12/23/2001 12:00AM

Bucking broncos are her busman's holiday

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ALBANY, Calif. - Horses have always been a big part of Faith Taylor's life. When she's not at the racetrack, where she has worked 28 years, currently as trainer Lloyd Mason's assistant and main exercise rider, Taylor cannot stay away from horses - even bucking broncos.

Taylor rides on the Professional Women's Rodeo Association circuit, where she is a two-time world bareback bronc champion and this year's winner of the bareback competition in the PWRA Finals.

In bronc riding, women attempt to ride horses as they buck wildly, earning points for the difficulty of the ride. A two-time world champion, Taylor finished second in this year's worlds after winning the PWRA Finals bareback championship at Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 2-4. She had entered the Finals sixth in the standings.

Taylor might have defended her world title but competed in only five rodeos during the year.

"I was so busy most of the year," she said. "You have to go to four [rodeos] to qualify for the Finals. My goal this year was the Finals. I wasn't worried about the Worlds."

Taylor tied for first with DeDee Crawford, the world bareback and all-around champion, in Arizona in her first rodeo of the year. She was a close second to Crawford in her next rodeo in Tucson. She later competed in three rodeos in Wyoming, earning top four finishes in two of them, but failing to ride her bronc and finishing unplaced in the other. "I couldn't go to Idaho, where I usually do well," Taylor said.

At 49, Taylor, who is "old enough to know better," says she's trying to cut back a bit on her rodeo competitions. "I'm trying to slow down," she said. "I have to quit someday, but it's hard to. I still enjoy it and do well at it.

"It's fun. It gives me a chance to travel around and see places I'd never see. Some of these rodeos are well off the beaten path.

"I rode better this year at the Finals than when I won [her first World title] in '98 when I won all three rounds. I rode stronger this year even though I didn't win all three rounds."

Taylor got her start on the backstretch as a hotwalker for trainer Charlie Comiskey. "Working with horses and getting paid for it? It was too good to be true," she said.

Her life revolves around horses even when she's not at the track or the rodeo. She breeds and raises miniature horses at her ranch in nearby Clayton, where she also breaks yearlings for Mason and breeds Thoroughbreds.

Taylor credits exercising Thoroughbreds in the morning for her rodeo success because it has helped improve her balance while strengthening her arms and legs.

Taylor, who has never broken a bone either in bareback or bull riding in rodeos, said that breaking yearlings and 2-year-olds can be as adventurous sometimes as riding broncs in a rodeo.

"I've hit the ground pretty hard off both of them," Taylor said.