By Jolee Jordan
Redding, California—Coming up with a perfect plan is not nearly so tough as implementing it in the rodeo world, given all the different conditions and obstacles that just naturally throw themselves in your path. But Krum, Texas barrel racer Tiany Schuster has certainly come as close as anyone within the ranks of the WPRA thus far in 2017.
After a torrid winter and spring in 2016, Schuster struggled over the summer, battling horse injuries and eventually returning to Texas without a berth at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) as she had hoped. Vowing to change that, Schuster spent the second half of the 2016 season diligently prepping for the new year with one simple plan: just keep getting checks.
“I’m a placer,” she says. “I might sneak in a win here and there but normally I’m like third. So I try to just keep getting checks.”
While her assessment was true throughout much of the big winter stock show run—she split second in Denver and won third in Fort Worth, San Angelo and Austin—she has been completely dominant on the Wrangler Champions Challenge (WCC) tour.
In fact, she is undefeated.
The WCC events are heads up, one round televised events with 11 competitors comprised of the top six from 2016 WPRA World standings and the top five from current standings as of two weeks prior to the event. Each competitor is also placed on a team and a finals is scheduled for the final week of the season in Sioux Falls, S.D. With $16,000 added cash at each stop, they are a great opportunity for competitors to earn a big check towards WPRA World standings in a single run.
Schuster has been magnificent at the WCC in 2017. Riding two different horses, she won both the Rapid City, S.D., stop and the Grand Island, Neb., stop before the tour headed West to California for the Redding Rodeo edition held on May 20.
She began the weekend on the far south end of California at Ramona. Schuster chose to run Buddy, a horse she did not have a lot of previous experience aboard as her significant other, Edwin Cameron, has made more of the runs on the son of the great Dash Ta Fame who is out of a the Shawne Bug mare, Levin Lucille.
“He is Edwin’s favorite,” she says of Born Ta Fame. “He thinks he is the best one he has ever bought. I had just ridden him a handful of times and I usually manage to screw it up.”
Schuster spent a little time this spring with Paul Humphrey, who trained Buddy, getting both herself and the horse a tune up. A check followed at their next rodeo in Mineral Wells, Texas, but Schuster had a little trouble in the next outing and opted for a bit change before Ramona.
“Edwin runs him in a full cheek snaffle but that doesn’t really work for me, I can’t get enough leverage,” she says, noting that she had some help in convincing Cameron to let her make the change from Angela Ganter, mother of fellow top WPRA talent Jackie.
She spent several days in Ramona, working all of her horses and working on drills that Humphrey suggested. The result was a blistering run in the Thursday evening slack that left the rest of the field more than three tenths behind.
“Actually both Buddy and Show Mance had worked great in the practices and I couldn’t decide which to ride so I told Edwin to tell me which to ride,” laughs Schuster who is sponsored by Brazilian Saddle, Professional Choice, Alfalfa Express, FitnessDepot.ca, Pony Plate, Outback Custom Interiors, Double X Equine/Dr. Don Lee and Justin Knight Farrier Services. “Of course, he choose Buddy.”
After posting her 15.38 second, rodeo leading run in Ramona, Schuster hit the road, making the nearly 700 mile trek up California to Redding in time to again get her horses in the arena before her run in the final performance of the Redding Rodeo on Friday night.
“I like to get in the pen beforehand for myself, not for my horses,” says Schuster. Getting an idea about the set-up and ground conditions gives her insight into which horse she will run at that event. “I have never been to any of these rodeos before so it helps me to get in there.”
Opting to stay aboard Buddy, Schuster clocked in at 17.61 seconds, which fell far behind winner Lake Mehalic’s 17.21 but still earned a check for 13th place.
“He was hauling in there to the first so hard, and the ground was a little more shallow,” Schuster says, noting that the conditions in Ramona were optimum for Buddy’s style. “He kind of slid by every turn but he never stopped moving or trying so we were still able to get a check. He gave it his all but it just wasn’t the best ground for this horse.”
The WCC event was held Saturday night and Schuster decided to go to the lefty Show Mance, the horse she had won the last stop in Grand Island aboard.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of ground there is with Show Mance,” she notes. “It can be dry, muddy, hard, deep . . . he works no matter what. If I just don’t screw it up too much, he’s so fast he makes it work.”
Redding was the site of the first Wrangler Champions Challenge event, held back in 2013, a stand-alone event before the first year of the complete tour in 2014.
Despite winning the first two stops, Schuster was not feeling confident that she would keep the streak alive.
“I would have bet the whole farm . . . I thought maybe I could snag third or fourth but there were so many good horses in there,” she says, rattling off the names of her fellow competitors. “My money would have been on anybody but me.”
Running early in the performance, she jockeyed the lanky sorrel through the pattern for a smoking time of 17.15 seconds, the best time of the week.
“Show Mance never has a pretty run,” laughs Schuster. “He runs in there so hard, with his head high and his tail higher. But he’s deceiving and so fast. He just grits through it.”
Saying the seven year old son of First Smart Money out of Blue Baby Cash made his usual “dorky little run,” Schuster seemed more surprised at her win than any of her fans or competitors.
“I’m as dumbfounded as anyone,” she insists. “Lightning just doesn’t strike twice let alone three times.”
But in her usual self-deprecating way, she notes, “but I know for sure I am screwed at the next one!”
That is highly doubtful as the tour turns next to Santa Maria (CA) on June 1 and then on to Spanish Fork (UT) on June 3, the final two regular season stops.
Schuster has earned $11,832, the most of any competitor on the WCC by $4,000 and has her team, Justin Boots, in second place in the team standings as well. In fact, her winnings are nearly half of what the team has earned thus far.
“I love the fact that everyone runs the same night so the ground doesn’t vary,” Schuster notes of the WCC format. “Plus, it’s all in one perf., so you know what’s happening. I think it’s good for the fans.”
Unlike her previous two wins, the Redding win came with a buckle.
“It was a great production and they gave a really beautiful buckle from Montana Silversmiths,” she says.
Schuster closed out her weekend with a hectic trip to Hayward for the famous Rowell Ranch Rodeo on Sunday. It began when flights out of the Redding Airport were canceled on Sunday morning, forcing Schuster to scramble to the San Francisco Airport to get her helpers on their flights.
“Edwin had to catch a flight to Shanghai and Tricia (Aldridge) was going back to Dallas,” notes Schuster; Cameron runs 30 retail stores and owns a warehouse in China in his life away from barrel racing. Though everyone made it just fine, Schuster didn’t get a chance to get in the arena and feel things out before her run.
Still aboard Show Mance, Schuster won first again—her third rodeo win of the weekend—with a 17.04 run in Hayward.
“The times were fast throughout the rodeo and the ground was just great,” notes Schuster. “Seriously, I ran a 17.0 with mistakes. They could have run a 16.8 in that pen.”
Schuster gave high marks to the tractor driver and the gate man, who had the tricky job of manning the gate at the end of the alleyway, which runs downhill from the arena.
When the dust settled, Schuster had added another $8,418 from her weekend, running her season total out to an impressive $137,294. She has led the WPRA World standings since late October and holds a firm grip on the top now with a lead of nearly $57,000 over second ranked Kathy Grimes.
Even more amazing, Schuster is just $53,684 away from breaking the regular season earnings record set just last year by Mary Burger ($190,977) with four months—and some of the season’s most lucrative rodeos—still on the schedule.
Despite her success, Schuster is still humble and driven to work hard to compensate for what she deems her weaknesses.
“I don’t count on winning at the big, high pressure ones. I don’t count on winning Calgary, or Cheyenne, or Salt Lake City,” she admits honestly. “I don’t do well at big stage rodeos. I know that’s my weak spot so I’m working harder to be strong where I can be. You have to compensate where you can.”
Though her record would certainly offer plenty of room for debate on that thought, there can be no arguing the cowgirl’s work ethic. With a ten day break from any rodeos, she is excited to head to some jackpots; she’s got three other horses in her trailer and hopes to get them all shaped up and ready in preparation for the long summer run.
“I’m just trying to work harder this year,” she says. “Just keep getting checks.”
For more information on the WCC tour, visit http://prorodeo.com/prorodeo/tours-circuits/champions-challenge. For more information on the Redding Rodeo, find them at www.reddingrodeo.com. Find info on Hayward at www.rowellranchrodeo.com and Ramona at www.ramonarodeo.net.