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Local teen continues barrel-racing competitions after challenging year

A Tahlequah teen is making her mark in the rodeo profession with barrel racing and despite a challenging year, she’s determined to keep going.


Karlee Jennings, 16, is no stranger when it comes to the world of rodeo as her dad, Chris Jennings, competed as a bull rider for several years.


“I’ve been around horses since I was a baby, but I started going competitively when I was five years old,” she said. “My dad rode bulls and my mom, she never rodeoed but she grew up around it.”


Karlee, a Cherokee Nation tribal member, competed in her first hometown rodeo when she was six years old and won third in mutton busting.


At a young age, Karlee competed at the International Miniature Rodeo Association Finals held during the International Professional Rodeo Association’s IFR 49. She left that event as the 2018 IMRA Champion Junior Barrel Racer.


She was named the Oklahoma Junior Rodeo Association All-Around Champion Junior Cowgirl in 2018 and won three champion saddles from barrel racing, goat tying, and the all-around title.


Karlee won a fourth saddle at the Ward Rodeo Company Stampede series.


In 2019, Karlee’s goal was to make it to the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV and she did just that; however, she had to make a difficult decision for herself.


“I qualified for that, but I didn’t end up going because I made it to junior high Nationals in Des Moines in 2021, IA that year. I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to go out there or if I wanted to go to Nationals, and I picked Nationals.”


Karlee competed at Hooey Junior Patriot at The Patriot Fort Worth 2024 last week where she unfortunately didn’t make the short go.


“Yesterday in the semi-finals, I hit a barrel, but I ran in a couple of different horses and I’m waiting to see if I made it in the short go. There’s still 350 people left to run today to see if I made it back in anything else,” Karlee said.


She competed at Junior Patriot last year but just days before the show, her horse broke its leg and had to be put down. Karlee also sustained injuries after she broke her nose in three places on a different horse a few months later.


“I had to jump ride a horse when I got here because my good horse passed away three days before we left. It was a bad deal,” she said. “It’s been rough, and I just got a horse that’s the same caliber as the one I lost.”


Karlee’s next goal she is shooting for is to make it to Nationals this year.


“The season starts back up next weekend and then it’ll go for about eight rodeos, and it’ll be June. I’ll just be going to the high school rodeos to try to make it back to Nationals,” she said.

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