Cruz-ing Back To Rodeo: Ketron to compete in International Finals Rodeo

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Ashley Ketron hugs her horse named Cruz in a barn at her home in Columbus, Ind., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Growing up the daughter of local auto racing icon Keith Kunz, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to see Ashley Ketron become a racecar driver.

Kunz, however, thought his sport might be too dangerous for Ashley and her twin sister Mallory, so they ended up steering in a different direction. They competed in rodeo.

“We kind of picked it up on our own,” Ketron said. “They definitely supported us. Dad did not want us racing race cars. That was too dangerous.”

Ketron, now 34, is one of the top barrel racers in the country. She is ranked fifth in the world standings and first in rookie standings and will compete in her first Internationals Finals Rodeo on Jan. 13-16 in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

“I was not planning on making the IFR,” Ketron said. “It was not a goal of mine, and then after a few rodeos, everyone was like, ‘You need to go for Rookie (of the Year).’ Then after a few more, they were like, ‘Heck, you need to go for the top 15 and try to make the IFR,’ so I did.”

Ketron started riding horses as soon as she could walk. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, Steve Orme, was a rodeo contractor in Springfield, Illinois. Ketron’s mother barrel raced in his rodeos, and Ashley and Mallory went along.

When she got older, Ketron started going with her father to car races before picking up rodeo.

“He started our passion for riding,” Ketron said. “Grandpa always took us to rodeos, and we’d go watch, and when we got old enough, we started competing. My sister actually rode more than I did at first, and I went with my dad a lot to the races while she was doing that because I enjoyed racing. One day, I decided I was going to start riding more, and grandpa would take my sister and I to shows, and it just kind of went from there.”

Although Kunz moved his family to Visalia, California, and Fresno, California, then to Columbus when the twins were in fourth grade, they kept riding horses. Ketron, a 2005 Columbus East graduate, met her husband David at East, but he didn’t immediately share her love for horses.

“When I met my husband, he didn’t have anything to do with horses, but I got him into it pretty quick,” Ashley said. “He bought a new truck to he could pull my horse trailer, and we went to a lot of horse shows so we could do it as a family.”

The Ketrons have three kids between ages 2 and 12, and Ashley didn’t do any rodeos for about 10 years. She did, however, ride a quarter horse named “Cruz” a couple times for her friend Morgan Nay at horse shows.

In July 2019, Nay, who lives in Madison, called Ashley and asked her if she would take care of Cruz for awhile. Three months later, Ashley bought the horse from Nay.

“She knew I really liked him, and one day, she called me and asked if I would pick him up and board him and take care of him and ride him,” Ashley said. “He was not being rode very much. So I started riding him, and the first weekend I rode him, I knocked barrels every day. But is was so much fun because I just knew he was a different horse. He was a very anxious horse, so I worked with him on his anxiety and learned his triggers. I remember calling her and said I wanted to buy him, and we set up a deal.”

But it wasn’t until July 2021 that Ashley took the 11-year-old Cruz to his first rodeo in North Vernon.

“I just decided to give it a try because he was the best horse that I’ve had,” Ashley said. “I got really lucky with him. He’s ran good before, but not like he does now. He’s just a higher caliber. Once I did that first rodeo with him, I knew that I had something that I could compete with, and it just went from there. I went with a couple of my friends, and I didn’t know how he would do because he gets a little nervous and the rodeo environment is very different. You have crowds, and you have bulls and he did amazing. I got the hunger for it.”

So Ashley and Cruz entered two more events the following weekend and finished second in both, winning more than $1,000. Since then, she’s traveled to compete in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Arkansas.

In their most recent event, Ashley finished second in the Southern Tour Finals in Oklahoma. She won the final standings in the Central Tour Region and now has totaled more than $15,000 in earnings.

“There was a lot of driving,” Ashley said. “We probably put 20,000 miles on my husband’s brand new truck.”

Ashley, who earned a bachelors in early childhood development from University of Cincinnati and graduate certificate in adult learning from Ball State, worked for state’s childcare rating system and resource and referral. She now works for Spark Learning Lab as a coaching contact coordinator.

Riding horses has reached at least a fourth generation for her family. The Ketrons’ 12-year-old daughter Addy now is riding.

As for Ashley, she plans to keep riding as long as Cruz, whose registered name is “Miss Me I’m Famous,” is willing and able.

“This horse kind of fell in my lap,” Ashley said. “I probably wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for him. We have a couple other horses that I rode, but they just weren’t rodeo caliber. (Cruz) is just awesome.”