By Jolee Jordan
Kennewick, Washington—If the rodeo year is compared to a long distance race, the final weeks of the regular season are the final stretch run, the time when a competitor needs a good strong “kick” to sprint to the finish.
With the final weekend of August representing the top of the stretch, Cheyenne Wimberley was the first of the bubble barrel racers—those sitting just outside the top 15 in the WPRA World standings and therefore just outside of a qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR)—to fire up her kick.
Sitting 16th in the August 19th WPRA World standings, Wimberley was just $1,131 behind the 15th position when the final weekend of August began but she quickly erased that gap with a monster performance at rodeos in the Northwest.
When the dust had settled, Wimberley had banked $13,510 and jumped four positions in the standings after winning both Bremerton and Kennewick, Washington and taking second in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.
Ironically, it’s been a season that nearly never happened for the Stephenville, Texas cowgirl.
Wimberley knows plenty about the rodeo road; she filled her WPRA permit at the young age of 10 and finished 16th in the WPRA World standings at 11. She made two appearances at the Wrangler NFR in 1997-98 but when her good horse suffered a career ending injury, she walked away from full time rodeo competition.
“When my good horse was done, I went home. I just felt like I never would go again,” she says. “It wasn’t the rodeos. The road just killed me . . . the traveling and all the dead time. I had seen and done a lot by the age of 20!”
Wimberley finished college at Tarleton State University and launched several business ventures. She earned her realtor’s license, starting CW Horse Properties, and became a horse insurance broker for Albracht Insurance Agency. She also partnered with her parents on Cowboy Classic Saddlery.
But Wimberley didn’t stray far from her barrel racing passion, continuing to train horses and compete. In fact, she found her niche training futurity horses.
“I spent four or five years buying good prospects—name brand prospects—and training them for the futurities. After their futurity year, I would run them in the derbies and some amateur rodeos until they sold.”
So what coaxed the busy cowgirl back out on the road in 2019?
“I guess I must have fallen and hit my head,” she jokes. In truth, like so many others on the rodeo road, it all began with a horse.
Wimberley had owned and sold a full sibling to the mare Dash Ta Suz, who was being ridden at the futurities by her good friend and fellow Wrangler NFR qualifier Lee Ann Guilkey.
“She had her really patterned nice but she was really turn-y and Lee Ann said, ‘at my age, I just can’t get it out of her,’” Wimberley says of the mare they call Smooch. Because she liked the full sibling she owned, she decided to take a chance on Smooch, buying the mare in partnership with Steve Hulbert. After some time spent ‘playing with her,’ the pair began to find success at amateur rodeos, leading Wimberley to make a decision in the summer of 2018.
“It was so hot at home and my dad had passed away a couple of years prior . . . there just really wasn’t anything keeping mom and I at home,” she notes. Wimberley, her mother Christi, and Smooch headed out for rodeos in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and South Dakota. “We decided to get out of the heat and see how she did. She’s just super nice.”
Smooch did well enough to convince Wimberley to keep entering some rodeos. Along the way, Liz Prickett sent her the mare Streakin Images, who turned out to be very tough in the indoor rodeos. Lexus carried Wimberley to second in the Ram Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo and placed at several other winter rodeos.
The next piece of the puzzle fell into place thanks to Wimberley’s friend—and top barrel horse breeder—Robin Weaver.
“Robin stays with us in the winter,” she said of the Pennsylvania native who owns the great mare KN Fabs Mist of Fame. “I told her to send Misty to us and I’d run her down to the breeding farm since I was going with my own mares anyway.” Weaver has raised numerous outstanding foals out of Misty, who is a full sister to KN Fabs Gift of Fame, aka JLo who has taken Ivy Conrado to the last two Wrangler NFR’s. “Then Robin suggested that I start running her.”
Showing her outstanding jockeying skills, Wimberley and Misty were soon picking up checks including a fourth place finish in Odessa to start the season. Weaver also offered Wimberley VQ Sucker Punch, the accomplished gelding with numerous aged event and open titles.
With a great arsenal of horsepower, simply deciding when to run each one could have been problematic but Wimberley handles it with ease.
“I like to be prepared when I show up,” she says, noting that it’s been 20 years since she entered many of the rodeos and quite a few have changed since her last competitive appearance. “I try to see videos and just pick the horse that I think fits the pen best.”
“I don’t do any quarterbacking. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I just figure I’m supposed to ride the one I saddle on any day,” she says wisely. “The road is a hard enough mental game without all the second guessing.”
Balancing the four horses, Wimberley found herself inside the top 15 of the WPRA World standings early on in the season and has continued to stay near that position as the season has worn on.
“We were just winning enough to keep you going,” she says with an ironic laugh. “It was borderline by the time we got to Cheyenne,” she admits of whether she would stay on the road. When Misty posted the fastest time of the rodeo there, earning Wimberley more than $5,000, she headed north.
“These are really good horses and they hadn’t been on a lot of standard patterns before but they kept improving,” Wimberley notes. “I think I’ve started to get in the groove with them, getting to make more runs.”
August has certainly been kind so far. Wimberley picked up checks in Burley, Moses Lake, Caldwell, Canby, Logan and won both Omak and Missoula for winnings over $13,000 in the two weeks prior to her big weekend over August 21-24.
She began in Kennewick on Wednesday aboard Smooch. Her time of 17.25 seconds took the lead from Dona Kay Rule, another cowgirl battling for a Wrangler NFR position, to win the long go at the ProRodeo Tour and Wrangler Network Tour stop. She traveled across the state of Washington to run in Bremerton, this time saddling Misty for the job. The result was the same: another leading time, this one a 17.04, one of the best inside the Thunderbird Arena in recent memory.
Wimberley headed back East to run in Coeur D’Alene in the Idaho panhandle. Her run of 17.43 seconds again aboard Misty took the lead and would eventually finish second.
Wimberley’s huge week ended during the short go round in Kennewick at the Horse Heaven Round-Up. Going back to Smooch, she won second in the final round with a run of 17.46 seconds to easily win the average at 34.71 seconds.
“Holy cow, that’s just crazy,” Wimberley said with a laugh. “I mean you hope a weekend goes like that but when it does, it’s just ‘wow, I can’t believe it.’”
Wimberley jumped to 12th in the WPRA World standings, now with a cushion of nearly $12,000 over 16th ranked Leia Pluemer. She says she doesn’t study the standings but does look and keep track of how much she’s won.
“I pay attention and I could try to ignore it but everyone calls and texts and tells you where you are anyway,” she says wryly. With five weeks left in the regular season, Wimberley will stay busy with rodeos in the Northwest for three more weeks.
“Like everyone else out here, we’d like to have it made before we head home but it’s rodeoing, you just do what you can,” says the veteran. “At this point, you gotta dig deep.”
The sage cowgirl is thankful for the opportunity despite the high pressure of the final weeks.
“I’ve never had multiple horses of this caliber and I couldn’t afford them,” she says. “We’re going to give it our all and hopefully finish strong.”
“I had started another life,” Wimberley says. “I never thought I would get back out there again. But we’ve been out for this long . . . guess we’ll just grind it out.”
Dona Kay Rule continued her sprint to the finish as well, earning $8,411 for the weekend which included the reserve championship in Kennewick and a third place finish in Bremerton. Rule was on the bubble a few weeks ago but has now jumped all the way to eighth as she pursues her first Wrangler NFR qualification.
Wimberley now has $78,290 won for the season. Less than $1,000 separates her spot in 12th from Lacinda Rose in 14th with Ivy Conrado tucked in between the two cowgirls.
Rose earned $3,213 during the weekend to keep her head above the cut line. The Missouri cowgirl is just over $2,600 ahead of Amberleigh Moore, who now has the target on her back in the 15th position in the WPRA World standings.
Moore is $9,081 ahead of Pluemer who has about $1,000 on 17th ranked Brittney Barnett, who continues to chip away at the leaders.
Most of the contenders will remain in the Northwest for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, competing in Ellensburg and Walla Walla, Wash., Armstrong, British Columbia, Filer, Idaho, along with rodeos in Montana.
For more information on the Horse Heaven Round-Up in Kennewick, visit them on-line at www.bentonfranklinfair.com. For more information on the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede, visit them on-line at www.kitsapgov.com/parks/Pages/FairMain.aspx.