Many young girls receive gifts like jewelry for their first communion, but Madison Johnson received a new saddle. Many young girls have closets full of shoes. In Johnson’s case, it’s boots.
Madison Johnson isn’t like many young girls. And that’s just how the 13-year-old Bayou Gauche resident likes it.
Johnson is already a barrel racing veteran of six years and she’s established a reputation as a phenom in that competitive arena. She’s not satisfied, either: her ultimate goal is nothing short of becoming one of the very best in the world. Johnson hopes to reach the National Finals Rodeo one day, largely considered the Super Bowl of rodeo.
The top 15 competitors in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association qualify for that event, though qualifiers must be at least 18 years of age, giving Johnson a little bit of time to continue honing her craft.
“When she turns 18, she’s already laid out her plans,” said Rachelle Johnson, Madison’s mother.
“She’s going to hit the road. She says it’s her dream in life. I know she’s serious about this.”
Madison has been around horses all her life.
Her grandfather has owned and operated BAR LR Farms for approximately 40 years.
He is a Master Cattleman Producer and is a producer and marketer of beef cattle.
Madison had joined her grandfather — “since she could barely sit up,” says Rachelle — in a saddle watching him herd cattle.
“I always wanted to be just like my grandfather,” Madison said. “As long as I can remember.”
As she grew older she retired from sitting upon grandpa’s saddle with him to her own saddle, which she received at the age of 5 from her grandmother and grandfather. She helped her grandpa herd cattle and play around in the pasture on her own.
She has been riding since the age of two. She began competing in barrel racing events when she was seven.
“I rode in them myself, and she and I competed together for a while,” said Rachelle. “A couple of years ago, I hurt my back, so now I just enjoy what she’s doing from the sidelines. There’s nothing like seeing her compete out there.”
Rachelle began to realize Madison had a true gift for riding when the latter won a large competition riding a horse Rachelle often entered with, and bested her mother’s time in the process.
“Well, I guess it’s her horse now, I thought,” Rachelle laughed.
It wasn’t the only victory by a longshot.
Madison competes almost every weekend, primarily competing in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
In June, she captured 24th place out of 960 competitors in the All American Youth competition, which had a field of competitors up to 19 years of age. It was a performance she called her most memorable so far.
She has also competed in events open to all ages, child or adult. She won the Youth and Open Championship of the TLAFA Rodeo Series, the 2014 3d Open Champion of the National Barrel Horse Association for District LA06 and was the 2014 1d, 2d and 3d Youth Champion.
Presently, she is winning the 1d open and 1d, 2d and 3d youth saddles with the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) District LA06 for 2015.
“I love the connection between yourself and the horses,” Madison said. “They learn to trust you and you learn to trust them. And when you compete, you get an adrenaline rush and you get addicted to that. I love doing this.”
Madison cares for 30 horses. Three of them — named Scooby, Fuzzy and Cash, respectively — are the ones chosen most often to bring to competition. Madison features Fuzzy, specifically, when she is chosen to ride with the American flag for the National Anthem before an event, as he is an American Paint Horse.
Her criteria for which enters competition is simple.
“I usually pick the two fastest horses,” she said, “because fast is more fun.”
She’s been a winner away from the barrel racing arena as well. Madison was R.J. Vial’s 5th Grade Student of the Year and has maintained a 4.0, straight A average throughout her student life. She currently attends J.B. Martin.
Madison said she feels like she’s just hitting her groove.
“It took me five years to get to where I’ve been this past year, when I started reaching the top (of the competitions),” she said. “It feels really good to have success against so many riders that have been doing this for a long time.”
She won’t take all the credit, noting her sister, mother, grandparents and stepfather have supported her 100 percent in her pursuits.
It appears extremely likely Madison will one day count herself among those very experienced competitors — and perhaps even, at that, among the world’s very, very best.
“There’s no doubt in my mind she’s going to get there,” Rachelle said. ”She’s made that her goal, and she’s really going after it.”