By Jolee Jordan
Kennewick, Washington — If the final month of the regular season is a pressure cooker, there is no doubt that the epicenter is in the Northwest. With the bulk of the rodeos, and most assuredly the ones with the biggest purses, running in Washington and Oregon from late August through mid-September, many of the season’s toughest competitors flock to the area.
Coupling the outsiders with the many tough cowgirls who reside within the Columbia River Circuit makes for competition that is out of this world.
The rodeo season has just over thirty days left to contest. As it is every year, the race is on with a number of ladies still in the running to finish inside the top 15 of the year-end money winners and earn their spot at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
One cowgirl who finds herself right square in the middle of that chase is two-time Wrangler NFR competitor Carley Richardson. Richardson made back-to-back appearances in Las Vegas, site of the Wrangler NFR each December, in 2015-2016. Despite a relatively low rodeo count, the Pampa, Texas cowgirl entered the final weekend of August ranked 13th with more than $73,000 won.
“It’s stressful,” laughs Richardson of being a bubble cowgirl. “When you have to win and you know you have to win, that can be the hardest thing. I try to just clear my mind and not think about that when I make my run but sometimes that’s easier said than done.”
The race within the race is the battle to be in the top 24 of the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour standings. With two stops left—Kennewick and Ellensburg—the pressure is mounting as the top 24 will earn a spot at the Tour Finale in Puyallup, Wash., which will feature a purse of more than $42,000. With that event scheduled just three weeks before the season ends, it’s a critical piece to the bubble cowgirls as they battle for the dwindling dollars left to be won.
Coming into Kennewick, Richardson sat 19th in the Tour standings. She had enjoyed success in Kennewick before 2018 but she was riding a different horse when she claimed the title in 2015.
“I had actually never ran Radio here but I won it on Boy one year,” notes Richardson, mentioning her tough backup horse Fashionable Boy. “I’ve never had Radio up here [in the Northwest] as I usually sent him home after Cheyenne. I just didn’t have that luxury this year.”
Radio, the fourteen year old gelding by Dodadash out of the Flit Bar Beggar mare Flit Priss, has been a major piece in Richardson’s success since she bought him in the Barrel Futurities of America sale as a two-year old. With a trip to Vegas on the line, Richardson is calling again on her veteran.
“He’s so good to ride in pressure situations because we’ve been together so long and I know him so well. He is so consistent.”
With plenty riding on her shoulders as the Horse Heaven Round-Up kicked off in Kennewick, Richardson posted the rodeo’s fastest time at 17.11 seconds to win the long round of competition over more than eighty other cowgirls.
“He worked good,” says Richardson. “The first run…that was the best he has worked in a long time. The ground was good and we were first out, which I think helped.”
The competition in the first round was fierce. Behind Richardson’s 17.11, just three tenths of a second separated second place from the 12th place cowgirl, the last to punch her ticket for Kennewick’s Championship Round, held Saturday, August 25.
Turns out, Richardson was not the only cowgirl with high hopes riding into the short go. Amberleigh Moore has watched her name drop down the standings after a brilliant winter while waiting for her great mare Paige to come back from injury. Ranked 12th, the Oregon lady finds herself in a bubble race for the second time in three years.
Other bubble riders in the finals on Saturday included Texan Kellie Collier, who made her first trip to the Wrangler NFR last season and is battling for a second straight qualification. She came to Kennewick ranked 17th but just about $10,000 away from Moore’s spot in 12th. Two other cowgirls who saddled up on Saturday night with an outside chance of getting to Vegas were 20th ranked Jessi Fish and 23rd ranked Jana Bean.
With short round positions randomly drawn, Richardson was placed seventh on the ground, right in the middle of the round. As she prepped for her run, she faced a short go leaderboard led by Columbia River cowgirl Lexi Burgess. Burgess snuck into the finals in 11th place but lit it up aboard her gelding Gus in the finals, running a smoking fast 17.26 seconds.
Bean and her gelding Chick had done their part, too. Bean ran a 17.40 to sit second in the round but to lead the average at 34.75 seconds.
With Radio ready to fly, Richardson took her shot around the pattern inside the big Lithia Ram Arena. As the clock came to rest at 17.45 seconds, Richardson slid into the number one position in the average.
“He just made another solid run. Even though it wasn’t quite as fast as the first run, it was just good,” notes Richardson.
Still having to sweat out five more cowgirls, Richardson watched as Jimmie Smith, who had won third in the opening round, had a little trouble with a barrel penalty. Then, she helped Jessi Fish, a cowgirl with a real chance to beat her for the title here, get her horse Showoff down the alleyway. When Fish stopped the clock at 17.52, Richardson was down to one left to beat.
The last lady out was the one who was closest to Richardson in the opening round. Italy Sheehan and her horse Puma ran a 17.20 in the long go. Unfortunately, the pair did not have the run they wanted in the finals, putting a 17.93 on the board.
With the running done, the figuring began and Richardson was soon named the champion. Her two-run total of 34.56 was an impressive two tenths ahead of the field.
“It’s a good rodeo. The committee does a good job, the ground is good and it’s packed every night,” she says of the Horse Heaven Round-Up. “It’s a fun one.”
She earned $7,741 along with a slew of Tour points to help her breathe easier about her chances of running in Puyallup.
“This win definitely came at a good time,” Richardson says, adding wryly, “I have a little breathing room. Maybe I can sleep at night now.”
In addition, her young horse Loretta, aka Hot N the Fire, snagged a share of third at Bremerton over the week to add another $1,811 to the year-end total. She’s now earned more than $82,000 for the year.
As the Reserve Champ, Bean kept her Wrangler NFR dreams alive, earning $5,778. With her fourth place finish in Kennewick, Jessi Fish also kept her name in the ones to watch category. Fish won rodeos in Tremonton (UT) and Bremerton (WA) over the weekend as well. She earned $9,515.
Both Fish and Bean are also well placed in the Tour standings to earn the invite to Puyallup and should move inside the top 20 after their good showings over the weekend.
With five weekends of rodeoing left, the mark to be inside the top 15 is already over $73,000 and it looks like it will take a new record earnings level to qualify to the Wrangler NFR this season. The previous mark was set by Moore in 2016 at $79,068.
As the bubble cowgirls gear up for rodeos like Ellensburg and Walla Walla this weekend, Richardson notes that she too is entered up.
“I’m entered quite a bit, much more than usual,” she says. She’ll have help from family to finish the sprint to the year-end on September 30. “Mom has been with me, she just flew home. I’ll be alone this weekend and then my sister is coming up to help.”
Richardson got engaged earlier this year to Chase Cervi and had tentatively set a date for early October.
“When I ended up on the bubble like this, I told him we’d have to move it back,” she notes with a laugh. “I don’t have time to think about wedding planning!”
Richardson admits she’d be happy just going to Vegas to get hitched and she’s hoping to be in the City of Lights in December. But don’t expect a drive through wedding with Elvis.
“I think he’s got so many friends and people who want to come,” she says. “And Mom wants the big wedding. It’s basically her wedding,” she jokes.
Kennewick Hosts WPRA Breakaway Roping
Like many of the Northwest rodeos, the Horse Heaven Round-Up also hosts a WPRA sanctioned breakaway roping. The winner in 2018 was Jordan Minor, who posted a rapid run of 2.2 seconds. Part of two great rodeo families in the Northwest, Minor is married to Wrangler NFR team roper Riley and is one of three sisters in the Crossley family. She was fourth in the Columbia River Circuit breakaway standings before Kennewick.
If there was an All Around for WPRA members in Kennewick, the title would go to Jimmie Smith. Smith was the only cowgirl to place in both ladies’ events. After picking up a share of second in the breakaway with a smoking run of 2.5 seconds, Smith boarded her mare Lena and won third in the long round. She earned $3,384 for her week at the Horse Heaven Round Up.
1. Carley Richardson, Doda Flit, 17.11, $3,500
2. Italy Sheehan, Woody Pine Cone, 17.20, $3,000
3. Jimmie Smith, Lena on the Rocks, 17.22, $2,500
4. Jessi Fish, Guys Night in Vegas, 17.29, $2,167
5. Jana Bean, Dashing Klee, 17.35, $1,667
6. Tanya Jones, Rockin A Lil , 17.43, $1,333
7. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, 17.45, $1,000
8. Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, 17.48, $667
9. Kellie Collier, Sierra Hall of Fame, 17.49, $500
10. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 17.50, $333
1. Lexi Burgess, Sporty PeppyBuz, 17.26, $1,482
2. Bean, 17.40, $1,111
3. Richardson, 17.45, $741
4. Fish, 17.52, $370
1. Richardson, 34.56, $3,500
2. Bean, 34.75, $3,000
3. Burgess, 34.80, $2,500
4. Fish, 34.81, $2,167
5. Jones, 34.97, $1,667
6. Pozzi Tonozzi, 34.98, $1,333
7. Collier, 35.07, $1,000
8. Sheehan, 35.13, $667
9. Moore, 35.27, $500
10. Lexie Goss, CE Silver Lining , 36.09, $333
Total Money Won
Pozzi Tonozzi, $2,333
Goss & Miller, $333
1. Jordan Minor, 2.2, $1,099
2. Jimmie Smith, 2.5, $884
3. Rylee Potter, 2.5, $884
4. Jennifer Casey, 2.6, $669
5. Jodi Goodrich, 2.8, $526
6. Tayler Bradley, 3.0, $311
7. Carly Twissleman, 3.0, $311
8. Shelli Scrivner, 3.1, $96
Courtesy of WPRA