postheadericon WPRA Qualifying Tour off to a great start

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the August issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. Be sure to get yourself a copy.

Whether they’re a two-time world champion like Brittany Pozzi or a newcomer like Nikki Steffes or somewhere in between like Kenna Squires and Jean Winters, the WPRA Qualifying Tour is a big hit already.

Just a few weeks into the system, plenty of cowgirls have found the tour to their liking, and it goes well beyond the opportunities that might be in place for them in 2013. No, they’re getting the most bang for their buck right now.

“The qualifying tour is a big deal for us, because we’re able to make some decisions about rodeos because they’re part of it,” said Steffes of Vale, S.D., who won the Mandan (N.D.) Rodeo Days and placed second at the Airdrie (Alberta) Pro Rodeo, both of which are part of the newly established tour. “It’ll be interesting. Calgary being approved will be a game-changer for sure.

“Houston has a lot of money available, so you want to be part of that field. Calgary has a lot of money, too, and only 20 girls get to run at it. You really want to be one of those 20 girls.”

That’s why the qualifying tour works. Only the elite cowgirls in the final tour standings will earn the right to compete in the 2013 Calgary (Alberta) Stampede, one of the most prestigious events in the sport.

Pozzi won the average title at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo in Casper, reeling in $7,187. She won the first round and finished runner-up in the finale for a two-run total of 33.11 seconds, nearly three-tenths of a second faster than No. 2 cowgirl Kaley Bass.

Calgary also a nice bonus for the cowgirls who are chasing the big bucks at these established rodeos.

“It means a lot to most of us that are from Texas especially,” said Squires, of Fredonia, Texas, who won the West of the Pecos Rodeo after posting 17.31-second run, worth $3,253. “They do a great job with a great big pen making the ground right. It was worth driving all the way back from Reno (Nev.) to get to Pecos.

“It was 109 degrees when we got there, but it worked out alright.”

Yes, it did. Winters knows the feeling after posting a 16.90-second run to win the Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale, Ark., to close out the Fourth of July run. She was the only cowgirl in the three-day rodeo to run a time in less than 17 seconds.

“It was really cool, because when I found out that I won Springdale, I was sitting at the computer with my husband,” said Winter of Texline, Texas. “It meant a lot to me because it was one of the qualifying tour rodeos. My hauling partner, Kylee Schumacher, won money, too, so that was good for both of us.”

The tour is already a big hit among competitors, and there are a number of top-level events to go to help each contender move into that sweet 20 position.

West Texas Gem

Kenna Squires has been around barrel racing most of her lifetime. She lives for it, and she realizes just how special it is to raise a great horse. Take Rambling For Fame, a 9-year-old brown gelding by Rambling For Gold out of YR Sadie, a Dash Ta Fame mare.

“I bought Rambler when he was a long yearling at a sale in Oklahoma,” Squires said. “He’s out of California and was raised on the Western 37 Ranch. He’s never been ridden by anybody but me.

“I won the Speed Horse on him when that was a big deal. He had a pretty good futurity year with me.”

He’s having a pretty good year in 2012, too. Squires and Rambler blazed around the cloverleaf pattern quickly, bettering Stacey Grimes, who posted a 17.45. That was a nice pull for Squires, who not only earned tour points but also padded her place in the Texas Circuit standings.

“At Pecos, they work the ground every five, so it really doesn’t matter where you get up,” she said. “But, I’ll admit, I drew really good on the ground.”

Whatever works at this stage of the game. It’s also a nice break from the trouble she had in 2011.

“My horses got crippled on me last year,” she said, “It was the year from hell. It was definitely the summer from hell. This year, I decided I’m not trying good enough.”

Squires has faith in Rambler, a standout she’s using while the iron is – and temperatures are – hot.

“He’s easy going, and he doesn’t take an extra step if he doesn’t have to,” Squires said. “After 320 saddles on him, he was pretty much the same as he is today. He’s easy and fun. He’s pretty. He’s got some great characteristics. You can spot Rambler way off. He’s been good to me.

“The other horses are good to me in the winter. In the summertime, there’s not a horse in the world that’s more fun to ride. I’ve got lots of horses, but I’ve never ridden one like him.”

Twice As Nice

Nikki Steffes realizes she’s got something special in Dash Ta Vanila, a 7-year-old palomino mare by Dash Ta Fame out of SX Frenchmans Vanila.

“Nilla was really awesome over the whole Fourth of July,” said Steffes, who won College National Finals Rodeo all-around titles in 2007 and 2009 while attending the University of Wyoming-Laramie. “She ran hard. She handled the ground. She handled the atmosphere.”

That’s a lot of maturity out of a fairly young horse, but Steffes knows the palomino has something great.

“I love that rodeo in Mandan,” she said. “It’s always been one of my favorites. It’s one of the best in our circuit.

“It’s a very high pressure situation, and she thrives on it. She stayed really focused, and she ran her heart out.”

Having a great partner was a big key for Steffes, who traveled the rodeo trail by herself. That meant she needed to enter events in a way that worked well for her schedule.

“I got to go home for a couple of days, so my horse was well rested, and I was well rested,” Steffes said.

And she worked Airdrie, which paid quite well, too. Steffes won Mandan in 15.36, worth $3,585, but her 14.890-second run north of the border was worth $3,204.

“Airdrie was kind of narrow, and it wasn’t a set up that I looked and thought my horse would do awesome,” she said. “But she surprised me and did awesome. It’s like her running in that big pattern at Pendleton … nothing really faces. It makes my job a lot easier as far as entering.”

Faith And Barrels

Barrel racing is more than a livelihood for Jean Winters.

“When I was little, God put the desire to turn barrels in my heart,” Winters said. “I met a man who kept that fire alive.”

That faith has helped in many ways, including the way she works with Crickets Peppy Zan, a 10-year-old sorrel gelding she calls Zan.

“He’s just 14.1 hands tall,” she said. “He looks more like a calf horse or a bulldogging horse, but he’s 110 percent heart.

“He’s all about himself. He’s not going to let himself get hurt, so in that way, he’s not going to let me get hurt. But I don’t pretend to think he loves me. It’s all because he loves himself. My boys call him the king. He throws his head. He has a long forelock and a lot of mane, and the louder the crowd is, the better he runs.”

That worked quite well in Springdale, where announcer Boyd Polhamus urged a great crowd into a frenzy.

“I don’t know what Boyd was saying but whatever it was, the crowd got a little louder, and Zan thought they were just cheering for him all the way,” said Winters, who posted a 16.90-second run worth $3,875. “That’s just the way he is. If you walk into his pen and his belly itches, he’ll walk right in front of you and make you scratch his belly.

“He’s definitely a prima donna.”

And, she said, he’s a gift from God.

“I haven’t found a setup my horse doesn’t like,” she said. “When I’ve been asked, ‘Who trained your horse?’ honestly I can say God trained him, because I had no clue as to what I was doing.

“When I saw this horse, he started to come along really well. God really did train him, because I know how to make a horse ride, but that’s about it. I can’t train a horse to do the things he can do.”

Whether it’s divine intervention or just faith, Winters knows where her priorities are.

“I would like to make it to the NFR, and I feel like I have a horse that’s quality enough to go,” Winters said. “I’ve had others tell me that, but my belief is that when God says it’s the right time, I’m going to go.”

Amen.

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