From the December 2018 Issue
By Kelli Kissack
The bright lights of the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada brilliantly sparkle on each horse and rider team that manages to win its way into the elusive top fifteen in the world standings. For Jessica Routier and the palomino mare she calls “Missy,” running down the famous alley of the Thomas and Mack is more than the accomplishment of a big goal. It’s the fulfillment of the hopes, dreams and hard work of a village of people. Affectionately known as #TeamMissica on social media, Missy and Jessica’s journey to the NFR is nothing short of inspirational.
A Smooth Ride to the Top
Growing up in Wisconsin, Jessica loved horses and rodeo from a young age. Horses and agriculture are in her blood, thanks to her farmer father and horse trainer mother. Her mom trained cutting, roping and barrel racing horses, and Jessica began going to youth and Little Britches rodeos around the state, competing on horses she and her mom trained together. She progressed to high school rodeos, and her successful youth career earned her a rodeo scholarship to National American University in Rapid City, South Dakota. Around the time she began college rodeoing, a good mare named Especials Smoothie aka “Smoothie” turned her world upside down. Brought to the family farm as a 3-year-old, Smoothie was part of a group of young horses sent to Jessica’s mother by family friends in Texas. After riding Smoothie and noticing her natural talent and love to work, the family decided to keep her.
Smoothie was great from an early age, and even though she was just six years old when Jessica began college rodeoing on her, the pair gained a reputation as an unstoppable team. Jessica and Smoothie took home the 2003 collegiate national barrel racing championship, won second in 2004, and earned fourth place in 2005. Along with her blossoming barrel racing career, Jessica found time to fall in love with Buffalo, South Dakota rancher Riley Routier. The pair returned to the Routier family ranch following graduation, and Jessica and Smoothie turned their attention to the Badlands Circuit rodeos, never slowing their winning roll.
Together, Jessica and Smoothie qualified for 11 Badlands Circuit Finals, four National Circuit Finals, and won several Badlands Circuit championships. These days, Smoothie is 23 and semi-retired. Her only job is to teach and take care of Jessica’s daughter, Payton, at the youth rodeos.
“I count my blessings everyday because I always believed Smoothie was a once in a lifetime horse, and I never dreamt I would get to run another one like her. Then I got Missy,” says Jessica with a laugh. “There are lots of similarities between Smoothie and Missy. They both came on and excelled at a young age, have huge hearts and love to work.”
The Little Mare That Could
Missy arrived at the Routier Ranch as a 2-year-old. Owned by long-time friend and client Gary Westergren, the young palomino mare is by Westergren’s stallion Firewater Frenchman (by Firewater Flit) and out of Frenchmans Bo Dashus (by Royal Quick Dash). After meeting years ago at a barrel racing futurity in Arizona, Jessica and Gary began a successful working relationship that’s led to numerous wins with several of Gary’s home-raised horses. Gary told Jessica the day they met that it was his goal to see a horse he raised compete at the NFR. Jessica thought to herself, “I wonder if he actually knows how hard it is to qualify for the Finals?” Yet she was willing to try if the right horse came along, and from the beginning, something was extra special about Missy. Namely, the young mare reminded her an awful lot of her beloved Smoothie.
“Missy is super easy. She’s always been a go-getter. She’s always one that wants to do a job and go somewhere. She loves running barrels. She loves to win. When the deck is stacked against her she tries even harder,” says Jessica.
The Routiers have five young children, and since Jessica was pregnant for much of the time between Missy’s 2 and 5-year-old years, the mare saw lots of ranch miles with Riley. After giving birth to their youngest daughter, Charlie, in June of 2016, Jessica took Missy to seven futurities and did well at all of them. The following year, Gary and Jessica decided it was time to begin “rodeo seasoning” Missy. Their initial goal to was simply to qualify for the Badlands Circuit Finals, however, Missy performed so well that the pair captured the 2017 Badlands Circuit Championship and earned a trip to the Ram National Circuit Finals in Kissimmee, Florida. “Team Missica” performed like seasoned champions in Florida, placing in nearly every round and taking home a check for over $15,000. Jessica and Gary realized that a great opportunity was upon them. Since the Badlands Circuit Finals and Ram National Circuit Finals winnings counted towards the 2018 WPRA World Standings, Team Missica had nearly $20,000 in earnings, and the summer rodeos hadn’t even begun.
The Grand Adventure Begins
“I didn’t plan on going hard [to the summer rodeos], but it seemed like a huge wasted opportunity not to do it. We wanted to see what would happen,” Jessica recalls. “Missy was the only horse I had all summer so we agreed that we would go, but if Missy got tired or worn out, we’d slow down. Missy never weakened, so we just kept going.”
Jessica spent the summer on the road, traveling to the biggest rodeos in the nation. She usually had some or all of her kids with her, while Riley stayed at home to keep things running on the ranch. Her two older children, son Braden (12) and daughter Payton (10) spent time both on the road with Jessica and at home on the ranch with Riley. The Routiers’ three younger daughters, twins Rayna and Rose (3) and Charlie (2) spent much of the summer on the road with Jessica. The family worked hard to see one another in spite of the grueling rodeo schedule, and Jessica never spent more than two weeks away from home at a time.
Jessica and Riley say they are infinitely grateful for their family, friends and community who rallied with them to help make the summer of rodeo possible.
“It’s such a team effort. There’s only one person out there in the arena making runs, but the other half of the team who’s not in the arena is even more important because they’re the one dealing with everything back home,” Jessica notes.
Team Missica’s winnings earned them an invitation to the iconic Calgary Stampede. Placing in the qualifying and semi-finals rounds landed them a spot in the finals, where they took home third place. The Calgary winnings were another boost to a “Grand Adventure” of a summer where it seemed Team Missica could do nothing but win. Rodeoing professionally on a horse one doesn’t own can be difficult. According to Jessica, the key to her and Gary’s excellent relationship is that they hold similar beliefs on the importance of family and how horses should be treated.
“Gary is one-in-a-million because he treats our kids like they’re his own. He’s never wanted a barrel run to interfere with the kids’ activities,” notes Jessica. “We also both like the horses to be fat and happy...Communication is the biggest thing. Find a way to be on the same page. Just like any relationship, horse partnerships fall apart when there’s a lack of communication.”
Preparing For Las Vegas
Team Missica’s game plan going into the NFR was to have Missy rested yet fit. Her pre-Vegas regimen included increasing overall fitness through regular swimming sessions and remaining consistent on her feed program of grass hay, Woody’s Feed, and basic supplements. Ultimately, Jessica says the best thing she could do for Missy was to help her feel as good as she possibly could going into competition because the little mare with a big heart handles the rest.
“Missy has so much heart because she can fall halfway down and still clock and place really well,” Jessica says. “She doesn't miss a beat. It might phase another horse, but she tries so hard that she simply keeps on going. She has the biggest heart and gives her all every time.”
Someone is going to go home with a Barrel Racing World Championship and a gold buckle at the end of the 2018 National Finals Rodeo, and Team Missica is a strong contender for the prestigious title. Yet, for the family from Buffalo, South Dakota and the man from Lincoln, Nebraska, seeing their beloved yellow horse and favorite barrel racer run down the alley of the iconic yellow arena is the greatest gift they can imagine.