By Jolee Jordan
Pendleton, Oregon — The small Eastern Oregon community of Pendleton is a sleepy little town, boasting just about 16,000 residents for 51 weeks of the year. But for one week, the second week of September, the town swells to more than five times its normal size as folks from around the globe come to town for Round-Up.
Dubbed the “Epic Drama of the West,” the Pendleton Round-Up is celebrating 108 years of rodeo action in 2018. Along with outstanding rodeo excitement—the event has been named Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year in the PRCA five times including the last three consecutively.
Though women were an integral part of the Round-Up in its early days often competing against men in roping events and having their own Ladies Bronc Busting contests, the death of famous cowgirl Bonnie McCarroll in the latter event in the late 1920’s led to an extreme pull back across the sport of rodeo for women. The void in competitive opportunities left from that move helped spur the creation of the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) in 1948.
The GRA is now known as the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2018. While barrel racing was tried on the grass in 1960, it was deemed much too dangerous. The idea to try again came in 2000 when the ladies made a return to Pendleton’s famous grass arena after the Round-Up and WPRA Board devised a way to keep the cowgirls safe while running barrels.
The solution? Put the barrels on the dirt race track that surrounds the infield of grass and stretch out the run in between to cover the grass. The result is a pattern with corners more than 280 feet apart and pro rodeo’s most unique and challenging barrel races. Instead of times in the 17 second range, as is normal on a WPRA standard course, times in Pendleton range into the half second range at 28-29 seconds.
Cowgirls have begun to call it, “the Green Mile.”
The Round-Up is one of the most lucrative events on pro rodeo’s schedule with $37,500 in added committee purse and more than 100 ladies signed up to compete at the ultimate “bucket list” rodeo.
It all began on Monday with slack and nearby local cowgirl Kacey Gartner taking the lead at 28.93 seconds on her mare Mercedes. The Walla Walla cowgirl was left to sweat out the 36 challenges to compete in the three Round-Up perfs from Wednesday through Friday.
All barrel racers compete once on the long course and the top 12 times punch their tickets to the short round on Saturday where they’ll compete for a ton of prize money and a slew of great prizes which include the famous Severe trophy saddles and Pendleton buckles.
On the opening day of the Round-Up’s performances, it was former Columbia River Circuit champion Brenda Mays who led the day. Despite a wide exit from the first barrel, Mays and her horse Barney still lit the afterburners, turning in the day’s best time at 29.30 seconds.
The only other cowgirl to break into the top 12 on Wednesday was former Great Lakes Circuit champ, Kristine Knauf. Knauf stopped the clock at 29.54 seconds.
While temps this Round-Up have been quite cool, the competition turned white hot on Thursday’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink perf.
Two cowgirls who’ve been in the short round here before fared best: Italy Sheehan and Mindy Goemmer ran within four one-hundredths of a second of each other and just over a tenth behind Gartner to slot into the second and third place positions.
Sheehan was seventh here in 2017 while Goemmer competed in the finals back in 2016. Sheehan’s horse Puma and Goemmer’s mare Fancy showed that experience can be the difference on the grass.
“I love this place and so does my horse,” noted Sheehan on social media after the run.
Goemmer was even more succinct: “OH WHAT FUN IT IS!”
Goemmer enjoyed the day competing alongside her daughter, Riata, who just purchased her WPRA permit in the last month. Another mom riding with her daughter, Cindy Woods, also gave the moms something to cheer for when she stopped the clock on her lanky gelding Legs in 29.29 seconds to move to sixth in the standings. Her daughter Kristin Brashears also ran the Green Mile on Thursday on a young horse.
It was a good day for Columbia River Circuit cowgirls. Sheehan, who hails from Shoshone, Idaho, rodeos in the Northwest and came here ranked fifth in the circuit while Lexi Burgess, who is ranked 3rd, also gave herself a shot at the finals with a time of 29.50 seconds. She is currently ninth with just one more performance to contest.
The Round-Up’s long go concludes on Friday afternoon and no doubt all eyes will be on Jessie Telford. Telford is ranked 16th in the WPRA World standings and in a dog fight with several other cowgirls to be among the top 15 when October 1 rolls around and the regular season is done. Though she grew up in central Oregon on a cattle ranch and has been to Round-Up many times to watch her father compete in the steer roping, it will be Telford’s first trip around the Green Mile.
Other competitors to watch on the final day are Cheyenne Allan and Megan McLeod-Sprague. Allan is currently second in the Columbia River Circuit and has done well here before aboard her mare Molly. In fact, she was ninth last year.
McLeod-Sprague finished third here in 2005 after winning a go round and was back in the finals again the next year. She’s running a new stick in 2018.
For just the second time in history, the Pendleton Round-Up included breakaway roping sanctioned by the WPRA. After a successful trial run in 2017, the ladies are back with 24 cowgirls vying for the title.
The competitors earned their spot in Pendleton via the Columbia River Circuit standings and competition for those spots has been fierce all summer.
The ladies rope under the same conditions as the cowboys of the PRCA, using the famous long score. Calves are chased from the back pens into a long alleyway and the cowgirls must negotiate the start down a sixty foot—downhill—stretch to the barrier.
The best thus far is cowgirl Jordan Minor, a member of the famous Crossley family of riders and ropers, who married into the equally famous Minor family of ropers. A new mom, Minor showed the crowd what breakaway roping is all about on Thursday with her currently leading time of 2.4 seconds.
Kiley Duby is second with a time of 2.9 while Janey Reeves’ 3.0 is third.
Eight more cowgirls remain to determine the 2018 Round-Up Breakaway Champ and the winner will be decided on Friday.
Results (In Progress)
1. Kacey Gartner, Rebel Look, 28.93
2. Italy Sheehan, Woody Pine Cone, 29.05
3. Mindy Goemmer, Cuchara Fancy N Fast, 29.09
4. Teri Bangart, Streaking Honor Kid, 29.11
5. Katelyn Scott, KN Born This Way, 29.25
6. Cindy Woods, Firecracker Jones, 29.29
7. Brenda Mays, Roze of Sharon, 29.30
8. Hayle Gibson, BB Moonshine Chick, 29.41
9. Lexi Burgess, Sporty Peppy Guz, 29.50
10. Kelsey Monahan, Ronni Cash, 29.54
11. Kristine Knauf, French Bogie on Deck, 29.54
12. Jessi Fish, Guys Night in Vegas, 29.56
1. Jordan Minor, 2.4 seconds
2. Kiley Duby, 2.9
3. Janey Reeves, 3.0
4. Rylee Potter, 3.4
5. Hailey Jo Hall, 4.4
6. Jade Crossley, 12.3
Courtesy of WPRA