By Ted Harbin
By the time the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo begins March 25, Lindsay and Jesse Kruse will have welcomed their second child.
The baby was due the end of February, giving Mom about a month to have herself and Lenas Mijo Dulce ready for the national championship. Lindsay Kruse is ready for the opportunity.
"I'm really excited to run at it this year," said Kruse, married to Jesse, the 2009 world champion saddle bronc rider. "I like the new location, and it looks like they are making it a lot more enjoyable for the contestants. It has a bigger purse. I just hope to win some of that money they've added this year."
She maneuvered her way to the RNCFR in Kissimmee, Fla., by having an outstanding season in the Montana Circuit. Her pregnancy prevented Kruse from competing at the Ram Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo in mid-January.
"They let me have a medical exemption," she said, noting that the exemption allowed her a shot at year-end awards. "I had a decent lead, about $5,000, but I couldn't defend myself."
Instead, Carmel Wright won two go-rounds and placed in another to win the average in Great Falls, Mont. She pocketed more than $7,000 and passed Kruse. But by finishing second in the year-end race, Kruse will join Wright in Florida.
"I don't mind the drive," Kruse said, noting that the family will be part of the traveling posse. "We usually go to Texas this time of year."
Her road trip is delayed a little, but she plans to have a pretty good partner in the mix. Harley is a 13-year-old sorrel gelding by Pobre Dulce and out of Lenas Country Bar. This marks Kruse's sixth RNCFR qualification and Harley's second.
"He's tough," she said. "He likes being on the road. He just likes to do it. His personality is better when you're on the road.
"He's kind of a quirky thing. He doesn't get along with many people. You definitely have to have a bond with him."
That's a good thing for Kruse, who said she and Harley just clicked from the first day they got together.
"He's all cow-bred with no barrel breed in him," she said. "He's kind of odd-shaped, but he's pretty in his own way."
Sarah Rose McDonald
PHOTO BY: Mike Rastelli
It works, but so does the relationship between Sarah Rose McDonald and her horse, Fame Fling N Bling, a 9-year-old roan mare she calls Bling. Like Kruse, McDonald finished as the year-end runner-up to Victoria Williams, who also won the average at the Ram Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo.
"I'm excited to go there because it's close to home," said McDonald of Brunswick, Ga., the Southeastern Circuit and WPRA Rookie of the Year. "I know it's a good rodeo, so I just want to make good runs."
That's exactly what happened for Gretchen Benbenek last year. She took advantage of the tournament-style format and raced to the national championship last spring at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie, Okla.
She placed fifth in the opening go-round and was solid on the second run on Shot of Firewater, a 12-year-old bay she calls Maverick. The speedster is by Firem Jet and out of Miss Willie Ada; Maverick's mom was Benbenek's primary mount before the gelding came into his own.
By finishing third in the two-round average, the tandem advanced to the RNCFR's semifinals, finishing second to Kassidy Dennison. Benbenek and Maverick excelled on their final run, picking up more than $13,000 and a $20,000 voucher for a new Ram truck.
"Other than the Prairie Circuit Finals, I've never been in the position to defend a title," said Benbenek, the two-time reigning Prairie Circuit year-end champion from Aubrey, Texas. "I feel a little pressure about it, but it's a brand new arena that I've never been to.
"I just need to go in there hungry and wanting it and determined, then we'll see how it goes."
It helps that she has a good experience, albeit in Oklahoma's red dirt and not in the shadow of Disney World.
"I think Florida has shown a lot of interest in rodeo lately, and it doesn't have any other big events there," she said. "I can already feel there's a new level of excitement. I've never got to rodeo in Florida. I hear the facility is really nice, and I think it will be a good place for my horse in me.
"It's right there by Disney World, and I've got some family coming down so we can do something else while we're there."
Her focus, though, is defending that national championship. Though the winter has been relatively slow for Benbenek, she has a lot of faith in Maverick.
"I like to give my horse a good break over the winter," Benbenek said. "He's been running good. We've just been a little bit out of (the money). We haven't hit our stride.
"I go everywhere to win. I don't go to get second place or just show up. I have expectations of winning. I realize the competition there is going to be very tough, and winning is not an easy thing to do. As long as I feel like I can make the best run I can and as long as my horse and I are physically prepared, I'll be happy with the outcome."
That's the attitude of a proven winner.
More heart-pounding action than ever before is in store for fans of the PRCA's RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo. With its re-location to Kissimmee, Florida (in March 2015), one day, fans are holding their breath at the courage and amazing skills of top-ranked cowboys. The next day, those fans can find thrills and excitement on rollercoasters, airboats and ziplines and more!
Kissimmee's diverse attractions and experiences are matched only by its range of accommodations types, which suit any party size and budget. When attending the RNCFR, choose from among nearly 50,000 total accommodations, from luxury resorts and familiar chain hotels to condos, vacation homes, villas and campgrounds.
Kissimmee perfectly blends its pioneering heritage with new-age adventures. Generations of Cracker Cowboys keep the more than 70-year-old Silver Spurs Rodeo tradition alive, just minutes from world famous theme parks that draw millions of visitors from around the world who want to lose themselves in the fantasy of princesses, pirates and wizards.
But a trip to Kissimmee isn't only the stuff of fantasy and childhood dreams. The destination also offers amazing outdoor attractions, including zipline tours over alligators and through lush trees in a nature preserve; kayaking on Shingle Creek, the headwaters to the Everglades; fishing for record-breaking size bass on a beautiful lake; or getting muddy while riding an ATV or buggy.
In addition, thrills and excitement aren't limited to the theme park gates. Local amusement parks also offer adventures that range from adrenaline-pumping drops from 300 feet in the air to a twisted tour through a year-round haunted house, providing scares around every corner. Kissimmee after dark also offers dinner attractions that serve up laughs and bring out cheers, along with a hearty meal. And the destination is a shopper's paradise, offering fantastic deals on designer brands at area outlet malls and factory stores.
Discovering Kissimmee's roots as a cattle-ranching community in the 1880s also is easy at local museums, a living history village and along quaint historic downtown streets.
RNCFR Tickets range in price from $15 to $35 for single day tickets and 4-day series packages are also available through Ticketmaster 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com and the Silver Spurs Arena Box Office. Group Discounts of 10 or more and series packages also available by calling 321-697-3321. All dates, acts and tickets prices are subject to change without notice.
For more information and an event schedule visit www.rncfr.com.