By Jolee Jordan
Kissimmee, Florida — At this point, there are very few things missing from Lisa Lockhart’s resume. After 12 trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), Lockhart has won nearly every major rodeo on the ProRodeo schedule, from Cheyenne Frontier Days to the Calgary Stampede, from the Wranlger NFR average—twice—to the Canadian Championship. It’s all part of a $2.5 million career.
About the only things missing are a gold buckle for winning the WPRA World Championship and a National Championship earned at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR).
Lockhart has had chances at the latter . . . she’s won a record-tying 11 year-end circuit championships including 10 in the Badlands Circuit from 1996 through 2018; she added another title in the Montana Circuit in 2016. After winning both the year-end and average title at the Ram Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2018, Lockhart earned her 14th trip to the RNCFR.
The veteran cowgirl has had plenty of success, competing in the RNCFR in every location in which it has been held from Pocatello, Idaho to Oklahoma City to Guthrie and now in its home in Kissimmee, Florida. Competing on several different horses, Lockhart has won go rounds and qualified for the final round but never won the rodeo.
The final championship event of pro rodeo’s circuit system, the RNCFR is in its third decade of awarding national titles. The circuit system was designed with part-time competitors in mind by allowing them a chance to rodeo closer to home and still battle for year-end titles. Only the year-end champions and the winners from each circuit finals rodeo qualify to compete here each year.
The RNCFR is a tournament style rodeo with two full rounds determining which of the 26 contestants will compete on the final Sunday in the semi-finals. Eight competitors earn a spot and the final day is two rounds, both sudden death, with the four best from the semi-finals making it to the final round.
Lockhart’s chances in 2019 seemed dimmed somewhat when the cowgirl lost the opportunity to ride her number one mount, the million dollar Wrangler NFR gelding Louie after the horse was injured during RodeoHouston. Best back-up horse Rosa was also unavailable as the talented mare is spending time in the breeding center, passing on her outstanding genetics to another generation for owner Alan Woodbury.
So Lockhart fell back to third-string horse, Prime Diamond “Cutter,” a black gelding that she’s had since he was two years old. Following her usual training process, Lockhart has brought the son of Prime Talent along slowly, hauling him on the road for experience and entering a small spattering of smaller rodeos in the last year.
Now eight years old, Cutter stepped up in a big way in Florida. He galloped out to a pair of second place finishes in the preliminary go rounds, winning the average by just over a tenth of a second to earn more than $15,000 — all before the final Sunday when the big money starts getting handed out.
Championship Sunday begins with the semi-final round of eight cowgirls and Great Lakes Circuit reserve champion Kricket Gintner was the first to compete. The mother of two who is a second-generation RNCFR competitor — her mom Tammy Whyte won the Great Lakes titles several times—made a beautiful run at 15.46 seconds to lead the way.
Southeastern Circuit champ Ericka Nelson was next in the draw. Riding the super consistent gelding Friday, Nelson was on fire, stopping the clock at 15.38 seconds to take command.
Lockhart drew third. She guided the black gelding into the first corner, turning it nicely. Making another smooth run, she stopped the clock at 15.47 seconds, good enough for third with still five ladies to compete.
Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jessie Telford ran down the alley next. Already holding the fastest run of the rodeo at 15.19 seconds, run in the opening go round, she and Cool Whip wrapped the first turn again but got a little too quick on the backside of the second corner, pulling the barrel over with them as they left. The time was amazing . . . 15.18 seconds but the barrel penalty eliminated the Wrangler NFR duo from advancing to the final four round.
Lockhart’s fellow Badlands Circuit competitor, Jessica Routier came next, hoping for more of the success she and horse Missy have enjoyed in Kissimmee in the last two years. They won more than $15,000 here in 2018 and took the victory lap for the second go win with a time of 15.28 seconds.
The gritty palomino was tough again, tying with her friend Lockhart at 15.47 seconds, leaving the pair splitting third and fourth with three more to run.
The ninth ranked cowgirl in the current WPRA World standings, Dona Kay Rule, sent High Valor down the alley next. The veteran who simply dominated the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals last fall made a pretty run that fell just short at 15.50 seconds.
The Turquoise Circuit had a representative in the semi-finals for the second year. Leia Pluemer and her mare Sister were rookies in 2018 but still managed a phenomenal season, earning the right to compete in Florida by winning the Turquoise Circuit Finals Rodeo in Prescott Valley. Unfortunately, a bad stumble on the approach to the first barrel cost them precious time on the clock and the pair closed out their first RNCFR with a time of 16.02 seconds.
Nelson and Gintner knew they were safe as the final cowgirl prepared to take her shot. The only former RNCFR champion in the semi-finals, Ivy Conrado was hoping to make history with a second national title, earned aboard a different horse, a feat only accomplished by two other ladies.
With the pretty palomino JLo’s braids flying, Conrado let it all hang out on her run, making another smooth run that fell just a bit short at 15.52 seconds. Interestingly, she placed sixth on all three runs in Kissimmee.
The stage was set for the final four and for the second straight year, the field included both Badlands cowgirls. Along with cowgirls from the Southeastern and Great Lakes, the ladies took the short break given between rounds as the rodeo essentially begins again with the top four in each event.
Gintner was competing in her first RNCFR as was Nelson while Routier and Lockhart were the veterans, though Lockhart admitted to being unsure what Cutter would do with two runs in the quick turnaround time.
Because all the monies won here count towards WPRA World standings, the moment is big for all the ladies. Could someone use a big payday here to vault towards their first Wrangler NFR like Routier did in 2018?
Nelson has been close to a Wrangler NFR appearance in the past and came to Florida with a great start to the 2019 year with more than $31,000 already won. Lockhart was ranked 13th in the WPRA World standings with $25,000 won while Routier sat 25th with more than $16,000 won in 2019. Gintner was ranked 84th.
The final round is drawn for positions and Routier took the number one spot on the ground. Missy was digging around the turns again, this time stopping the clock at 15.36 seconds to take the early lead for the title.
Lockhart was next to run and again, she eased her way into the first corner. With the gelding that moves effortless and cuts off the clock without looking fast gliding around the turns, Lockhart gave a little love tap for encouragement on the way home and the gelding responded with a big run home. Her time lit up the crowd inside Silver Spurs Arena . . . 15.30 seconds to take the lead.
Nelson’s hometown of Century is located in Florida’s panhandle, still making it a good long drive for the cowgirl to compete but certainly closer than most of the events she rides in during the course of the season. Friday was flying as Nelson ran third on the ground, hoping to bring home the title to the Southeastern Circuit for the first time since 2010.
Laying down a great run, Nelson just caught the second barrel as she left the corner, costing herself the resulting five second penalty on top of a run that would have been 15.36 seconds.
Gintner and her horse Jax were the last with a chance to bust up the Lockhart victory. The pair made yet another great run but the time of 15.43 seconds left them in third place.
For the first time in a storied career, Lockhart was introduced as the champion of the RNCFR, taking her victory lap in the back of a Ram pick-up alongside her new Cactus saddle and Montana Silversmiths buckle. She also earned a $20,000 voucher towards a new vehicle from Ram, a new Polaris Ranger, a 65 Venture OtterBox cooler, and a pair of Justin Boots
“There’s been a few trips, definitely a first,” Lockhart told ProRodeoLive’s Steve Kenyon after the rodeo about her 14th RNCFR. “This is monumental for many reasons for me.”
“I’m kinda speechless actually,” she laughed. “We didn’t know what to expect coming here and I knew in my heart he could be competitive but I never dreamed anything like this, ever.
“Just even coming in today and trying to stay focused. You never know what they’ll throw at you when they’re so unseasoned and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.”
Lockhart noted that the atmosphere of the championship round and back-to-back runs didn’t faze the gelding either.
“It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He’s been hauled a lot in my trailer so he’s seen the sights, he’s seen the commotion, things like that, that really helps but as far as runs back-to-back [you don’t know],” she said.
“I just thought it was a good set up for him, not too big, not too small,” Lockhart continued of her strategy before the rodeo. “I thought it was worth the chance and tried him here.”
“I’ve had him since he was two; he’s finally eight and it’s time,” she said, adding that she feels her timing with the gelding will improve with more runs and more seasoning.
“He’s faster than I thought he was as well, I’m not gonna lie,” she laughed when asked about the horse’s deceiving style; it’s so effortless he doesn’t appear to be running as hard as he obviously is. “He has always been kinda of laid back and I wondered if I’d babied him too long and he’s old, he’s eight and he still hasn’t stepped up. He’s so smooth, you don’t think you’re going that fast.”
Thanks to the $26,155—most likely a RNCFR record for earnings for WPRA barrel racers—Lockhart now has more than $51,000 towards the WPRA World standings, enough to put her inside the top five of the current WPRA World standings come Monday.
“It’s nice knowing I do have a young horse kind of coming on and is totally capable because I’ve always wondered and I’m sure others have wondered, ‘is there life after Louie?’” Lockhart admitted when asked about the rest of the season. “I have to hand a ton of credit to Rosa.
“Just when you think you have enough horses, somebody gets hurt and you’re down to one and it just happens. You can never have too many.”
The RNCFR Champion receives an automatic invite to the 2019 Calgary Stampede, qualifications for which won’t be finalized for a few weeks yet. Lockhart is guaranteed a spot on that list with her RNCFR win and will have the opportunity to return to the rodeo she won in 2015.
Routier finished as the second high money winner with earnings of $18,194, more than doubling her season standings thus far. The Buffalo, South Dakota cowgirl is also winning RodeoAustin which concludes on Saturday, for another chance to boost her bottom line.
Gintner had an amazing first RNCFR, taking home more than $12,000 to Wisconsin. Nelson, too, had a great inaugural RNCFR with $11,750 won. That’ll help her chances at competing at the 2019 Wrangler NFR, pushing her season earnings to more than $33,000.
“It is awesome,” Lockhart summarized the 2019 RNCFR experience. “Just the whole concept, how it all happened, it’s just above and beyond, words cannot express it.”
The Texas circuit took home the team title with the Badlands finishing third thanks to the two barrel racers who won half of the team total of $91,808.
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time, Earnings
1. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, Southeastern, 15.38, $7,581
2. Kricket Gintner, Dial A Little Fame, Great Lakes, 15.46, $5,686
3/4. Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, Badlands, 15.47, $2,843
3/4. Lisa Lockhart, Prime Diamond, Badlands, 15.47, $2,843
5. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, Prairie, 15.50
6. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, Mountain States, 15.52
7. Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, Turquoise, 16.02
8. Jessi Telford, Famous Cool Whip, Wilderness, 20.18
1. Lockhart, 15.30, $7,581
2. Routier, 15.36, $5,686
3. Gintner, 15.43, $3,791
4. Nelson, 20.36, $1,895
Lisa Lockhart, Badlands, $26,155
Jessica Routier, Badlands, $18,194
Kricket Gintner, Great Lakes, $12,319
Ericka Nelson, Southeastern, $11,750
Jessie Telford, Wilderness, $10,993
Ivy Conrado, Mountain States, $4,162
Meka Farr, Wilderness, $3,412
Leia Pluemer, Turquoise, $2,653
Shali Lord, Mountain States, $2,843
Christina Mulford, First Frontier, $2,274
Courtesy of WPRA