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Michelle Darling lives up to her last name in the looks department. But don’t that runway-model face she sees in the mirror every morning fool you. Talent runs deep in this busy working wife, nursing-school student and barrel-horse-trainer mom, who has a proven A-List world beater by the name of Martini in her barn. Michelle and Martini have played beat the clock on the world-class cloverleaf stage, and won. But with all that’s going on at home, there simply isn’t enough time to devote to the full-time rodeo trail right now. Enter the World Champions Rodeo Alliance, where everyone is welcome to earn a spot and play. Perfect timing for a talented twosome like Michelle and Martini, who’ve already won over $100,000 at two events and are now headed to the $545,000 Rodeo Corpus Christi in May, where they’ll take aim at the $1 million WCRA Triple Crown of Rodeo bonus.

“The WCRA is perfect for people like me, who have too much going on at home to hit the road full time,” said Darling, who lives in Medford, Oklahoma, with her husband, Cody, sons Talon, 16, and Case, 8, and little girl Demi, 5. “I have school five days a week, a high school sophomore, a third-grader and a kindergartner, so it’s non-stop chaos around here. I do want to go to the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) someday. But my family’s first, and I won’t put them through any struggles for rodeo. I see too many girls with tears in their eyes trying to make it. Rodeoing hard is a tough life.”

13.465 for Michelle Darling during the first round of the Green Bay WCRA Title Town Stampede. Photo Courtesy of Bull Stock Media

Darling is attending Autry Technology Center in Enid, and plans to be a Licensed Practical Nurse come December. Her end goal on that front is eventually opening an aesthetic medical spa. But back to barrel racing business, Darling will ride her 10-year-old palomino mare Martini in Corpus Christi, where on the merits of winning the Stampede at the E last summer at the Lazy E Arena, she’s the only barrel racer who can rack up a second-straight win toward the Triple Crown million, which is available to any athlete who can win three consecutive WCRA majors.

Michelle and Martini go all the way back to when Darling picked 2-year-old Morning Traffic—a 2011 model by Frenchmans Guy out of Evening Traffic; Martini is a full sister to Tammy Fisher’s famous buckskin Traffic Guy—out of Bill and Deb Myers’ St. Onge, South Dakota horse-sale catalog and bought her sight unseen long distance for $19,500. Darling has since turned down several super-sized offers on her four-legged pride and joy, including one for $800,000.

Michelle Darling holding up a check from the Green Bay WCRA
Michelle Darling captured the barrel racing championship at the Green Bay WCRA Title Town Stampede. Photo courtesy of Bull Stock Media.

“I started Martini on the pattern when she was really young, then I got pregnant with Case, so I sent her to Stevi Hillman,” Darling said. “She ran her at the futurities as a 4-year-old (and won the Pendleton Round-Up on her at 5). Martini’s an outlaw. You can’t put a back cinch on her, because she will buck. But a horse like her, who’ll let me take breaks then pick right back up where we left off is really rare. I can’t replace her.”

Michelle and Martini also won the Titletown Stampede in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 2019, to bring their early-going WCRA earnings to a pretty grand total of $103,578. The WCRA has paid rodeo athletes more than $8.5 million since May of 2018, when the cowboy owned and operated organization hit the ground at a dead run. Next stop, Rodeo Corpus Christi, and soon-to-be Nurse Darling is already working ahead at school to get the week of May 6-9 off.

“I choose not to rodeo hard—typically 25-35 rodeos max,” Michelle said. “To have the chance to nominate local jackpots and rodeos close to home to earn my way to these major events and run at real money is amazing. I tell all my friends constantly to do the same, because the money is there. This is an opportunity no one should turn down.”

Learn more about the World Champions Rodeo Alliance and the Triple Crown bonus here.


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