Oklahoma cowgirl Michelle Darling has always been passionate about horses and had gold-buckle dreams. For years, though, she put those dreams on hold to prioritize her family. While she’s been involved in raising, training, and selling barrel horses throughout her life, in 2022 she started making her NFR dreams a reality.
Michelle has risen as a contender by capitalizing on the limited number of rodeos she attends. This year for the first time, she hit the road with her great mare Martini to go all out. Michelle knows her horses need all the help they can get to be healthy and successful, and she trusts SUCCEED to manage all their digestive needs.
Earning Barrel Racing Success the Hard Way
Michelle’s father bought and sold horses, and they were typically horses that needed some kind of fixing. Michelle learned at a young age that if she wanted to run barrels, she would have to work for it. So, early on she got a taste of training horses.
I did it the hard way from the start. We were taught that if you wanted something, you would have to work for it. Nothing was ever handed to us.
This lifestyle of buying, fixing, and selling horses taught Michelle a valuable but hard lesson: every horse always has a price tag. As Michelle got older, she had a natural talent for training horses. By the time she got them running competitively, she had to sell them, start over, and make another horse. Therefore, Michelle has treated horses like a business from the start. And she’s been very successful.
“Horses were my getaway. I knew I was good at it and loved it, so I stayed with it. I was the only one in my family with a passion for horse stick.”
Michelle’s natural gift with a horse and strong work ethic helped her succeed, so she progressed from open to professional rodeos.
Martini: the Horse that Started It All
When a little palomino mare named Martini crossed Michelle’s path, her life was forever changed. Michelle has a soft spot for Frenchman Guy offspring, purchasing many of them from the Bill and Deb Meyers sale over the years. Michelle bought two-year-old Martini from the Meyers sale sight unseen, a risk many aren’t willing to take. Little did she know that this fireball of a mare would become her one-in-a-million.
Martini was a handful from the day I got her. She has always been a little fireball. We took things super slow with her and did a lot of groundwork her three-year-old year.
Martini started winning early as a futurity horse, and she began to turn heads everywhere she went. At the time, Michelle was pregnant with her daughter Demi, so she sent Martini to Stevi Hillman to futurity. The pair did quite well together.
Running Martini has been life-changing for Michelle and her family, with the mare’s lifetime earnings reaching $450,000 as of the end of the 2022 regular season. “That mare owes me absolutely nothing, and she continues to give me everything. I love her more than life itself.”
Balancing Family and Rodeo Life
Michelle put her husband and kids above her hopes and dreams, which kept her close to home in years past. While many people with a horse of Martini’s caliber hit the road full-time, Michelle chose family, never missing a ball game or a dance recital.
While this meant sticking to circuit rodeos, Michelle always capitalized on her limited number of entries. That was still a lot to juggle, and Michelle credits her husband, Cody, for his help and support. “I couldn’t do it without Cody. He is my best friend, a great dad, and keeps everything together when I am gone.” A strong support system is everything, and Michelle knows how big of a role hers plays in her success.
As if Michelle doesn’t have enough to manage, she went to nursing school about a year ago. Michelle finished school and made time for her family while hauling on a heavier schedule this spring and capturing big wins along the way.
The Year of Dreams
For Michelle, 2022 was the year to start pursuing her gold-buckle dreams.
“Martini isn’t getting any younger, and neither am I. Making the NFR has always been a goal of mine, and Martini deserves to go. I just felt like it was the right year to go for it.”
Michelle and Martini finished the season at #18, bumped out of NFR contention in the last regular season rodeo by just over $2,000. While that’s a heartbreaker, those results are a celebrated first attempt. Along the way, Michelle and Martini captured the titles at some of the most prestigious rodeos, including Reno, Dodge City, and Sikeston, and set the arena record in Gooding, Idaho, while taking home that win.
“I have reached so many of the goals I had set for myself, and Martini helped me achieve them. Thank you to my husband Cody for keeping everything together at home and keeping the kids so I can continue trying to make this dream come true.”
SUCCEED: a Staple in Michelle’s Program
Michelle has been an avid SUCCEED user for seven years and counting. The first horse she tried SUCCEED on was a sale horse struggling to keep on weight.
After tireless attempts to put weight on this consignment horse, Michelle finally started researching products that could aid his digestion. That’s when she found SUCCEED.
“I started researching digestive supplements, and SUCCEED was the first one that came up. I read about the ingredients and thought it was worth a try. I noticed a difference so quickly that it made me a believer for life.”
She saw remarkable changes within the first 30 days of putting him on SUCCEED. After 30 days he had a shinier and healthier looking haircoat and began to put weight back on and in 60 days, he looked like a completely different horse, making her a firm believer in the product.
“SUCCEED is a staple in my barn. It is my go-to product for all my horses, especially those in stressful situations.”
With being on the road more this year, Michelle knew her horse’s digestive health would need more help than ever. Like most people on the road for months at a time, Michelle’s main priority is keeping her horse’s stomachs at ease and digestive systems functioning properly.
“You must find a way to balance their gut. When training and hauling, it needs to be something they like, and they love SUCCEED.”
Life on the road is not normal for our equine athletes, which is why many problems can arise. Before SUCCEED, Michelle struggled to keep her horses eating and drinking while hauling.
Whether I give SUCCEED before exercise, hauling, or both, I no longer have problems with my horses going off feed and water. They don’t stay drawn up, and their bellies are happy and full.
Michelle has seen both internal and external changes in her horses. Even on horses without obvious digestive issues, physical appearance is visibly improved. Michelle says all her horses are shinier and have better attitudes when training. “If their bellies aren’t hurting, they have a better disposition.”
SUCCEED For Every Stage of Life
In addition to training and competing, Michelle raises and sells a lot of foals as weanlings and yearlings. For these foals to bring the big money, they must look their best. SUCCEED helps Michelle’s foals look top-notch when sale time rolls around.
“I use SUCCEED for my rodeo horses and sale-fitting my foals. It’s never too early to take care of their digestive health. It helps them fill out, develop shiny coats, and look their best overall come sale day. I love SUCCEED for weaning, training, and keeping my horses’ digestive health in check on all levels.”
From broodmares to foals to Martini, Michelle trusts SUCCEED to take care of all her horses’ unique digestive needs. One of Michelle’s favorite aspects of SUCCEED is that it’s the only product in a paste formula that the horses take willingly.
The SUCCEED company is great to work with and has amazing people involved. Plus, I know the product works. I love supporting a product that shows results, and SUCCEED shows results.