By Jolee Jordan
Pendleton, Oregon — The drive from Walla Walla, Washington to Pendleton, Oregon is not a long one, just under an hour. Thanks to the close proximity, Walla Walla cowgirl Kacey Gartner has been to the world famous Pendleton Round-Up many times. However, in most of her previous trips, she spent the time at Round-Up in the grandstands, not riding around on the grass for which the rodeo is known.
“I’ve come about every year,” laughs Gartner. “My husband is a bulldogger so I’ve been here as his supporter and number one fan.”
About five years ago, Gartner decided to try her hand at the Pendleton barrel race, by far the most unique in all of professional rodeo. Because the arena is a grass football field surrounded by a dirt race track, the barrel race is designed with the corners set on the track and a huge open field run across the grass in between cans. The result is barrels that are more than 280 feet apart and a pattern that is run in times of 28 and 29 seconds, more than ten seconds longer than the times typically posted on a WPRA standard sized pattern.
The length and difficulty of the race has led the cowgirls to dub Pendleton “the Green Mile.”
Gartner “let ‘er buck” for the first time as a permit holder several years ago but hadn’t returned since that time.
In 2018, she embarked on the rodeo season aboard her young prospect, the six year old mare she calls Mercedes. Registered Rebel Look, Mercedes was born and raised on the Gartner’s place in Walla Walla.
“I set off to season her,” notes Gartner. “I was still on my permit and we filled it at the first rodeo.” In fact, Gartner won the Central Point (OR) rodeo for more than $2,000 to launch her season.
When it came time to enter Pendleton again, Gartner signed up . . . but with reservations.
“I entered, figured I would see what she’s capable of,” says Gartner candidly. “Honestly, I was a little scared. I’ve never really opened the run up on her like that so I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
“And it was too scary to run across an open field to test it out!”
Gartner was one of about 60 cowgirls scheduled to compete in the slack Monday afternoon to kickoff the 2018 Round-Up. Running 47th on the day, Gartner and Mercedes blew one out, posting the only run under 29-seconds at 28.93. It was the best time of the day to lead the event thus far.
The Round-Up is one long round with the fastest 12 returning for the short round on Saturday, September 15. With a committee purse of $37,500, it is the largest purse remaining on the 2018 regular season rodeo schedule, putting a high priority on the competition here for cowgirls chasing points to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as well as Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo (CRCFR).
Gartner had no plans for this season to try for a trip to Yakima, home of the CRCFR, but her good showing on Monday has her thinking it might be possible.
“The circuit finals were not a goal when we started the season,” Gartner admits. “I just wanted to introduce rodeo life to my mare.”
“With each run, she has given me a taste of what might be,” she continues. She came to Pendleton outside the top 12 by about $2,500, an amount fairly easy to make up with a big showing in Pendleton.
As she drove home to Walla Walla, Gartner noted the adrenaline was finally wearing off and she was in a state of shock.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of . . . and this mare made it happen.”
Garnter will sleep in her own bed, unlike many of her fellow competitors all week, though she’ll be back in Pendleton on Tuesday, back in her role of cheerleader for husband Chance. The rest of the week, she’ll return to work—she’s a cosmetologist who has worked in Walla Walla for 18 years. In fact, she worked Monday morning before taking her shot at the Green Mile.
“A lot of my clients were worried when I said I was going off rodeoing this year,” she laughs. “But I can keep them happy and still get to the rodeos in between.”
Because of Pendleton’s lucrative purse, many of the bubble cowgirls—those still in striking distance of the top 15 in the WPRA World standings as the season closes out its final three weeks—were entered here in Pendleton, and most were scheduled to compete in the slack.
After a big $10,000 weekend in Puyallup, Tammy Fischer chose to head south and not run in Pendleton. The cowgirl moved up to 10th, giving her the breathing room to take a break.
The cowgirls who did run on Monday included 14th-ranked Carley Richardson, 17th-ranked Kellie Collier, 18th-ranked Jessi Fish, 19th-ranked Teri Bangart, 20th-ranked Tiany Schuster, and 21st-ranked Jana Bean.
As expected, Bangart fared well. Riding her horse Good One, Bangart scampered to second in the first round with a time of 29.11 seconds. Bangart has won nearly $16,000 in Pendleton the last three years, including a second place finish to 2017 champion Kimmie Wall last year.
Though still a bit of a long shot as she trails current 15th-ranked cowgirl Amberleigh Moore by about $13,000, a big showing here for Bangart could keep her Wrangler NFR hopes alive, giving her a chance as the rodeo trail turns south in the coming two weeks.
Fish kept her name in the conversation after riding her horse Showoff to a time of 29.56 seconds. She is sixth in the opening go round with 36 cowgirls left to contest in performances Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Bean also landed in the early standings; aboard Girlfriend, she stopped the clock at 29.64 to rank ninth overall.
Elsewhere, the bubble gals struggled a bit on the Green Mile. Richardson and Collier took expensive penalties while Schuster fell outside the top 12 in the round with a run of 30.84.
Currently sitting third in the round is Katelyn Scott with a time of 29.25 followed by California Hayle Gibson’s 29.41 seconds.
The Round-Up barrel race continues in the Wednesday performance beginning at 1:15 p.m. Pacific time. The third and fourth performances will be carried on the Wrangler Network while ProRodeo Live will have live radio coverage every day.
Competing on Wednesday is former Columbia River Circuit champion and Wrangler NFR qualifier Brenda Mays.
Thursday could be dubbed Family Day. Cindy Woods, also a former circuit champion, along with her daughter Kristin Brashears are one of two mother-daughter teams competing. The other is Mindy Goemmer and her daughter Riata. The elder Goemmer has been in the finals here before as has Italy Sheehan, who made the finals alongside her team roping husband in 2017, and will also run on Thursday.
Results (In Progress)
1. Kacey Gartner, Rebel Look, 28.93
2. Teri Bangart, Streaking Honor Kid, 29.11
3. Katelyn Scott, KN Born This Way, 29.25
4. Hayle Gibson, BB Moonshine Chick, 29.41
5. Kelsey Monahan, Ronni Cash, 29.54
6. Jessi Fish, Guys Night in Vegas, 29.56
7. Emily McKinnies, EJs Class Act, 29.60
8. Amanda Waller, Streak A Roses, 29.60
9. Jana Bean, Its Complicated, 29.64
10. Jessica Lewis, Bogies Flashy Jet, 29.65
11. Mary Shae Hays, 29.71
12. Wendy Weems, 29.73
Courtesy of WPRA