By Jolee Jordan
Fort Smith, Arkansas—Perhaps the best description of conditions surrounding the 86th running of the Old Fort Days Rodeo was posted in a meme by WPRA cowgirl—and local to the area—Ari-Ann Flynn. It said: “Always thought it would be awesome to live on an island . . . just never thought it would be in Arkansas.”
Just one week after weather dominated the stories over the long Memorial Day weekend, Mother Nature continued to wreck havoc on rodeo contestants as they made their way to Fort Smith. Rising floodwaters devastated local farmers, ruining an entire year’s worth of crops as levees along the Arkansas River failed in several places. The river reached a crest of 40.79 feet, more than 18 feet above flood stage.
The Old Fort Days Rodeo traditionally begins on Memorial Day with a parade in the downtown area but the parade was cancelled on advice from FEMA and the Fort Smith Police Department. Several areas were underwater and though Kay Rogers Park, home of the rodeo since it was built in the early 1940’s, was spared the flooding, many of the main roads into town were closed at river crossings.
The closing of the I-40 bridges at Webbers Falls curtailed traffic coming from Oklahoma on the west side while Highway 64 was also shut down, another major route into Kay Rogers. With so many closures, competitors and fans found it much more difficult to get into the rodeo as those roads still open were clogged with heavy traffic.
But still the show must go on and the Old Fort Days Rodeo has weathered the storms before, literally. Major Arkansas River flooding hampered the event in its very early history and the rodeo rode through World War II too. Dubbed the Great American Chute-Out, the 2019 edition featured $5,100 in added committee purse per event along with entry fees paid by over one hundred contestants. The total payout across all the events was nearly $120,000.
Action kicked off with slack where Texas cowgirl Jennifer Sharp took command with her run of 16.84 seconds aboard the mare Smooch that carried her to the victory at the National Western in Denver back in January. Sharp was the only cowgirl in slack to break in the sixteens.
Alishea Broussard would slide into the lead during the second perf on Tuesday night, posting a lightning quick 16.75 seconds with Dona Kay Rule also jumping into the sixteens that night.
Broussard’s lead held up for two days until the reigning WPRA World Champ Hailey Kinsel got to town. After giving her great mare Sister a nice long break since RodeoHouston in March, Kinsel hit the road for a couple of runs to tune up for the coming summer run.
The World Champion duo showed that rust just can’t grow on shiny objects, taking the win in Fort Smith and second in Hugo, where the committee was dealing with their own issues from the rain. She pocketed $4,685 for the pair of runs, moving into second in the WPRA World standings behind Nellie Miller.
“Took Sister to a few rodeos this past week to get warmed up for the summer,” Kinsel posted to social media following the winning run of 16.72 seconds to edge out Broussard.
“Thank you mom for coming up to help me, and my dear friend Annika for taking care of things at home! Definitely an honor to win the rodeo at Fort Smith, knowing how many great horses have run down the Old Fort Days alley!” she continued. “Thank you to Ari-Anna Flynn and others who worked to keep all of us updated on the weather and road conditions to make it to Fort Smith and other great rodeos this week.
“Also thank you to the committee and judges at Hugo for being absolutely amazing — they truly made the best of the rainy day conditions. This rodeo will always be on my list to make!! Please keep these areas in your prayers as they handle and recover from the severe flooding. We saw some pretty eye-opening things in our safe, short trip.”
Seven cowgirls finished under seventeen seconds during the rodeo with Kinsel, Sharp, and Rule as well as Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi maintaining their positions inside the top 20 of the WPRA World standings thanks to their Fort Smith winnings.
For more information on the Old Fort Days Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.oldfortdaysrodeo.com.
- Hailey Kinsel, DM Sissy Hayday, 16.72, $3,074
- Alishea Broussard, Bogies French Trick, 16.75, $2,459
- Kylar Terlip, Margarita Red Rita, 16.77, $1,998
- Jennifer Sharp, Six French Smooches, 16.84, $1,537
- Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, 16.89, $1,230
- Tammy Fischer, LK Sheza Hayday, 16.90, $922
- Billie Ann Harmon, 16.99, $768
- Shaylee Hindman, 17.08, $692
- Molly Childers, 17.09, $615
- Kynder Starr, 17.10, $538
- Kaysie Burgess, 17.12, $423
- Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi, 17.12, $423
- Jessi Wade, 17.14, $307
- Andrea Busby, 17.15, $192
- Jill Wilson, 17.15, $192