By Jolee Lautaret
Odessa, Texas—The 2015 rodeo season may be in its fourth month on the rodeo calendar—rodeo seasons begin October 1 of each year—but in truth the competition is just getting underway with the start of "the buildings." Each winter, rodeo contestants enter up at the long winter stock show rodeos, each held indoors, hoping to get a big jump on the new year’s standings.
Invariably, it seems, one cowgirl gets a great start, usually ending in December of the following season in Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. In 2012 it was Fallon Taylor who set the fall and early winter on fire; in 2013 Michele McLeod dominated the early standings. Both parlayed the early success into berths at the Wrangler NFR.
Thus far in the new season it is another Texas cowgirl making waves and dreaming of the same success.
Rockdale cowgirl Kelly Tovar had already won four rodeos in the 2015 rodeo season (Hempstead, Seguin, Henderson, and Shreveport) before January. Considering there were less than two dozen rodeos on the schedule in that time frame, the win streak was quite impressive and landed the long time barrel racer fifth in the WPRA’s World standings.
Tovar began riding at an early age; her mom, Sheila Davidson, was a barrel racer.
"Mom ran barrels and my grandpa had thoroughbred race horses," she explains. She even had uncles who roped so rodeo came naturally to the young girl.
After marrying her husband Joe, who team ropes for fun, Tovar settled into a life of training horses and raising her son, Tucker.
Then Edwin came into her life. A son of PC Frenchman out of Pebbles Kitty, BB French Fooled Ya was owned by Cindy Smack, a friend of Tovar’s, and being ridden by McLeod at the time. Tovar brought the big palomino gelding into her barn but soon ran into troubles.
First, an injury proved difficult to diagnose and then took more time than Tovar wanted to heal. Tovar credits Dr. Marty Tanner with Elgin Vet Hospital, one of her sponsors, with finding and curing the problem.
"Then, we just got him sound and I got a bad bale of hay that had blister beetles," Tovar laments. "That was a life threatening deal and we didn’t know if he would make it back."
Again, Dr. Tanner came to the rescue and Edwin proved resilient, surviving the ordeal and returning to competition in May of 2014.
"I got back on him in May and we went to a few jackpots and then tried our first rodeo," she laughs. "We just took off from there. My husband said, ‘let’s enter up for the summer.’"
"Our first rodeo performance was at Greeley (Colo.) and it felt like there were at least 200,000 people there," jokes Tovar. "I was so nervous; I really don’t even remember the run. I was thinking, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’"
"But Edwin handled it well," she says, adding that the gelding is "definitely full of quirks." "He’s scared of ponies . . . but he’s enormous! And I hauled my old horse Scooter with him last summer but I’ve had to send him to my mom’s because Edwin fell in love with him; he was nickering for him leaving the alley at Greeley last year. He has to haul alone at all times to keep his mind on business. Even my husband’s old rope horse . . . if we load him up to go to a roping, we have to take Edwin with because he hates to be left alone."
Eccentricities seem to be par for the course with great barrel horses and Tovar says that it’s Edwin’s world and everything revolves around the now eight year old gelding.
Tovar spent the summer seasoning both horse and jockey to the WPRA road, noting that she hadn’t been anywhere either. The pair went to just 19 rodeos but won $21,262 to finish 55th in the 2014 WPRA World standings.
Then came the big fall run in October. Tovar won four rodeos outright and second at two more, earning better than $7,600 toward the 2015 Wrangler NFR.
Then she made her first trip to the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa, just six hours from her home just northeast of Austin.
"Our last run was at Shreveport (Halloween weekend) and I gave him a month off," Tovar says. "I had just been riding him and legging him up. I had hoped to get to a jackpot and make a practice run before Odessa to make sure we were ready."
"Guess he didn’t think we needed it!" laughs Tovar, noting that an ice storm in Texas derailed her plan.
Celebrating its 82nd annual event in 2015, Odessa has six rodeo performances and always gets huge entries to add to the $8,000 added committee purse, leading to an impressive payout.
Tovar competed on Wednesday, January 7 during the third performance. She and Edwin laid out a smoking run of 15.20 seconds to win the rodeo.
"That was so exciting," says Tovar, who banked another $5,082 towards the 2015 standings, putting her first in the chase for the 2015 WPRA World Championship. "There were so many tough girls there."
Tovar credits the success at Odessa to Ann Thompson, who not only enters her but also gives advice on the set-ups at different rodeos.
"She gives me a heads up and I really don’t know what I would do without her," notes Tovar. "For Odessa she told me, ‘that third is way down there on the fence so when you think you have gone far enough, kick two more times.’ And in the run, I thought I was far enough and then I remembered what she said and thought, ‘kick two more times!’ It worked out perfect."
With a hot streak going, Tovar is entered up, heading to Lafayette and Denver this week before returning to Texas for Fort Worth.
"My husband hauls me around when he’s not working and Mom takes care of things at home," Tovar says, adding that roles reverse when Joe is working. "My dad also goes with me some too."
Tovar says her uncle will go with her and her little brother is "saving vacation time" to come along as well. Even Smack, who not only sold her Edwin but also sponsors her with her company, Back on Track, is helping Tovar get to Denver.
"Everyone is taking a turn," she laughs. "I don’t know how those girls do it, traveling on their own."
With an army behind her, and Edwin under her saddle, Tovar is hoping her hot streak will lead her to a first Wrangler NFR in 2015.
For more information on the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo, please visit them on-line at www.sandhillsssr.com.