By Bridget Kirkwood

Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo SB Winter Rodeos 2015 RapidCity Wright Carmel CowboyImages 2 copyCREDIT: Cowboy Images – Carmel Wright winning Rapid City.

Carmel Wright’s first trip to Rapid City, S.D., ended up being one that she won’t forget. Riding her 12-year-old mare Sweet Heart Special (My Special Bear x Im Testy Too), a.k.a. “Tweetie,” Wright made one run in 12.65 seconds that was worth $4,468. Cassidy Kruse was second with a 12.68 to win $3,575.

“My mare does like those little pens so it worked out for her. She’s very small herself so those little indoor pens are right up her alley,” said Wright.I had entered Fort Worth trying to get to Rapid on the way down but we had to go to Fort Worth for the first round then haul all the way back up to Rapid City and back to Fort Worth.”

Wright’s not complaining though as her trip south helped her pick up $3,668 from San Angelo and $2,165 from Montgomery, Ala. The New Zealander who trains barrel horses for a living is in her first season of hauling hard. While the NFR is a goal, Wright is playing the season by ear.

Victoria Williams won $5,440 for picking up first place in the Champion’s Challenge in Rapid City.

“She likes running more than she likes turning,” said Williams of Three Jets Olena, who had a run in the rodeo before the Champion’s Challenge, which was on Feb. 8 but didn’t win money. “That was my fault because I’d decided to run her in Fort Worth before we went to Rapid City even though I knew from past years that she doesn’t like the Fort Worth pen. Going from that big pen in Fort Worth to the little pen in Rapid didn’t work.

“In Rapid City the pattern is easy but the hard part is waiting to run. They have a little alley that we have to wait in and everybody sits there. The ropers are there, the steer wrestlers are there and the barrel racers are there. There’s no room and to me that’s the hard part of the rodeo.”

Williams also made $4,847 in San Antonio and $4,000 in Houston.

Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show CREDIT: JAMES PHIFER - Sarah McDonald winning the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo.CREDIT: JAMES PHIFER – Sarah McDonald winning the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo.

Sarah Rose McDonald’s first full season as a WPRA cardholder didn’t start with a bang after she left the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Colo., with zero earnings. But fate took a turn as soon as she unloaded Fame Fling N Bling in Fort Worth at the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show. Running times of 16.42, 16.37 and 16.32 to win the each of the go-rounds and the short-go, McDonald’s average time of 49.11 was a shoo-in for the win ahead of Jana Bean and Kali Parker, who tied with the second fastest average time of 49.80.

“When I had trouble in Denver, it was a little discouraging but I thought that I could do it and got myself together,” McDonald said. “Fort Worth was a bigger pattern. That rodeo has been going on for a long time and has a cool vibe to it. Winning the first go was an awesome feeling and then she went on to win every round. I’m really proud of her. I never thought we’d win every round because are so many good horses that it’s really hard to do that, but that’s something that I’ll never forget.”

McDonald’s total take home from the Jan. 17 – Feb. 7 rodeo was $17,276. Big checks quickly became the norm for McDonald who won $20,496 in San Antonio and $11,300 at Rodeo Houston. She made another $22,667 at the RNCFR, however that money doesn’t count in the world rankings.

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

“San Antonio is always a great rodeo and it was a great way to get the year started off,” said 2015 San Antonio champion Sherry Cervi who rode Atlas Perk, owned by Trip and Callie DuPerier to the win. “Stingray has never run very well at San Antonio. I’m not sure why but it’s just not her choice of rodeos.”

Cervi has had Atlas in her trailer since last October and decided to saddle him up for the Feb. 12-28 event. “He’s 13-years-old and has been rodeoed on by several other people so he was good when I stepped on him. I’m very thankful for the ride,” Cervi said. “At San Antonio the crowd’s right there close to the barrels and they’re loud and he handled that all very well.”

Cervi ran in the third bracket where she picked up a second and two firsts during the go-rounds. She then took first and fourth/fifth in her two semi-finals runs before coming back in the finals with a 13.80 to place second behind Sure Down Dash and Alexa Lake’s 13.77.

Due to its bracket system, the San Antonio championship is awarded to the person with the most money won from the entire rodeo. Cervi finished with $21,941 while Lake had $21,604.

“San Antonio was the highlight of my year so far,” said Lake. “It was a huge accomplishment to be able to make it there based off of my winter standings and then winning second in the average. It was a dream come true. To go there and win as much money as I did was an incredible experience.”

Other good winter wins for Cervi include $5,950 in Houston, $6,580 in Austin and $3,950 in Tucson. Lake picked up $5,111 in Fort Worth and $1,645 in Austin.

RodeoHouston

It would be fair to say that no one expected Nancy Hunter and Flit N Fizz (Dr Nick Bar x Sting It), the RodeoHouston champions of 2013 and 2014 to become the $50,000 champions again in 2015. The person who expected it the least was Hunter, but that’s exactly what the team did.

“I didn’t have any expectations at all,” Hunter said. “You’ve got the top 40 horses in the country who’ve qualified for Houston by going to numerous rodeos and earned their way there, then you’ve got to run in your set (which has three rounds), then you have to make it to the semi’s and hopefully, without going to the Wild Card, you go to the finals. Once you’re in the finals you have to be in the top four and then you have to win that. It’s a long, long horse race and I was really hoping that I could make it in to the semi’s.”

Nerves didn’t get Hunter until she made the finals and her husband, Fred, told her that with the caliber of the 10 finalists, that there was no way that she could safety up. She didn’t. Instead Hunter had the fastest time of the finals, which meant that she got to run on the top of the ground in the championship round.

“Once I made it to the top four I think I felt relief because if you’re in the top four you’re going to make some good money,” said Hunter, who won $5,000 through the rounds and $50,000 for the 13.96 that won the championship.

“I was in business mode. I saw who the three girls coming behind me were and I knew if I slacked off that they would stomp on me. They were tough. I knew I needed to get my ‘whoa’ down on the first barrel a little quicker because Fuzz was running hard. He nailed it and that’s why we had that 13. When I came out and watched the TV screen, somebody said, ‘You’ve got this.’ I said, ‘I don’t have anything, this is a horse race.’ I felt blessed that I stayed in that pack because all four horses, including Fuzz, are amazing animals.”

Lisa Lockhart finished second with a 14.13 to add $20,000 to the $6,300 she won in the rounds while Kaley Bass took third and a total of $18,600. Sarah McDonald, who made the finals via the Wild Card, won $11,300.

Houston is Hunter’s favorite rodeo but that doesn’t mean that she’s blind to the difficulties it presents.

“One of the girls who was there for the first time came up to me and said that it was a lot harder than she’d ever imagined and it is. It’s a huge building, it’s a small set (pattern), the barrels are either way off to the right or left and you can’t see them from the alley. If your horse has to bang off a fence there are no fences and the barrels are the exact same color as the fence so they’re hard to see. And, it’s loud. There are 70,000 people in there and it’s a crazy atmosphere. To me that rodeo is won and lost in the alleyway because it’s short and you better have the right start from that alley to get to that first barrel.”

To read more about how these ladies plan their rodeo strategies for the remainder of the 2015 season, don’t miss “Rules of Rodeo” in the May issue of Barrel Horse News.

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