By Jolee Jordan
Pendleton, Oregon—September is not for the faint of heart in the rodeo business.
It’s the final month of the regular season and contestants are scrambling for a share of the dwindling dollars left to be won, chasing down trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and working to set themselves up for a run at a World title.
Only the top 15 in the WPRA World standings advance to rodeo’s Super Bowl and every dollar counts this time of year.
The Pendleton Round-Up represents the last huge payoff on the schedule with a committee added purse of $35,000 . . . but it doesn’t come easy to any competitor. The barrel race is the most challenging — and exciting — of the season. Because the famous Round-Up is contested on a football field, the barrel pattern is set up on the track that surrounds the infield and contestants must race across the grass in between turns on the dirt.
The length of the pattern spanning the grass has led contestants to dub the rodeo “the Green Mile.” Winning times are often in the range of 28 seconds, a full eleven seconds longer than a good run on a WPRA standard pattern.
Competing in Pendleton is a rush and a demanding test of a competitor’s nerves, even if she isn’t battling for a spot in the WNFR. But each September, the ladies face the long course knowing that a good performance here can make the difference between being in Vegas in December at the WNFR and watching it at home on TV.
2016 WNFR qualifier Kimmie Wall has not found an easy road back to Vegas this summer, struggling with a horse who has been less than 100 percent through a big chunk of July and early August. While she rested her good mare Foxy and searched for answers to her ailments, she watched her name slipped down the standings.
Wall arrived in Pendleton ranked 18th, trailing 15th ranked Emily Miler by more than $9,000.
But while some bubble competitors likely come to Pendleton with a bit of trepidation at the daunting pattern to have to conquer, Wall hits the grass with confidence born of past success here.
Wall is a past champion of the Round-Up—one of two competing here following the turn-out of reigning champ Stevi Hillman. Wall won the rodeo in 2015 after landing fifth in her first trip in 2014. Last year, she finished second behind Hillman. In three years, she and Foxy have sprinted to $24,620 on the Green Mile.
The rubber met the road for forty-five cowgirls on Monday, September 11 during the slack to open the 2017 edition of the Round-Up. Wall competed on Monday and she and Foxy were flawless, landing in familiar territory on top of the leaderboard. Her run of 28.54 seconds was the best of the day by three tenths over Sydni Blanchard.
“She rocked it!” Wall noted after the run of her home grown mare who is registered TKW Bullys Famous Fox. “She felt right at home.”
Just over 100 ladies entered the Round-Up in 2017 and each gets one chance to qualify for the short round. Only the fastest 12 from the first round will get another chance on the grass in the finals on Saturday, September 16.
Meanwhile, Blanchard continued her hot streak to close the season. She has moved well inside the top 15, currently ranked 11th. Her position is solid and with a 28.81 in slack, she’s likely to be back on Saturday.
Another bubble cowgirl, Jackie Ganter, made a big move in Pendleton. She had slipped from 18th to 20th last weekend but her 28.91 in Pendleton puts the pressure on the other cowgirls battling for the final spots into the WNFR and lands the 2015 Rookie of the Year in third so far.
“My rollercoaster of a year continues,” Ganter posted to Facebook. “Cartel laid one down in Pendleton today, I'm so proud of him with everything he's been through the last month. Sitting 3rd in the round right now! I thank the Lord & what little strength I possess for keeping me on at the 2nd, I thought I was gone!”
Like both Wall and Ganter, Ari-Anna Flynn had been going the wrong direction in the standings in recent weeks, slipping to 19th. After picking up nearly $1,500 in Puyallup, she brought her buckskin horse Toby to the Green Mile for the first time on Monday. The pair made their romp through the grass in 29.08 seconds to land in a tie for seventh.
“This was probably one of the best things I've got to experience!” Flynn noted on her Facebook page. “Oh we had so much fun today! I think Toby liked getting to run that fast!”
Other bubble cowgirls in Pendleton on Monday were Ivy Conrado (14th), Emily Miller (15th), Jana Bean (16th) and Sherry Cervi (17th). Conrado had moved up a spot after winning checks in Puyallup, Fort Madison and Lewiston last weekend but had an unfortunate barrel penalty on the Green Mile.
Miller, Bean and Cervi also competed but none finished fast enough for the finals on Saturday in all likelihood. For them, the focus will shift to rodeos in Abilene (TX) and Albuquerque (NM) and a trio in Arkansas.
The Pendleton Round-Up hosts timed event slack on Tuesday and the ladies of the WPRA will be back in action on Wednesday in the first performance with both barrel racing and breakaway roping.
Among the barrel racing competitors on Wednesday is another bubble cowgirl Carmel Wright as well as a past Reserve Champ here, Barbra West. Shada Brazile will also compete here—Brazile knows all about Pendleton and the bubble. She placed high enough here in 2013 to move from 17th to 13th and qualify for her first WNFR.
On Thursday, the field includes Mindy Goemmer, a finalist here in 2016, as well as Columbia River Circuit cowgirls Mary Shae Hays, Kristen Brashears, Jolene Hoburg, Leslie Penhollow, Lexie Goss, and Jami Erwert along with Shelli Scrivner, who is also competing in the breakaway roping.
Results (following slack)
1.Kimmie Wall, TKW Bullys Famous Fox, 28.54
2.Sydni Blanchard, Mr. Famous Jess, 28.81
3.Jackie Ganter, Cartels Fame, 28.91
4.Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, 28.95
5.Courtney Frazier, Shall I Be First, 28.96
6.Jody Tucker, Streakin for Mama, 28.97
7.Nicole Laurence, Bullys Little Dash, 29.08
8.Ari-Anna Flynn, Tobys Pococ Misterio, 29.08
9.Tobi Richardson, 29.09
10.Leah Crockett, 29.35
11.Jana Bean, It’s Complicated, 29.39
12.Lawanda Bronson, 29.57