Barrel Racer Zoe Boul Owns the Rodeo Ring

Grace & grit.

  • Category
    People
  • Written by
    Linda Grasso
  • Photographed by
    Dan Lesovsky

Zoe Boul is like most 17-year-old girls. She giggles. She likes to have fun with her school chums at Valley International Prep. And she’s got college on the brain. But there is one distinct difference: Zoe Boul is a barrel racer.

“When I tell people what I do they often don’t understand. I explain that barrel racing is basically running around three trash cans on a horse,” she laughs.

Zoe, who has been riding since she was 3, started out like a lot of people here in the Valley, taking lessons and riding English style at the Equestrian Center in Burbank. But when she went to a rodeo in Georgia at the age of 9 and saw young women galloping across the ring, she was riveted.

“No one did that at the Equestrian Center. I was like, what? Girls can do that? Barrel racing is mostly a women’s sport, and I was fascinated by teenage girls doing it. I thought it was awesome that these girls had this event to themselves—like it was all their own,” Zoe explains. “Rodeo, you know, is dominated by men.”

She started watching YouTube videos, found a community arena in Burbank, made a makeshift course and started doing drills. Then a friend helped her find a teacher in Agua Dulce, about 40 minutes away from her Valley Village home. “I was officially hooked,” she says.

Zoe’s parents ultimately bought her a quarter horse, Parker, and nowadays Zoe makes the drive to Agua Dulce three to four times a week to practice with her trainer. Her passion is palpable, so deep that a serious accident couldn’t derail her. Three years ago, she was trying out a new horse and suddenly it started bucking. Zoe fractured a vertebra in her back and had to wear a brace for three months. In the months that followed, she suffered panic attacks.

“Barrel racing is mostly a women’s sport, and I was fascinated by teenage girls doing it. I thought it was awesome that these girls had this event to themselves—like it was all their own. ”

“My parents, who have been super supportive about me and my sport, kept saying to me, ‘You know you really don’t have to ride again. We would completely understand if you chose not to.’”

But after a year, Zoe got back up. She is currently part of the California High School Rodeo Association, which has rodeos monthly. Last year she placed fifth in her district and qualified for the state finals where she won an award for one of her “performances,” as they’re called.

Zoe insists that athleticism is only part of it. “It’s really about the art of nonverbal communication. Many people think of barrel racing as a singular sport but it’s really a team sport. You have to build a relationship with your horse because they are the athlete. You just tell them what to do. It is about learning the way a horse thinks and figuring out how to get him to do what you want.”

When it comes to going away to college next fall, she is pragmatic but also a tad wistful, realizing she will have to take a break from barrel racing. While she may leave her team sport behind, our sense is that the lessons she learned in the saddle will stay with this young woman—for life.

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