BILLINGS — When we last saw Abby Knight, she was dominating the barrel racing at the Northern Rodeo Association/Northern Women’s Rodeo Association Finals last October in Kalispell.

The Charlo cowgirl and her horse Pistol won all three rounds and the average to pocket more than $4,000 at Majestic Valley Arena.

The high-money winner of the NRA/NWRA’s premier event rocketed to the top of the final 2021 standings.

"It was awesome. It was a great weekend," remembered Knight who had finished second in 2015 and fourth in 2017 and 2020. “It was one of those bucket list moments. I had never won a year-end title before. And I was able to do it in front of family and friends.”

Last weekend at the Whoop-Up Trail Days in Conrad, Knight opened the 2022 Mountain Health Co-op Tour the same way she closed 2021.

With a victory.

But this win was different.

Knight won the breakaway roping with a time of 3.3 seconds.

“I’ve always roped,” said Knight of her high school and collegiate rodeo careers. “But I’ve never been super serious about it.”

Riding her 15-year-old buckskin gelding Bugsy, Knight’s winning throw came during slack. “After we roped, it started raining and we got out of there,” she said. “I saw the results, ‘Oh, look, I won.' "

She also added a third place in barrel racing where only eight-hundredths of a second separated the top three finishers.

Knight said competing in both the NWRA and the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit left little room for roping in her schedule.

“The roping had taken a back burner,” she said.

That changed this year with traveling partner Aubrey Dumont riding Bugsy in barrel racing.

“Now I have no reason not to rope on him,” added Knight. “And it’s really great to have a traveling partner.”

The 26-year-old Knight, who graduated from the University of Great Falls with a degree in biology, works for an agricultural lab in Ronan. Her days are spent wearing sterile air hoods and peering through a microscope studying the genetic lines of mint and potatoes. The usable mint is sold to Wrigley for its gum.

“I’ve always been a science nerd,” Knight said. “I never saw myself working in a plant lab. It is very interesting.

“I work September through May … I don’t have to work in the summer. It’s a rodeo person’s dream job.”

That “dream job,” has allowed Knight to spend the summer months with her horses. Pistol, a nine-year-old black gelding is the first horse she raised and trained herself.

“He just came on solid,” Knight said. “He was running well. I was pretty confident going into the Finals.

“He’s so honest. Small pen, big pen, he wants to work. He matured enough no matter where he was, he was going to win.”

Knight got an inkling of Pistol’s potential when former NWRA champion Lindsay Kruse leased the horse for the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s richest rodeos. Kruse and Pistol finished third against a world-class field.

“I definitely missed him that week. But when I got the check, ‘Oh, that’s OK then,’ " Knight said with a good laugh. “His performance in Calgary gave me confidence as a trainer. I knew going into the (NWRA) Finals if he did his job and I did mine, we would do well.”

But that doesn’t mean Pistol is perfect.

“He’s so quirky,” said Knight. “We have a four-mile ride at our home that we use a whole lot. Our neighbors got some new ponies and he is scared of them.

“I finally told him, ‘You have to ride past those ponies.’ He’s not afraid of crowd noise or arenas … he’s afraid of ponies. He is going to slow down to look at things and be a fool. Pistol keeps it interesting.

“I love him dearly.”

Even with the great start, Knight is still mapping out her 2022 summer. Along with Pistol and Bugsy, she will be hauling backup horses Cash, a black mare, and AJ, a bay mare.

“You know, it’s hard to tell what I’m going to do,” she said. “Not sure what the year is going to bring. I would like to repeat in the barrels and climb in the all-around standings.

“This year I’m going to try to rodeo smart and business savvy.”

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