By Jolee Jordan
CALDWELL, Idaho – Few rodeos on the professional rodeo calendar can boast of crowds who are not merely observers but are in fact part of the overall entertainment package of the event itself. Not only does the Caldwell Night Rodeo attract nearly 50,000 spectators a year, the crowd is known far and wide for being part of the show—divided into two groups known as the Rowdies and the Civies; the groups compete throughout each of the five performances to see who can be the loudest and most rambunctious.
Holding its 83rd annual rodeo in 2017, the Caldwell Night Rodeo was one of the first in the Northwest to take place under lights and is annually one of the most lucrative stops for cowboys and cowgirls on rodeo’s road. The money—and definitely the atmosphere—make it a favorite for many competitors.
Caldwell’s placement on the calendar, set dead in the middle of August just six weeks prior to the end of the regular season, makes it a high pressure event for many competitors as they seek to put as much cash as possible under their names in the WPRA World standings, hoping to land among the top 15 and earn a position at rodeo’s Super Bowl, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) held each December in Las Vegas.
While many cowgirls came down Caldwell’s alley riding with a heavy burden on their performance, one competitor who is simply enjoying the ride as the season winds down is Texas cowgirl Stevi Hillman.
Hillman has clinched her spot in Vegas, sitting second in the WPRA World standings since a good showing at the Calgary Stampede in mid-July. Riding a pair of superstar horses, Hillman has amassed more than $150,000 in earnings this year.
Stevi and Ty
Hillman picked grey for her 2017 Caldwell run, calling on five year old Sharpie, the horse that has been lighting fire to barrel racing fans’, and competitors’, imaginations since debuting in the rodeo world in February. Since that time, the phenomenal grey has set arena records and won big rodeos including the “Daddy of them All” in Cheyenne, Wyoming just a couple weeks ago.
The Caldwell Rodeo is two rounds of preliminary competition after which the field is cut down to 12 for the Saturday night Championship Round. The first round is held during slack on Tuesday morning with all 78 entered contestants competing; the second round kicks off during a second slack section that same morning and is finished during the four night performances.
Rookie Taci Bettis and her gelding Smash won the opening round with a blistering fast 17.05 but Hillman was right on her tail at 17.08 for second.
“Sharpie and I had a good run this morn to be 2nd in the 1st go at Caldwell ID,” Hillman posted to Facebook. “Such a cool dude. We run our 2nd one tonight!”
After Bettis set the bar high with another 17.00 during the beginning of the second round on Tuesday morning, Hillman took her shot in the opening performance that night.
Seeming to take flight on the wings of the crowd’s roaring approval, Hillman squeaked around three turns with the grey horse leaving each turn as if shot from a cannon. When the dynamic pair crossed the line, the leaderboard changed in a big way. A record breaking way.
According to Caldwell records, Mary Aller’s 17.01 was the previous arena record, set in the 1990’s when Caldwell was still run from a side gate rather than the center alley constructed prior to the 2016 rodeo.
But with 16.68 seconds on the clock, Hillman’s time left no doubt that, no matter the change to conditions, she and Sharpie had just run the fastest time in the Caldwell arena ever.
“I got goosebumps tonight,” Hillman told Susan Kanode of Cowgirl Imaging just moments after breaking the record. “I could feel how hard he was running and working. I’m sure he also responded to the crowd here. He was electric.”
Sharpie showed the run was no fluke in the finals on Saturday. Hillman and Sharpie broke through seventeen again, posting a 16.93 to win the final round and put a great big exclamation point on their average win.
After three rounds, Hillman claimed victory by almost a full second over Bettis, who continues to have a phenomenal rookie season. Bettis has earned $90,000 this year and moved to eighth in the WPRA World standings, well on her way to her first Wrangler NFR.
Hillman earned $8,332 during her romp through Caldwell. With six weeks of rodeo left in 2017, she has earned $166,131.
“Incredibly blessed! Sharpie and I are Caldwell ID champs!,” she posted to Facebook. “We ran the 2 fastest times ever ran here . . . one amazing athlete. Thank you Jesus!”
“What a fun week.”
While Hillman was having a blast, other cowgirls were busy chasing from Caldwell to rodeos across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana trying to burst the bubble into the top 15.
The week’s top performer was New Mexico cowgirl Sydni Blanchard. Blanchard earned $11,361 from August 14-20 including wins in Baker (MT), Canby (OR) and Douglas (WY). She moved from 16th in the WPRA World standings to 14th.
“Famous Heartbreaker wins at Douglas pro rodeo,” she posted on her Facebook page. “Every win is a blessing especially after going through some rough patches. After coming back from being sore in July, we were very excited after our win at Loveland and that night Heart got cast in the fence setting us back once again.
“She feels sound again and we will continue to doctor minor cuts and am so grateful for this mare to come back again with so much grit and heart. No matter what happens the rest of the year I know and trust in God’s plan! The people who have come together to make things possible are Heaven sent.”
The other big mover was four-time WPRA World Champ Sherry Cervi. Ranked outside the top 20 last week, the Arizona lady earned nearly $5,500 at rodeos in Baker and Canby to inch closer to what would be a record breaking 20th Wrangler NFR qualification. She is now 19th in the standings, roughly $5,724 behind Ivy Conrado, the current 15th ranked lady.
Conrado held her position in the hot seat for a second week after making the finals in Caldwell and earning just under $3,000 for the week. Her big check came from a second place finish in Gooding (ID) and she has earned just over $61,000 this season.
The bottom end of the top 15 continues to be tight with just over $9,000 separating 14th ranked Blanchard from Tammy Fischer, who is ranked 21st. This group includes Blanchard, Conrado, Kimmie Wall, Ari-Anna Flynn, Jackie Ganter, Cervi, Jana Bean and Fischer. Wall trails Conrado for the 15th position by just $2,715.
In addition to Blanchard and Cervi, Bean had a big week, winning Kalispell and placing at Baker and Moses Lake (WA) for $5,445. Flynn won Moses Lake to hold her spot at 17th while Ganter held onto 18th by placing in Caldwell, Pincher Creek (AB), Baker and Moses Lake.
Meanwhile, this pack of wolves gained ground on the ladies ranked 13th and above after that group had enjoyed some breathing room in the standings over the past month. Emily Miller (13th) is now just $2,000 ahead of Blanchard despite picking up a couple of checks in Kansas last week.
Six weeks remain in this horserace with plenty of dough still to be won. Amberleigh Moore holds the record for earnings in the 15th position at the end of the regular season with just over $79,000 won last year; the current 15th ranked cowgirl, Conrado, is just $18,000 from that mark.
The march to Wrangler NFR 2017 continues this week with more Northwest rodeos including Kennewick and Bremerton (WA) and Coeur d’Alene (ID) along with Miles City (MT), Pueblo (CO), Tremonton (UT), Rapid City (SD) and Oklahoma stops in Vinita and Altus.
Full Results for Caldwell Night Rodeo
- Taci Bettis, Bogie is a Smash, 17.05 seconds, $2,555
- Stevi Hillman, MCM Imasharpguy, 17.08, $1,743
- Darby Fox, Easy French Alibi, 17.18, $1,452
- Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi, 17.22, $1,259
- Jessi Fish, 17.38, $968
- Kelly Tovar, A Dash Ta Glamour, 17.41, $775
- Tiany Schuster, Firen for Jack, 17.42, $581
- Kim Schulze, Vegaspeed, 17.44, $387
- (tie) Amberleigh Moore, CP Dark Moon, and Kelly Collier, Streakin Easy April, 17.45, $242 each
- Hillman, 16.68 seconds, $2,033
- Bettis, 17.09, $1,743
- Moore, 17.23, $1,452
- Fox, 17.29, $1,259
- Liz Herrin, Bogies Lil Mikey, 17.30, $968
- Jaime Hinton, Ojs Tex Wood, 17.34, $775
- Kelsie Miller, 17.37, $581
- Jackie Ganter, Guys French Jet, 17.39, $387
- Timi Lickley, 17.40, $290
- (tie) Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, and Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift Of Fame, 17.45, $97 each
- Hillman, 16.93 seconds, $1,506
- Herrin, 17.29, $1,130
- Fox, 17.35, $753
- Bettis, 17.42, $377
- Hillman, 50.69 seconds on three head, $3,050
- Bettis, 51.56, $2,614
- Fox, 51.82, $2,179
- Herrin, 52.07, $1,888
- Moore, 52.13, $1,452
- Schuster, 52.39, $1,162
- Conrado, 52.49, $871
- Collier, 52.51, $581
- Hinton, 52.72, $436
- Ganter, 52.73, $290