By: Kendra Santos
Ever heard of a barrel racing ballerina? We hadn’t either before Maggie Poloncic and her mare Puff started pulling into rodeo parking lots, and adding their own unique brand of balance and athleticism to the cloverleaf pattern. Poloncic—the pride of the only certified ballet school in the Cowboy State of Wyoming—is saddled up here in Fort Worth, Texas, for this week’s $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championship at Will Rogers Memorial Center, and advanced to today’s Top-24 Main Event.
Poloncic serves as the Associate Director of Dance Arts Gillette, which is her hometown’s most prestigious dance studio. In that capacity, she heads up the ballet conditioning program.
“I’m certified in ballet conditioning, which means I have to take ballet exams in theory and movement to be able to teach,” said Polonic, who had to master the renowned studio’s program before she could teach it. “My mom was a dancer, and I started ballet when I was 6. My first introduction to rodeo was that my babysitter’s son-in-law was a stock contractor who raised bucking bulls. I rode my babysitter’s pony, and they only let me ride bareback for a long time.”
Putting her ballerina’s balance and finesse to work on the back of that pony is the basis of Polonic’s barrel racing style today.
“The keys to ballet and barrel racing are very much the same,” noted Maggie, who started running barrels when she was 12, and considers her silver medal at the 2019 Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo in Salt Lake City her barrel racing career highlight to date. “I think that’s why the transition from ballet to rodeo was so easy for me.”
Aint Seen Me Yet—“Puff”—is still only 7, and that silver in Salt Lake was her literal first rodeo. Poloncic has owned the chestnut mare since she was a weanling, and trained her herself. Maggie giggles when asked if she’s a graceful barrel racer.
“I do what has to be done in the moment, and I’m notorious for reaching down and setting barrels back up, if I have to,” said Maggie, who’s wearing a blue ribbon on her shirt here this week to honor her aunt Peggy Graber, who passed away from ovarian cancer in March after fighting a fierce four-year battle. “It might not be graceful, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what I do.”
Polonic typically teaches ballet three evenings a week, when kids are out of school. The studio also offers private lessons and rehearsals seven days a week, which keeps her busy with her day job and explains part of why WCRA events are a perfect fit.
“I love supporting the WCRA (World Champions Rodeo Alliance),” said Poloncic, who drove 18 hours each way from Gillette to be here. “I love the unique structure of what they’re doing, and I want to be a part of it. This is the richest women’s rodeo ever. So it’s great now. And it’s only going to get bigger and better.”