2023 Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Fame Fire Rocks

2023 Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Fame Fire Rocks

Fame Fire Rocks delivers college cowgirl to first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Taycie Matthews and Fame Fire Rocks in barrel racing.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Kendra Santos for The American Quarter Horse Journal 

It was a bittersweet trek from Wynne, Arkansas, to Las Vegas for Taycie Matthews, who this year rode her 2023 Nutrena Barrel Racing Horse of the Year, Presented by AQHA, Fame Fire Rocks and a couple of others to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification. After all the highlights that led Taycie to the largest stage of her young life, her main mount, “Poprocks,” could not make the trip.

“It was just a freak deal,” Taycie says. “We were at a jackpot in Missouri with good ground on October 21, Poprocks made a good run and placed. But I could tell she didn’t fire as hard as she usually does. Something just felt a little off. When we got back to the trailer about 15 minutes later, she wouldn’t put her foot down.”

It was a devastating turn of events just after the end of the regular rodeo season on September 30. Thankfully, it was not a career-threatening injury.

“Poprocks had surgery to put a screw in her left hock,” says Taycie,  who won the 2023 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association barrel racing title at the College National Finals Rodeo in June, riding the 6-year-old sorrel mare. “They said it would take four or five months to heal, but I don’t want to rush anything. I’ll be happy to have ‘Poppy’ back for next summer.”

Taycie, who will graduate in spring 2024 with a business degree from the University of West Alabama, has had three horses in her trailer this season. 

“I have a four-horse trailer, and ‘Bud’ goes in the front stall, then I skip a stall and put either scooters or a pony in it, then Poprocks, then ‘Stoli,’” Taycie says.

Bud is short for “Bud the Stud,” who is registered as Heavenly Firewater. Stoli is Bud’s 5-year-old palomino daughter, Stoli My Firewater. 

“Having three horses that were healthy and able to go felt like a big blessing this year,” Taycie says. “I won checks at huge rodeos like Calgary and Cheyenne on Poprocks and won Salinas on Bud.”

Bud and Stoli made the trip to Vegas with Taycie as her NFR mounts. Bud spends the early part of his year at a breeding farm, and Stoli has been in seasoning mode and coming on strong. 

Poprocks is owned by Taycie’s parents’ Mission Ranch. Kim and Terris Matthews raise colts and futurity horses. Poppy was trained by Janna Beam Brown.  The mare was bred by Rustic River Ranch LLC of Fruitland, New Mexico, and is by Firewaterontherocks out of W R Aces Fame by Dash Ta Fame. 

“Poprocks likes all conditions, which I’m grateful for,” Taycie says. “She just tries her hardest all the time. She wants to win as badly as anyone does. She’s just a good horse, and she’s so consistent.

“She does have an attitude sometimes. But don’t worry, she’ll let you know if she doesn’t like something. Poppy’s super gentle, but when it comes to putting splint boots on before we run, she doesn’t like sitting still for that. When Poppy wants to go, she goes.”

The great horses in every event find their calling and love their jobs. Poprocks is no exception. 

“They either want it, or they don’t,” Taycie says. “Horses like Poprocks are super special, and they want it as much as we do. Horses like her are one in a million. I’m so thankful that everybody else believes in her, too. It makes you feel good when other people think your horse is as great as you do.”

Busby Quarter Horses’ Jets Top Gun, aka “Benny,” who was ridden by pre-NFR world leader Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, finished as the reserve barrel horse of the year. Gary A. Westergren’s Fiery Miss West, aka “Missy,” who’s ridden by Jessica Routier, rounded out the voting in third for 2023.