Alexa Carlson, Spiritwood, N.D., competed at the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas last December. She’s the only North Dakotan to have qualified for the event. [Photo: Lisa Carlson]
When Alexa Carlson decided to go big, she went big.
Last year, the Spiritwood, N.D. cowgirl decided to do something momentous with her barrel racing, and she did.
She rode the family-raised horse, Hesa Dual Magnum, a.k.a. ‘Magnum’, to the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas last December in the barrel racing and pole bending.
The 18-year-old didn’t get the barrel racing “bug” until 2020, when she and her horse Magnum went to a jackpot with a neighbor. Magnum is cow horse-bred, but he has speed and seemed to take a liking to the barrels. So, she trained him for that event.
To qualify for the Junior World Finals, a competitor must finish in first or second place at one of the qualifying rodeos, and Alexa did that at the Silesia, Montana rodeo, in both the barrels and the poles. She is the only North Dakotan to have qualified for the Junior World Finals.
Magnum is a 17-year-old bay who is out of one of the family’s mares and by the neighbor’s stud.
“He loves his job,” Alexa said. “He just tries so hard, everywhere we go, no matter the circumstances. And when it’s an important race, he can tell I’m nervous, and he tries even harder then.”
Magnum loves snacks. “Oh, man, he loves his treats,” she said. “As soon as he’s done running, he gets treats. We need to get him a blanket that says, ‘I will run fast for treats.’”
The gelding was a ranch horse for years before he got put on the barrels. In Alexa’s younger days, she spent hours with him, riding and having fun. She’s pulled sleds with him and even put PVC pipe on two barrels, jumping over it with him, while riding bareback.
A senior at Jamestown High School, she is taking several college-level classes, including college algebra, probability and statistics, vet assistant, and equine science. She says she enjoys the math classes, but really likes the animal science classes. By the time she graduates this spring, she’ll have many of her college freshman classes under her belt.
This fall, she will continue her education at Valley City State University. She says she would like to work in the radiology field.
In addition to barrel racing and pole bending, Alexa shows 4-H cattle, picked from her and her parents’ herd of Angus cattle. She usually shows six: two heifers, two steers, and a cow/calf pair.
She works part-time with a community service organization that helps people with special needs. She says she loves her work. “They (the clients) are super sweet, and they can just make your day. They’re always so happy and glad to see you, and the littlest things make them happy.”
The Carlson family plays volleyball together, as a co-ed team, in the winter and spring leagues in Jamestown. Alexa, along with her parents, Lisa and Ryan; her sister, Chloe; and her brother, Layne; and his wife, McKayla, serve on the team. They say volleyball is a lot of fun “and breaks up the winter a little bit.”
In Las Vegas at the Junior World Finals, Alexa tipped two poles in the pole bending to be out of the money, but in the barrels, she did all right, finishing 37th in the average. She competed on December 12 and 14.
While in Las Vegas, she and her parents took in round number seven of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. She got autographs and pictures with some of the saddle bronc riders and got to meet Wrangler NFR contestants Bridger Anderson, Emily Beisel, Hailey Kinsel and Stevi Hillman.
Alexa competes in the NBHA NDO2 and won the open and the youth event for the year.
This March, she’ll be running barrels in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Hooey Junior Patriot. She qualified at the Sherry Cervi Youth 5D barrel racing in Verndale, Minnesota last fall.
She says she loves her bond with Magnum.
“I just love being able to compete with him,” she said. “Magnum is more than just a barrel horse to me. He’s my best friend. I can’t put into words how it feels when I cross the timer and look back to see an amazing time. It just makes me so proud, because we both have worked so hard to get to this point.”
“I am so proud of everything we have accomplished over these few years, and I hope this is just the beginning of our barrel racing story. Magnum is a true blessing.”
Ruth Nicolaus is a longtime writer and advocate for the western way of life, traveling the country covering rodeos and the horses and athletes that make the sport. She hangs her hat in Nebraska.