By Jolee Jordan
Denver, Colorado—Winter hasn’t been kind thus far in 2017 with lots of snow, rain and cold temperatures plaguing much of the country. Despite the dreary outlook of Mother Nature on the new year, rodeo competitors have been sunny in their enthusiasm to tackle another year of the big winter building rodeos.
No matter that the season actually begins on October 1, the start of the annual National Western Stock Show and Rodeo (NWSS) each January is the unofficial kick-off party for the new year and with a huge committee purse of $35,250, it’s not hard to understand how WPRA barrel racers see a fresh start possible with a trip to the pay window there.
Newlywed Cayla Small has been extremely busy this fall. She got married and competed alongside her new husband at their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in December. The pair hit two qualifiers for the unsanctioned The American rodeo in a two-day span in two different states as 2016 turned into 2017—they both made the cut in their respective events.
Small has also been in the midst of moving, planning to join her husband in their new home in Tennessee where Zac is attending his first year of vet school. Small took a little break from packing to haul to Colorado to kick off her second season as a professional; Zac even got to come while on break from classes.
For Small, her momentum from the final rounds in Vegas carried her to the lead of the opening round of in Denver after she rode her good horse Gator to a 15.38 second time during the first performance on Thursday evening, January 12.
Small paired her top time with a solid 15.75 second effort during the matinee performance on Friday to take the early lead in the average at 31.13 seconds. Though she would be moved during weekend action, she remains well positioned to make a trip back for the finals.
One hundred twenty cowgirls will take their shot at the NWSS title with each lady getting two rounds of competition. Runs are held in back-to-back performances so there will be 10 sets to compete before the field is set for the short go round on Sunday, January 22. Only the fastest 12 in the average on two runs will advance.
Rainy Pratt hails from Stephenville, Texas by way of Ellensburg, Wash., and she took top honors in performance two, posting a 15.51 second run. Pratt rides Sunday, a nine year old gelding who is registered Cat Dash Silver.
Following the third performance on Friday night, fans were experiencing de ja vue. That’s because West Texas barrel racer Dena Kirkpatrick and her tough mare Kate raced to the top of the leaderboard, tying Small’s 15.38 second run. Kirkpatrick and Kate shared the first go round win a year ago as well.
The feeling of “we’ve been here before” continued on Saturday morning when 2016 NWSS second go winner Kali Parker took the lead with the fastest run of the first four performances. Riding her outstanding mare Tuneful, Parker stopped the clock at 15.34 seconds to hold the top spot in the second round. When paired with her 15.36 in round one, she also streaked to the average lead at 30.80 seconds on a pair of runs.
Cotulla, Texas cowgirl Hailey Kinsel competed alongside Kirkpatrick and Parker and did her part to punch a ticket to the Finals with super consistent runs of 15.41 and 15.46. Her two-run total of 30.87 on her six year old mare Sister is right on Parker’s heels.
With two more performances on Saturday, action was lively at the National Western. Home-state cowgirl Ronnie Will has made many trips to the National Western and she didn’t disappoint the fans on Saturday. Riding the ten year old mare she calls Ameerah, Will posted a pair of 15.6 second runs to land in the money so far in both rounds. Her average time of 31.24 is fifth so far and looking very solid for a return trip next weekend.
Sunday belonged to Lipan, Texas cowgirl Sidney Forrest and her outstanding young gelding Sterling. Just five years old, Sterling handled the big lights of one of pro rodeo’s biggest rodeos like a season veteran, posting the fastest time in both performances. Her runs of 15.49 and 15.57 landed her in the money so far in both go rounds and third in the average with 31.06 seconds.
Action continues this week in Denver with WPRA stars like many time Canadian Champ and WNFR qualifier Deb Guelly, current WPRA world leader Tiany Schuster, past WNFR qualifiers Katie Garthwaite, Trula Churchill, Cassidy Kruse, Jana Bean, Tammy Fischer, Sarah Rose McDonald, new WNFR average record holder Lisa Lockhart and past record holder Jill Moody as well as the cowgirl who tied the WNFR go round record last December, Amberleigh Moore.
Colorado fans will be treated to the best their state can offer in past WNFR qualifiers Christine Laughlin (Pueblo), Shali Lord (Lamar), WPRA Reserve World Champ Kelly Yates (Pueblo) and Ivy Conrado, the hometown favorite from just up the road in Hudson.
1. Cayla Small, Shameon U, 15.38
Dena Kirkpatrick, Kates Always First, 15.38
3. Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 15.41
4. Kali Parker, Tuneful, 15.46
5. Sidney Forrest, So Epic, 15.49
6. Megan Lewis, Smart Fame, 15.57
7. Ronnie Will, Super Devotion, 15.61
8. Alexa Lake, Sure Down Dash, 15.66
9. Kim Schulze, Holy Moly Im Famous, 15.70
10. Emily Miller, Namgis D 35, 15.72
1. Parker, 15.34
2. Kinsel, 15.46
3. Rainy Pratt, Cat Dash Silver, 15.51
4. Michele McLeod, Apt to Be Special, 15.56
5. Forrest, 15.57
6. Meghan Johnson, Flyin Frenchman, 15.58
7. (tie) Fallon Taylor, Flos Heiress/Morgan Breaux, SS Streakers R Us/Schulze, 15.59
10. Megan McLeod-Sprague, 15.62
1. Kali Parker, 30.80
2. Hailey Kinsel, 30.87
3. Sidney Forrest, 31.06
4. Cayla Small, 31.13
5. Ronnie Will, 31.24
6. Kim Schulze, 31.29
7. Fallon Taylor, 31.36
8. Morgan Breaux, 31.39
9. Michele McLeod, 31.40
10. Megan McLeod-Sprague, 31.42
11. Meghan Johnson, 31.50
12. Alexa Lake, 31.54
Courtesy of WPRA