By Jolee Jordan
Lubbock, Texas—Every March the nation’s college basketball fans are gripped with “March Madness,” the name given to the NCAA’s National Championship Tournament.
In 2019, much of the excitement has been centered in the West Texas town of Lubbock, home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. It’s been “Guns Up” for the Raiders and their fans as the number three seed rocked into the Final Four of the tournament on April 6 eventually losing the National Championship Game in overtime to Virginia on April 8.
While their hearts were in Minneapolis with their Raiders, citizens of Lubbock also turned out for the 77th Annual ABC Pro Rodeo, held once again in the Lubbock Municipal Coliseum. The Coliseum in on the Texas Tech campus and was the Red Raiders’ home stadium until 1999.
First held in 1943 as a fundraiser for the local boys’ club, the ABC Rodeo is named after its producing committee, the Lubbock Downtown Chapter of the American Business Clubs. Throughout its history, the event has raised better than $2 million for the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Lubbock.
This season brings the end of an era for the ABC Rodeo and the community of Lubbock. Much as the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo said goodbye to its longtime home, Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, back in January, the ABC Rodeo is bidding farewell to the Coliseum with the close of the 2019 rodeo.
The ABC Rodeo was the first event ever held in Lubbock Municipal Coliseum when its doors opened back in 1956; the 2019 rodeo will be the last event held here. But unlike Will Rogers, which will continue to host other events just not the Fort Worth Rodeo, Lubbock’s Coliseum will soon face the wrecking ball.
The producers of the ABC Rodeo are still unsure about their rodeo’s home in 2020 but vow that there will be a 78th annual rodeo come April.
“The end of an era! Since 1956 we have been producing the ABC ProRodeo in Lubbock in this great coliseum,” the stock contractor firm for the rodeo, Beutler & Sons Rodeo Company posted on Facebook. “Last night was the last performance in this great arena. Next year’s plans are still being worked on and we’ll be in a new arena in 2021!”
Dublin, Texas cowgirl Billie Ann Harmon earned the final WPRA barrel racing championship inside the Coliseum. It was a bit of redemption for Harmon, who tipped a barrel at the rodeo in 2018 to finish very near the top of the standings.
“I tipped the third to be second or third,” she remembers.
Harmon ran in the Friday night performance. Although the rodeo is held indoors, the competitors warm up for competition outside and a thunderstorm blew overhead while the barrel racers prepped for their runs.
“It was storming while we were warming up,” says Harmon. “I was drenched by the time we ran!”
Harmon has a pair of outstanding rodeo mounts. She earned a berth into the short go at the Tucson Rodeo back in February aboard her gelding Moon but for the building run in Lubbock, she opted for the mare Peaches.
Registered under the name Reign Girl with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), Peaches was raised by the late Sonny Loftin. Loftin sent the mare to Harmon as a two-year old and she became the aspiring trainer’s first futurity mount. When Loftin decided to get out of the game, he sold the then-five year old mare to Harmon.
Back in Lubbock, Harmon was expecting good things after the stormy weather.
“She seems to always like the rain,” she says of the nine year old mare. “She just seems to turn it up when she gets rained on.”
The gritty mare had taken a nasty spill at the rodeo in Tyler, Texas just two weeks prior to Lubbock; her run was just the second since the fall, so Harmon was a bit unsure what to expect.
Peaches laid down a beautiful run to steal the lead from Colorado cowgirl Shali Lord, who’s 14.04 had led since the slack. Harmon rocked in under the fourteen seconds barrier, landing at 13.98 seconds for the win.
The barrel race was wicked tough—a mere .22 seconds separated Harmon from the 10th hole for the money. Lord won second to stay inside the top ten of the WPRA World standings.
“She tries one hundred and ten percent every time,” says Harmon of Peaches, who is sponsored by Horse Logic Pro and Equine Natural Care. “She just loves her job.”
The win was worth $2,031 and is a big confidence booster as Harmon and her husband, Cody, a PRCA steer wrestler, prepared for a month long run to California for the lucrative spring rodeos in the West.
Unlike many of her competitors, Harmon did not grow up in a Western lifestyle. In fact, her parents own a seafood company in the tourist town of Destin, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. It wasn’t until the family bought a game ranch in Harper, Texas, that the young girl got a taste for rodeo and barrel racing.
“We came out here when I was about eight years old and my parents took me to a rodeo,” she laughs. “They had pony rides and I just loved it!”
“My parents bought me a pony out of that pony ride string and I went on from that,” she explains. “They supported me one hundred percent and made sure I had knowledgeable people to learn from when I got started.”
One of those mentors was many-time Southeastern Circuit champ—and fellow Floridian—Dallas Dewees.
“She’s the one who taught me everything about barrel racing; I have to give a lot of thanks to her.”
Harmon spent winters in Florida and summers in Texas until the family sold the game ranch when she was a teenager. But she continued to ride and eventually made Dublin her home.
“I got into reining first and then later into barrel racing and rodeo and then finally into training.”
“Now, that’s what I do,” she says. Harmon owns and operates Limitless Performance Horses, LLC, breeding, raising and training; she keeps about 15 to 20 head in training at any one time, at a ratio of about 10 to 12 of her own along with some outside horses for clients as well.
Harmon says she dabbles in the futurity world.
“I take my time with my training,” she admits. “It takes me a little longer to get them to that competitive edge, I guess is how I’d put it.”
“I’m a better derby jockey!” she jokes. While futurity competitions are for horses in their first year, derbies are offered for more seasoned horses, those competing in their second and third years.
The new year has been a busy one for Harmon.
“I’ve been trying to juggle rodeo, training and all the breeding obligations right now,” she notes. “My husband is a big part of it.”
Harmon also has help in Laramie Zant and Cassidy Thomas, who’ll be holding down the fort while the Harmons take their rodeo hiatus in April. Most of her client horses have gone home for a rest.
“It’s a big deal getting ready to be gone for a month—I’ve been packing for a week!” she laughs. “It’s not really so much packing for us on the road but more just lining everything out for home while we’re gone, making sure all the instructions are right for Cassidy and Laramie on who gets what for feed and so on.”
Despite the big, looming rodeo trip, Harmon’s rodeo goals for 2019 are pretty simple.
“We’ll just take it rodeo by rodeo,” she says. “Just hope to keep the horses healthy, sound and working.”
For more information on the ABC Pro Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.abcrodeo.com.
- Billie Ann Harmon, Reign Girl, 13.98, $2,031
- Shali Lord, Freckles ta Fame, 14.04, $1,741
- Kenna Kaminski, Kings Gold Girl, 14.05, $1,451
- Ilyssa Glass, Championofthehouse, 14.06, $1,257
- Stevi Hillman, Guys R A Mystery, 14.12, $967
- Chani Graves, 14.13, $774
- Suzanne Brooks, Fortune N Fame, 14.14, $580
- Kimberly Cockrell, 14.15, $387
- Sara Dobler-Withers, Shoeless Joe Biankus, 14.17, $290
- Keyla Polizello-Costa, Spotlight ta Fame, 14.20, $193