Morris resident Ashley Burke prepares for next race Saturday in Hoffman Estates

Ashley Burke of Morris delivers the game ball during the first game of the Chicago White Sox double header on Wednesday, April 17.

After delivering the game ball to start the Chicago White Sox doubleheader Wednesday, Morris resident Ashley Burke has another major event to prepare for: She’s defending her back-to-back Professional Championship Bull Riders Barrel Racing championship Saturday.

Burke and her horse will take to Border Battle at 7 p.m. Saturday at the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, where they will attempt to make it three championships in a row.

Riding horses is a talent Burke’s been building since seventh grade, and she’s entirely self-taught.

“I got my first horse and taught myself how to ride,” Burke said. “I didn’t really take lessons. I watched a lot of videos on YouTube, read books [and] magazines, anything I could get my hands on.”

Once she got older, she got a faster horse and started going to small, local shows before growing more and more competitive, setting goals and reaching them, then setting new goals and reaching them again.

From there, she decided she wanted to try a rodeo, and she started participating in those five years ago.

“I’m always one of those people that don’t like to be comfortable, if that makes sense,” Burke said. “I like to challenge myself and can be uncomfortable in that sort of way. I’m always going to have goals that are reachable.”

Burke said she prepares for a race weekend as much as she can, making sure her horse is ready when race day comes. She said it’s important to keep herself calm and relaxed, because her horse can tell if she’s not.

“It’s funny because my horse shows a lot of personality when he’s at the rodeo and getting ready to warm up,” Burke said. “He shows a lot of expression and personality comes out that he doesn’t show most of the time. If he’s ready, I know I have to thrive off that as well. I can’t break his confidence.”

Burke said that with racing comes a lot of travel. She started off participating in local shows around Illinois but now travels to Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee, and she’s performed a few times in Texas and a couple of times in Oklahoma. She can’t be away from home for too long, however, as she also trains horses and works as an equine dentist.

She said she owes a lot to her family, especially her mother, sister and stepfather, as well as her fiancé and his family.

“They’ve pretty much drove me to be the best that I can, you know, and helped me accomplish big things,” Burke said. “Now I have younger generations, younger girls following me that I teach as well. I try really hard to set good examples for the youth. I’ve been pushing myself really hard, showing them that they do it if they work hard. Hard work can accomplish a lot.”

Those interested in buying tickets to Saturday’s event can do so at

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec covers Grundy County and the City of Morris, Coal City, Minooka, and more for the Morris Herald-News