
Family also plays a very important role in Tana’s success and she could not continue on this path without their strong support. Tana’s son Brodie kept telling her in the first few years when she wanted to quit and go home, “No Mom, you’ve got to keep going so we can go to the NFR!”
Marty, her husband, works hard to help keep her on the road. He is the reason she can live her dream. Tana’s parents hauled her to Little Britches and High School rodeos while she was growing up, and her parents still go with her on the road when they can. Marty’s parents also lend a hand helping to feed the horses and assist with housework while Tana is on the road.
Tana loves to encourage others to follow their dreams, so she speaks at church services, at barrel races, rodeos, and other organizations. She has put on clinics for 4Hers, Girl Scouts and church groups and supports an equine-assisted therapeutic riding center. Tana also serves as the director of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
Her goal is to make the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo again this year. Tana would like to give both her horses a chance to compete there. “Amigo deserves the chance to run there when he is healthy. — A gold (World Champion) buckle would be nice some time, too!” according to Tana.
Tana’s Advice and Action Steps
- Take a risk and pursue your passion.
- Plan well financially.
- Seek the support of friends, family and your resource team.
- Do what you love and it will never seem like work.
“Discover your God-given talents, follow your dream, work hard, and never, never, give up!”
Tana Poppino www.tanapoppino.com
Rodeo Promotions www.rodeopromotions.com