By Jolee Jordan
Houston, Texas — The year was 1966 and big changes marked the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR). Already a professionally sanctioned rodeo for a dozen years, the HLSR made a big move from its home in Sam Houston Coliseum to the newest marvel of modern stadiums, the Astrodome.
More than 25,000 spectators witnessed the first performance in the Astrodome and were treated to another new addition to the show, a professional barrel racing sanctioned by the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA). GRA World Champion Ardith Bruce was crowned the first champion, earning a huge payout for the time, $798 for being the fastest cowgirl over five go rounds.
More than 50 years later, RodeoHouston, as it is now known, is still hosting a pro barrel race sanctioned by the WPRA, the GRA’s modern incarnation, and it is still one of the biggest events on the ladies’ annual schedule.
Success in Houston often propels a competitor straight to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), particularly since the rodeo changed to a tournament style format back in 2007. Competitors advance through rounds here hoping for a shot in the Championship Shootout on March 17 where the winner will earn $50,000.
Each of the 40 contestants here are divided into one of five Super Series. A rodeo unto itself, each Super Series is comprised of three rounds of competition. After the Super Series Championship Round (the third round), the top four money winners advance to the semi-finals to be held March 14-15.
Fast times are the key to advancement once the Super Series end with the four fastest from each semi-final moving on to the Super Series Championship on March 17. The remaining six are given one more shot during the Wild Card round on March 16 with the top two advancing.
The Super Series Championship is another sudden death round with the four fastest runners earning another shot at the big payout immediately after the Championship in the Championship Shootout round.
The fastest run in the Shootout earns the $50,000 as the RodeoHouston Champ.
The 2018 edition kicked off on February 27 with the first eight hopefuls looking for a big payday. The first round proved difficult on the field with several horses having trouble finding the cans inside the huge confines of NRG Stadium . . . the rodeo arena is the size of a football field.
One competitor who navigated the conditions well was Taci Bettis, last year’s Rookie of the Year who is competing in her first RodeoHouston.
Bettis is already ranked near the top of the standings after a hot start to 2018 dating back to the season’s beginning in October. Her week has been on fire as the Texas cowgirl pocketed $100,000 on Sunday at the unsanctioned RFD-TV’s The American.
With little time to celebrate the big win or rest on her laurels, Bettis took on RodeoHouston and walked away the winner of the first round of Super Series I with a run of 15.18 seconds. Bettis was on her reliable 10-year old gelding Smash for all the big wins.
Twenty-four hours later, the field seemed to have found its bearings and the times reflected that with a much faster go round on Wednesday night. Southeastern Circuit Champ Sabra O’Quinn was a study in controlled chaos as she collected the round win aboard her big brown gelding Chaos, just one night after the horse slid down to his hip on the second turn.
Bettis was right on her heels, running a sub-fifteen second time at 14.94 to O’Quinn’s 14.89.
Ericka Nelson, who hails from Florida like O’Quinn, picked up a second check in round two to land on the bubble at fourth with the final round looming on Thursday night, March 1.
Former Texas Circuit Champion Kelly Bruner has been living on the edge this winter, making the most of her spot into the big winter tournament rodeos after winning the WPRA World Finals last fall to earn her position. At San Antonio, Bruner shrugged off a first round no time and bounced back all the way to the Finals, winning more than $9,000.
Her start in Houston was ominously similar; though she did record a time, it was far off the leaders. She rebounded some in round two but pulled out the magic in the final round with a spot in the semi-finals on the line.
Bruner posted the fastest run of the Super Series at 14.74 to win the round and the resulting $3,000 check. It proved to be enough to move her on to the next round.
Meanwhile, the study in consistency, Bettis earned a third check, this one worth another $2,000 for second for her 14.77 second run.
Bettis finished the set with $7,000, easily advancing to the semi-finals as the Super Series Champ.
“This was like another dream come true! I always dreamt of getting a chance to run down this alley,” Bettis posted on social media after the final round. “I not only got the opportunity but I also won super series 1 – we are headed to the semis on the 15th! Feeling beyond blessed.”
O’Quinn’s $4,000 in earnings after a third place finish on the final night put her into second. Bruner’s round win landed her third while Nelson, who went three-for-three in the set, earned the final spot with $2,375, edging out Burger, a past champion here.
Super Series II begins March 2 and includes the top two cowgirls in the current WPRA World standings who have been battling throughout the winter stock show season: Amberleigh Moore and Hailey Kinsel. Carman Pozzobon runs in this set too, earning her spot by virtue of being the reigning Canadian Champion.
The field also includes Kellie Collier, who earned her spot in two ways as the champion of the 2017 All American Pro Rodeo Series in Waco last October and a 2017 Wrangler NFR qualifier. Other 2017 Wrangler NFR qualifiers in this group are Tillar Murray and two-time World Champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi. The field is rounded out by Ari-Anna Flynn who finished 19th in 2017 and two-time Wrangler NFR qualifier and former Rookie of the Year Jackie Ganter.
Super Series I
1. Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, 15.18, $3,000
2. Mary Burger, Streakin Bye Ta Fame, 15.49, $2,000
3. Kylie Weast, Hell on the Red, 15.57, $1,000
4. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 15.60, $750
1. Sabra O’Quinn, Alive with Chaos, 14.89, $3,000
2. Bettis, 14.94, $2,000
3. Nelson, 15.07, $875
4. Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 15.07, $875
1. Kelly Bruner, 14.74, $3,000
2. Bettis, 14.77, $2,000
3. O’Quinn, 14.87, $1,000
4. Nelson, 15.10, $750
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Courtesy of WPRA