By Jolee Jordan
Ellensburg, Washington — In any race, the competitor with the best kick—that is the fastest sprint at the end of the race—is usually the victor. For rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, their kick is how they do in September as the first full month of fall is the final one of the regular rodeo season and determines who will be making an appearance in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as one of the top 15 money earners for the season.
September is the month of clutch performances. The battle within the ranks of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) this season has been epic all year . . . and shows no signs of slowing down as the season ends. Just as one competitor’s kick carries her into the lead—that is, into the top 15—another drops a gear and sprints on by.
A week after Texas cowgirl Carley Richardson gave herself a little breathing room with a big win at the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour stop in Kennewick, Washington, another cowgirl got her kick going in Ellensburg.
Tracy Nowlin started the long Labor Day weekend outside the top 15, ranked 17th in the WPRA World standings and trailing then-current number 15 Kellie Collier by just over $2,300.
With summer setting on Labor Day weekend, rodeo competitors hit the final stretch in full steam, chasing rodeos across the Northwest, into British Columbia and Montana, even dipping into Utah, picking their favorites of 22 rodeos on the calendar from August 31 to September 3. The most lucrative was the historic Ellensburg Rodeo, the final regular season stop on the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour.
Riding her great mare Dolly Jo, Nowlin kicked off the Ellensburg Rodeo with a humble eighth place check from the first go in slack following a run of 17.54 seconds.
Colorado cowgirl Ivy Conrado won that round with a run of 17.35 seconds; Conrado was on the bubble herself a few weeks go but has climbed the ranks thanks to a string of steady checks, landing inside the top 10 by the start of Labor Day weekend.
After a run in Montana that netted no dough, Nowlin and Dolly Jo found themselves against the wall and responded in a big way. Running Saturday afternoon in their second round in Ellensburg, the pair stopped the clock in an impressive 17.12, taking the lead in the second go for the time.
A profitable jaunt south to Walla Walla turned up a win for the Oklahoma pair as Nowlin posted a 17.00-second run for the first place check worth $3,403 during that rodeo’s final performance on Sunday night.
Back in Ellensburg, another bubble cowgirl, Teri Bangart seized the moment, nearly breaking the arena record with a run of 16.97 seconds to win the round aboard her horse Peak. She led the way into Monday’s short go, while Nowlin was second, trailing by just over two tenths of a second.
The finals carried a stacked field that included the reigning WPRA World Champ, and Ellensburg winner in each of the two previous seasons, Nellie Miller along with two-time World Champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, past Ellensburg winner Christine Laughlin and top rookie contender Jimmie Smith.
Nowlin ran early in the finals and set a high bar with her short go time of 17.13 seconds, just enough to edge out the reigning champion Miller, who’s run aboard Sister stopped the clock at 17.21 seconds. She would finish tied with Laughlin for third in the final round.
Only Pozzi Tonozzi would best Nowlin’s time, continuing the amazing comeback tour of her great champion Duke—registered Yeah Hes Firen—with a short go winning time of 17.04. Pozzi Tonozzi continues to juggle three top horses and climb the standings; her $7,650 in Labor Day earnings helped her move up to fourth.
When Bangart went a little long, the average title fell to the Nowata, Oklahoma cowgirl at 51.79 seconds on three runs. Miller finished second at 52.06.
The windfall in central Washington was worth $7,237 for Nowlin. When added with her Walla Walla win, she was the high money winner for the weekend amongst the “bubble girls” with $10,640 won. The win couldn’t be more timely or needed as Nowlin seeks her first berth at the Wrangler NFR.
Meanwhile, Miller’s spot in Vegas has long been assured as the cowgirl is ranked second in the WPRA World standings, a spot she has owned for most of the season. With her second place finish in Ellensburg, Miller’s three year total in the central Washington rodeo now stands at an impressive $23,376.
With the weekend’s totals added to her season earnings, Nowlin now sits 13th, leapfrogging over Amberleigh Moore, Tammy Fischer, Kellie Collier and Jessie Telford.
Despite a little misstep in the finals at Ellensburg, Teri Bangart continues to be the dark horse in the race for Vegas. Ranked 22nd prior to the weekend, she claimed checks worth $8,320 from Ellensburg and Walla Walla, moving up to 20th.
With her Ellensburg earnings along with money won in Armstrong, British Columbia, Laughlin kept her hopes alive with $6,407 won across the long weekend. She is ranked 25th.
Two cowgirls in the heart of the race, Fischer and Telford, matched steps over the weekend. Fischer placed at Evanston (WY), Dillion (MT), Walla Walla, Filer (ID) and Armstrong to earn $4,940. Meanwhile, Telford earned six checks at Evanston, Ellensburg, Walla Walla, Filer, Blackfoot and Armstrong, picking up $5,098.
As the dust settled on the weekend, Fischer found her position dropped one spot to 15th and bearing a new record mark for earnings to make the Wrangler NFR. Two years ago, Moore set the bar when she won $79,068 to qualify 15th to the Wrangler NFR. With four weekends of rodeo to go, Fischer has earned $79,148.
Telford held tight in 16th, now trailing the final spot by about $700.
Collier dropped to 17th despite picking up $1,782 at Filer. More devastating for Collier, she suffered a horrible loss over the weekend when her great horse Eagle was catastrophically injured during her run in Walla Walla. Eagle, who was registered Sierra Hall of Fame, carried Kassidy Dennison to the Wrangler NFR in 2014 and was purchased by the Collier family last year. Collier rode Eagle in her first Wrangler NFR last December. Prayers to both the Dennisons and Colliers on the loss of this great equine athlete.
The biggest purse left on the pro rodeo schedule is the Justin Finale to be held in Puyallup, Washington September 6-9, 2018. The total purse is expected to be over $70,000 in each event and will feature cowgirls from the top of the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour standings. The event is tournament style with the 24 ladies each getting two runs. The top eight on the two run average will advance to Sunday’s Semi-Finals. The final day is two runs: the field of eight will run and the top four will advance to the Final round for another sudden death run for the championship.
Go rounds will pay about $3,800 for first with the average paying $5,700. The Semi-Final round pays $4,500 to the winner and the big money is in the final go where the fast time earns $7,500 with second getting $5,000.
The big race in Puyallup is about the bubble cowgirls with every cowgirl from 12th ranked Carley Richardson to 21st rated Jana Bean on the contestant roster. Surprisingly, only four of the top ten in the WPRA standings will be competing: Miller, Pozzi Tonozzi, Jessica Routier and Ivy Conrado.
Two of the top three rookies this season, Leia Pluemmer and Jimmie Smith will also compete in Puyallup. Just under $4,000 separates the two ladies with KL Spratt ranked second. Spratt will not be in Puyallup.
Of the ladies battling for the final spots into the Wrangler NFR, Moore has had the most success in recent years in Puyallup, winning the rodeo a year ago while pocketing $4,284. With the huge bump in purse this year, that total would likely be nearly tripled on the same placings.
Bean was second last year while Fish won a go round en route to a good payday.
The other two big purses this weekend are in Fort Madison (IA) and Lewiston (ID). Bangart holds the early lead in Lewiston, winning the rodeo after the slack on Tuesday with three performances to go.
On Monday, the Pendleton Round-Up kicks off with slack. The biggest remaining purse on the 2018 regular season schedule, Pendleton offers $37,500 in committee purse and has 100 entries. Bangart could have the edge here as well; the Northwest cowgirl has averaged $5,200 in earnings a year in Pendleton during the last three years running the famous Green Mile, the nickname given to Pendleton’s huge course run on a football field. Last year’s champion, Kimmie Wall used her $11,000-plus payday to launch her to a second Wrangler NFR.
1. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, 17.35 seconds, $2,332
2. Rainy Pratt, Chapo (grade), 17.38, $1,999
3. Christine Laughlin, Guys Six Pack to Go, 17.45, $1,666;
4. Teri Bangart, RCA Three Bugs Honor, 17.47, $1,444
5. Jana Bean, Dashing Klee, 17.48, $1,111
6. (tie) Jessi Fish and Amanda Lewis Waller, 17.52, $777 each
7. Tracy Nowlin, DJG Madison, 17.54, $444
8. (tie) Jimmie Smith, Lena on the Rocks, Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, and Andrea Busby, 17.57, $185 each
1. Bangart, 16.97 seconds, $2,332
2. Nowlin, 17.12, $1,999
3. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Yeah Hes Firen, 17.23, $1,666
4. Smith, 17.25, $1,444
5. Miller, 17.28, $1,111
6. Katelyn Scott, KN Born this Way, 17.39, $888
7. Nikki Hansen, Sky High Guy, 17.40, $666
8. Jennifer Barrett, Beduinos Prospector, 17.45, $444
9. Jessie Telford, 17.48, $333
10. (tie) Colleen Kingsbury, Brittney Barnett and Pratt, 17.52, $74 each.
1. Pozzi Tonozzi, 17.04 seconds, $1,728
2. Nowlin, 17.13, $1,296
3. (tie) Miller and Laughlin, 17.21, $648 each.
1. Nowlin, 51.79 seconds on three head, $3,498
2. Miller, 52.06, $2,999
3. Bangart and Smith, 52.07, $2,332 each
4. (tie) Laughlin and Pozzi Tonozzi, 52.20, $1,499 each
5. Scott, 52.35, $1,000
6. Conrado, 52.36, $666
7. Pratt, 52.63, $500
8. Bean, 52.76, $333.
Walla Walla, Washington
1. Tracy Nowlin, 17.00 seconds, $3,403
2. Lexi Burgess, Sporty Peppy Guz, 17.05, $2,722
3. Teri Bangart, 17.18, $2,212
4. Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 17.29, $1,701
5. Jessie Telford, Famous Cool Whip, 17.30, $1,361
6. Jimmie Smith, 17.31, $1,021
7. Nikki Hansen, 17.33, $851
8. Cheyenne Allan, 17.40, $766
9. (tie) Italy Sheehan, Woody Pine Cone, and Ivy Conrado, 17.41, $638 each
10. Joy McDaniel, 17.45, $510
11. Katelyn Scott, 17.49, $425
12. Cindy Woods, 17.54, $340
13. (tie) Jana Bean and Andrea Busby, Alive with Chaos, 17.55, $213 each
Courtesy of WPRA