Texas-It's official: 2013 is definitely the year of the rookie.
In a season that saw rookies claiming wins across the country,
making short rounds and winning big at the biggest rodeos
they could enter, and even qualifying to the Wrangler National
Finals Rodeo, the rookies were not showing any signs of intimidation
running against the best horses and riders in the nation inside
the ranks of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association.
But October is the beginning of finals
season in pro rodeo and usually the time that seasoned veterans
Take the All American ProRodeo Series
Finals, hosted by the Heart O' Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco.
A year ago, hometown cowgirl Mary Walker won the rodeo,
besting a field in the finals that included Wrangler NFR
cowgirls Fallon Taylor and Kaley Bass.
But 2013 is a different season entirely.
Nine cowgirls qualified for Saturday
night's Semi-Finals, advancement based on being amongst
the top three money winners in their pool of two rounds
of competition. Amongst the field once again were Walker,
Taylor and Bass along with 2012 All American finalist Kim
Schulze, who finished 16th in the WPRA world standings this
season. Top competitors Sammi Bessert, Gretchen Benbenek,
Annesa Self and Michele McLeod, who is headed to her first
Wrangler NFR ranked third in the standings, had also made
the cut for the final night.
One name that was new to the ranks was
Victoria Williams. Wiliams is a rookie, in fact, the second
best rookie of the 2013 season. The Mississippi cowgirl
won nearly $30,000 this year, finishing 36th in the WPRA
Showing no signs of rookie jitters,
Williams won the first round of Pool C aboard her great
horse, Three Jets Olena, and would have finished high in
round two if not for a downed barrel.
With the no-average format in Waco,
Williams advanced to the final night of the All American
ProRodeo Series Finals by virtue of the round win.
During the Semi-Finals, Schulze kicked
things off with a bang, posting a 16.12 second run. Bass
came close at 16.21 but Benbenek bested the Colorado cowgirl
with a 16.11.
After Taylor ran longer and Walker took
a barrel penalty, it was time for McLeod.
McLeod maxed her All American earnings
in pool competition, winning both rounds. Riding Kellies
Chick, a five year old mare who is exceeding all expectations
for McLeod and owners Jason Martin and Charlie Cole of High
Point Performance Horses, McLeod posted the rodeo's fastest
time on opening night at 15.90 seconds.
In the Semi-Finals, she nearly beat
her own mark, posting 15.93 seconds. After squeaking by
Annesa Self and Scrappy-Doo, who had also won both rounds
in pool competition, only the rookie remained.
Running last on the ground, Williams
posted a lightning fast time of 15.99 seconds, one of just
three sub-sixteen second runs during the entire rodeo. Unfortunately,
one of the others also came during the Semi-Finals and the
Kiln, Miss., cowgirl settled for second.
Benbenek also advanced to the final
round after clocking her best run of the rodeo. Benbenek
rides Shot of Firewater, aka Maverick. Schulze and Vegaspeed,
aka Speedy, qualified to their second consecutive finals
in Waco by stopping the clock at 16.12, rounding out the
field of four.
With time only to un-cinch for a bit
and catch their breath, the field of four returned about
half an hour later for the final run, again facing the sudden
death format. The fastest time of the final round would
be the champion.
Schulze came first and posted a respectable
16.22 second run, ironically, the same time she ran a year
ago in the finals.
Next came Benbenek. Just as she did
in the Semi-Finals, she slid past Schulze, taking the lead
at 16.13 seconds.
Williams was next and she had the seven
year old daughter of PESI stallion Blazin Jetolena she calls
Jets roaring through the pattern inside the Extraco Events
Center. With a malfunction in the scoreboard, it took a
moment to get the time but once they did, the crowd went
wild. She took the lead at 16.07 seconds.
McLeod finished the rodeo and everyone
knew that she had not been beaten at this event in any round.
With Skye hunting the turns, McLeod just tipped the final
can, coasting home at 16.10 plus the five second penalty
for the downed barrel.
And so the rookie won again. Williams,
who had already claimed wins at Nashville, Ga.; Jacksonville,
Texas, and Ocala and Kenansville, Fla., this season, won
the biggest rodeo of her young professional career.
"This is definitely my biggest
win by far," laughed the cowgirl who rodeoed all season
with her mom, Donna Berdine, along as her hauling partner.
"It was so exciting just to qualify."
"I was freaking out," she
laughs about her first foray into the world of tournament
style rodeo with two back-to-back runs. "She sometimes
runs by the first barrel bad, that's the one issue we have.
On the first run she was so calm; she just walked up the
side alley and turned easy. But on the second, she was super
hyper and wanted to run from the side alley. I thought we
might end up in the crowd!"
"I was checking her down a lot
[into the first turn] and she had to step off to keep from
hitting it," she added. "I couldn't believe how
fast it was."
Williams banked $12,079, which doesn't
count for official world standings but will be added to
her total for qualification purposes to the 2014 winter
"We are so ready to hit the road,"
Williams said, noting that she took a year off from college
this year to rodeo and will go again in 2014. "We are
going back to Canada and will try to make the CFR too."
Benbenek finished second, earning a
total of $8,284.
Final money won totals: Williams
($12,079); Benbenek ($8,284); McLeod ($7,957); Self ($5,557);
Schulze ($3,031); Bessert and Bass ($3,473); Taylor and
Jessi Eagleberger ($2,779); Walker ($2,084); Kelley Carrington
($1,737); Emily Miller, Emily Efurd, and Brittany Pozzi
($1,389); and Christy Loflin, C.J. Vondette, Natalie Bland
and Dolli Lautaret ($695).
Bessert bests the field in Pool C at
Waco, Texas--Sammi Bessert is enjoying the ride . .
. now. But when she first started out with her super tough
gelding, Terrible Tommy Twist, the Colorado cowgirl could
not foresee the big professional rodeo wins that would come
her way on his back.
Bessert bought the son of Dash ta Fame
out of the Hempen/Bugs Alive in 75 mare Dance of Royalty
as a three year old just a week after his last race on the
track. For the first few years of their partnership, Tommy
lived up to his registered name.
"We had quite a couple of years
together, trying not to kill each other," Bessert says
of the early days of training Tommy. "He was a challenge,
kinda hard to make but we just fought through it and I learned
"In the end, I think he taught
me more than I taught him but it's just been so fun,"
adds Bessert, who together with Tommy has finished inside
the top 25 for the past four years, including a ranking
of 21st in the final 2013 WPRA world standings.
Standing 15.3h, Tommy has excelled both
indoors and out over the years, winning in such diverse
rodeo conditions as Rapid City, a tiny 12 second run, and
the big outdoor arena in Reno, Nev.
"He's so unique that way and that's
one of the reasons that I feel so blessed by him,"
Bessert says of the now 11 year old gelding. "I think
he just loves running the barrels. That makes it really,
really fun for us.
"You never estimate a horse's ability
based on their size . . . the size of their body anyway.
I think it has more to do with the size of their heart."
Bessert qualified for her first trip
to the All American ProRodeo Series Finals in 2013 and drew
up in the final pool of preliminary contestants. Only the
top 30 contestants who have competed at 30 All American
rodeos qualify for the finals hosted by the Heart of Texas
Fair and Rodeo in Waco.
Once in Waco, the contestants are divided
into three pools of 10 competitors and given two runs. The
three highest money winners from the two rounds qualify
to the Semi-Finals to be held Saturday, October 12. The
nine semi-finalists compete in another round with the four
fastest advancing to the final, sudden death round immediately
following the semi-finals.
Bessert struck early in the first round
Thursday night, stopping the clock at 16.35 seconds to take
third. She and Tommy got even faster on Friday night, winning
second with her 16.18 second effort.
"It was his kind of pen so I was
just excited about getting to run him here," Bessert
said. "This is a great event; it was a lot of fun."
Bessert earned $3,473, the best of any
barrel racer in Pool C to punch her ticket to the Semi-Finals.
Joining Bessert in the Semi-Finals are
the two Pool C round winners, rookie Victoria Williams and
Fallon Taylor. Williams topped round one aboard Three Jets
Olena, aka Jets, with a 16.03 seconds. Taylor won round
two with Babyflo, Flos Heiress, the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the
Year for 2013. Each earned $2,779.
Other money winners in Pool C were Jessi
Eagleberger ($2,779), Brittany Pozzi ($1,389) and C.J. Vondette
Semi-Finalists for Saturday night:
Kim Schulze (B)
Sammi Bessert (C)
Kaley Bass (A)
Gretchen Benbenek (A)
Fallon Taylor (C)
Mary Walker (B)
Michele McLeod (A)
Annesa Self (B)
Victoria Williams (C)
Final round action will be broadcast
live on ProRodeoLive.com at 7 p.m. Central time.
Self and Scrappy-Doo dominates Pool B
at All American Finals
Texas-No doubt there is no ride inside Annesa Self's family's
amusement park that the cowgirl enjoys riding as much as Scrappy-Doo.
That's because the nine year old gelding registered as Tall
Glass of Fame has carried Self back into the winner's circle
in 2013 at rodeo after rodeo.
Scrappy-Doo took Self on another fun
ride during the second pool at the 2013 All American ProRodeo
Series Finals. Self entered the Finals ranked second in
the All American standings; points are earned at rodeos
with less than $30,000 total purse during the season with
the top 30 contestants, who have competed in at least 30
rodeos, advancing to the finals held at the Heart of Texas
Fair and Rodeo in Waco.
With one pool of ten contestants in
the books, Pool B got underway on Tuesday, October 8 with
a stacked field that included reigning WPRA World Champion,
and reigning All American Finals Champion, Mary Walker and
2013 WNFR cowgirls Christy Loflin and Jane Melby.
Running last on the first night, Self
was staring down a smoking 16.16 second run by Walker and
the 2012 AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year Perculatin, aka Latte.
Blasting down the lane inside the Extraco
Event Center, Self and the son of Dash ta Fame out of Crystal
Dish by the Thoroughbred Raise Your Glass raised the roof
when the clock stopped at 16.05 seconds.
Laughing and saying that Scrappy was
taking "his Mom for a ride," Self was predictably
humble about her role as jockey. The truth is she is one
of the top trainers in the game and has been a force in
pro rodeo since she was just a teenager. Always riding a
great horse, Self chooses to stay closer to home these days,
enjoying time with her husband Tom, a former WNFR calf roper,
and son T.J.
In fact, Self rodeoed around her son's
baseball games all year and still finished out the season
19th in the WPRA World standings, just about $10,000 away
from a berth at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo where
Self last competed in 2008.
Coming back during the second round
of Pool B, Self had top of the ground. Staying remarkably
consistent, she posted a 16.04 second run to grab the lead.
She would never relinquish it.
Just as Michele McCleod did in Pool
A, Self maxed out her possible earnings, collecting $5,557.
Advancement to the Semi-Finals on Saturday,
October 12 is based on total earnings from the two go rounds
of pool competition; times never carry forward throughout
the finals. Three competitors advance from each pool for
a total of nine into the final night. Once there, contestants
make one run to determine the fastest four who will then
compete in the sudden death Championship Round.
Kim Schulze was one of three cowgirls
to place in both rounds. Riding Vegaspeed, she split fourth
in the first go with Southeastern Circuit stand-out Kelley
Carrington with matching 16.37 runs. In round two, she kicked
into another gear, taking second behind Self with a 16.20.
She earned $2,431 to advance to the Semi-Finals.
Carrington meanwhile won third in the
second go with her 16.23. Unfortunately, her earnings of
$1,737 fell short of Walker's $2,084 earned for winning
second in the opening round.
With Walker returning to the Semi-Finals,
the reigning Champ has a shot to defend her title from a
year ago at the rodeo she considers her hometown rodeo.
Other competitors earning money in Pool
B are Emily Miller ($1,389) and Christy Loflin ($695).
All American ProRodeo Finals
Waco, Texas, Oct. 6-12
First round: Group A: 1. Michele McLeod, 15.90 seconds,
$2,779; 2. Kaley Bass, 16.11, $2,084; 3. Tammy Fischer,
16.13, $1,389; 4. Emily Efurd, 16.28, $695. Second round:
Group A: 1. Michele McLeod, 16.07 seconds, $2,779; 2. Gretchen
Benbenek, 16.18, $2,084; 3. Kaley Bass, 16.50, $1,389; 4.
Dolli Lautaret, 16.58, $695. First round: Group B: 1. Annesa
Self, 16.05 seconds, $2,779; 2. Mary Walker, 16.16, $2,084;
3. Emily Miller, 16.22, $1,389; 4. (tie) Kim Schulze and
Kelley Carrington, 16.37, $347 each. Second round: Group
B: 1. Annesa Self, 16.04 seconds, $2,779; 2. Kim Schulze,
16.20, $2,084; 3. Kelley Carrington, 16.23, $1,389; 4. Christy
Loflin, 16.50, $695.
McLeod sweeps Pool A at All American
ProRodeo Series Finals 10/9/13
Waco, Texas-It's hard to imagine that Michele McLeod could
be any more excited about her 2013 rodeo season than she already
was, but after the past two weeks, the Texas cowgirl can barely
Just over a week after she won the Justin
Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb., to close out her 2013
regular season, McLeod swept both opening rounds of the
All American ProRodeo Series Finals in Waco, Texas during
the first pool of competition.
"I'm excited to be here,"
McLeod said after taking the second round on Monday night,
October 7 with her run of 16.07 seconds. The previous night
she wowed the crowd with a 15.90 inside the Extraco Event
Center; to put the run in perspective, there were just three
fifteen second runs during the entire 2012 event.
Hosted by the Heart O' Texas Fair, the
All American ProRodeo Series Finals is the culmination of
the All American Series. All rodeos with less than $30,000
in total added purse are included in the series and contestants
earn points for competing and winning at those rodeos. At
the end of the year, the top 30 in each event who have competed
in at least 30 rodeos advance to the Finals.
Once in Waco, contestants are grouped
into three pools of 10 competitors. Each pool makes a pair
of runs. At the conclusion of the second round, the top
three money winners from the two rounds (no averages are
kept) advance to the Semi-Finals on Saturday night, October
12. Once there, all previous times are erased and the nine
semi-finalists make another run; the four fastest advance
to the sudden death finals later that same performance.
Making the wins even sweeter for McLeod
is that she won aboard Kellies Chick, aka Skye, the five
year old mare that also carried her to the win in Omaha.
Both Skye and Slick by Design, the stallion that carried
McLeod to the bulk of her earnings this season, are owned
by High Point Performance Horses, owned by Charlie Cole
and Jason Martin.
"She's amazing us. We can't believe
she's stepping up to the plate like this and we're excited
to have her," McLeod said of Skye, the daughter of
Darkelly out of The Skye Chick.
"She tripped a little bit behind
the first, it felt like, but she let me handle her and bring
her right back. I'm super proud of her," she said of
her second run. "The second she turned so tight I think
I was up over the front of the saddle and the third barrel
she worked great so I'll take it."
McLeod and High Point Performance Horses
are thrilled looking ahead to the Wrangler National Finals
Rodeo in December with two horses competing at the highest
"I'm actually feeling a lot more
comfortable now knowing that I have two that can go there
because that's a long 10 days," McLeod said. "We
just thought we'd take her to Omaha so I'd have a little
bit of confidence on her in case I had to get on her [in
Vegas] but now it's like, oh my gosh, she's really stepping
up to the plate.
"I'm very blessed and very lucky
to have two."
Making her home in Whitesboro, Texas, McLeod is enjoying
the chance to be home in her own bed at night after a long
season of rodeo and to have family in the stands cheering
her on. She now takes a few days off before hitting rodeos
in Bellville and Seguin before returning to Waco on Saturday.
McLeod earned the maximum possible in
pool competition with $5,557. Running right behind her is
fellow Wrangler NFR qualifier Kaley Bass. Bass' 16.11 won
second on opening night while a 16.50 took third in round
two. Riding Wonders Cowboy Dan, Bass earned $3,473. The
Florida cowgirl has been a top four finalist at the All
American ProRodeo Series Finals the last two seasons and
has given herself a chance to be there for a third time.
Rounding out the semi-finalists for
Pool A is Prairie Circuit cowgirl Gretchen Benbenek. After
landing just outside the money in the first round, Benbenek
bounced back with a 16.18 to take second in round two aboard
Shot of Firewater, the 10-year old gelding she calls Maverick.
She earned $2,084.
Other money winners in Pool A were Emily
Efurd ($1,389) and Natalie Bland and Dolli Lautaret ($695