Archive for November, 2013

postheadericon Colletti excited about business trip

Casey Colletti rides Carr Pro Rodeo's Big Lights during the final performance of the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo in May. Colletti is heading to his third straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

Casey Colletti rides Carr Pro Rodeo’s Big Lights during the final performance of the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo in May. Colletti is heading to his third straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

PUEBLO, Colo. – Casey Colletti has never taken his status as one of the elite ProRodeo cowboys for granted.

Riding bucking horses in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is just too hard, too demanding on the body. Bareback riding is the toughest event on a cowboy’s body, where his hand is wedged into a rigging that strapped to a bucking beast. Every jump, every kick, every jerk is felt from head to toe.

Take this year, for example. Colletti, a 27-year-old cowboy from Pueblo, finished the regular season 13th in the world standings, earning $71,534 en route to his third qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. There was no easy path to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which takes place Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

Casey Colletti

Casey Colletti

“It was hard to make the NFR this year,” said Colletti, who had five victories this season, none of which were big-money wins like he’d seen the previous two seasons. “It was definitely a struggle. I’d go to every rodeo from Florida to California and everywhere in between trying to win money. I’d win a little bit, then the winning would fall off. I was trying to stay consistent placing in the money, but it was really tough.”

“I’d try not to get upset. I’d stay up there in the standings, but it came down to the final weekend before I clinched the NFR.”

Over that final few days of the regular season, Colletti won the bareback riding title in Poway, Calif., then finished second in San Bernadino, Calif. He closed out his campaign in Stephenville, Texas, with a third-place ride.

“When it comes down to it, I made it, but it would’ve been a lot more fun had I clinched the NFR before that and didn’t have to stress and worry about it so much,” he said. “Now I’m going to chase that guy that’s in the No. 1 spot.”

That guy is four-time world champion Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore., now preparing to compete at his 13th straight NFR. Mote has earned more than $124,000 this season and has less than a $4,000 lead over the No. 2 man, two-time reigning champ Kaycee Feild of Payson, Utah. While they have earned about $50,000 more than the Colorado cowboy through the regular season, the rides in Las Vegas are what count the most.

Go-round winners will earn $18,630, so the world standings will change nightly. In rodeo, dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions.

“I dang sure think I can come away from the NFR with a world title on my belt,” said Colletti, whose father, Chuck, rode bareback horses. “They’re ahead of me, but I still think they’re catchable just because of how much money is out there to be won.

“That’s my favorite part of the NFR.”

It should be. The first two years he played in Las Vegas, Colletti earned a combined $118,569. That’s pretty solid considering he did it in just 20 days over two Decembers. Last year, he won the fifth round and placed in three others, leaving Las Vegas with $35,925. While that seems great, it was less than half what he earned in 2011.

“I think I was just trying too hard last year, but I still had a good finals,” he said. “I won more money with three no-scores than guys that rode eight or nine horses, so I can’t be too upset with that.”

So what was the main difference this year?

“I drew better horses the previous two years to make the NFR,” Colletti said. “I drew some good horses this year, but it just didn’t work out as well as I would’ve liked. I got on a lot more rank horses this year to make money.”

Unlike most professional athletes, rodeo cowboys must cover their own expenses, which also include entry fees paid at every rodeo in order to compete. To make more than $70,000, he spent almost all of it to play the game.

“I wouldn’t able to do this if it weren’t for B Tuff Jeans, Greeley Hat Works, Pete Carr and the MGM Grand,” he said. “They make it possible for me to be able to compete because of their faith in me and because of our working relationships.”

When times were tough, he leaned on his family: parents, Chuck and Shelly Colletti; his sister, Kristi; his grandparents; and his girlfriend, barrel racer Brittany Pozzi. When he needed a helping hand in the arena, he had traveling partner Seth Hardwick of Laramie, Wyo. He also had the support of his former mentor, Jim Boy Hash, the rodeo coach at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

“I’ve had a lot of support, and my family is the most important thing to me,” Colletti said. “There were a lot of people backing me and helping me make it.

“As far as Seth, I had somebody to feed off of because Seth was winning a bunch. I’d see him be 84 or 85 points, and I’d want to be 86 or 87. When you have somebody that’s positive like Seth, it helps. He has a really good rodeo attitude. Whatever happens, whether he wins or whether he’s zero, he doesn’t get too worked up about it; that’s good for me, because I let some things bother me.”

Hardwick finished the season 17th in the world standings, just missing the NFR by two spots. Though Hardwick won’t be behind the golden chutes with him during the NFR, Colletti plans to take his friend’s attitude to Las Vegas.

“I have to be a veteran when I get there and look at this as a business trip,” he said.

When one rides bucking horse for a living, the NFR is good for business.

postheadericon Smith primed and ready for NFR

EASTLAND, Texas – A year ago, Jared Smith was living at his parents’ home near Williston, Fla., doing whatever he could while on injured reserve from rodeo.

This year, he’s busy preparing his body for the rigors that come with 10 days of riding bareback horses at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale that is scheduled for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

“The NFR was all I thought about last year when I sat at home shoeing horses every day in the Florida heat,” said Smith, who competed on rodeo teams at both Ranger (Texas) College and Western Texas College in Snyder and now lives in Eastland, Texas, about an hour east of Abilene. “Now it’s an accomplishment that I’ve reached on the way to another goal.”

Jared Smith

Jared Smith

Like every cowboy that makes a living on the rodeo trail, Smith has his gold buckle dreams that only can be culminated by being awarded the world championship; the only way to earn it is by having a strong regular season buoyed with a fantastic showing at the NFR. He is in position, but it’s taken some time to get there.

You see, Smith took a 10-month break from competition while recovering from an injury in which his collarbone was separated from his sternum. The results were a healthier body and a distinctive hunger to compete.

“A lot of things are healed up, even as far as my mind,” he said. “I don’t look at the sport like I did a year ago or even before that.”

That’s a good thing. Through the regular season, which ended Sept. 30, Smith earned $68,026 and goes into the NFR 14th in the world standings – only the top 15 on the money list earn the right to compete for the biggest pay in rodeo through that magical 10 days in December.

“What’s the point of rodeoing if you’re not going to try to make the NFR,” said Smith, who spent nearly as much as he earned while covering expenses for traveling across the country in order to compete. “That’s where you make your living is in Las Vegas. I can go from 14th to who knows where while I’m there because there’s so much money in Vegas.”

That’s true. Go-round winners will earn checks worth $18,630 each night, and just finishing among the top six in each round is lucrative. The top prize for the NFR average championship – for the best cumulative time or score through 10 rounds – is nearly $48,000.

“I think being there before will help, but my mental game’s pretty tough if I’m not hurting,” said Smith, who suffered a back injury in late July and continued to compete. “Knowing what to expect from the last time I was at the finals, I know all the things that go into it. There’s definitely going to be more excitement.”

Smith qualified the first time in 2009, then finished 16th in the next year and 22nd in 2011. After a year on the sidelines, he’s looking forward to his business trip to the Nevada desert. He’s also glad the therapy and hard work he’s put in toward recuperating his back injury seems to be paying off.

“The injury just put a stop to my winnings for the 2013 season,” he said, noting that of his 2013 earnings, all but $10,000 were pocketed before he suffered the mishap in Cheyenne, Wyo. “The older I get, the more I see that you can’t ride hurt. You can ride, but you can’t win. You can’t be competitive. It’s hard enough to beat that top group of guys when you’re riding at 100 percent, much less when you’re 50 percent or 40 percent.

“I can think of the times that my legs were killing me or that I just didn’t have the feeling in them that I needed. I look back, and I realize that I’m not going to do that stuff again.”

Since the regular season ended nearly two months ago, Smith has followed doctor’s orders and found the right regimen to get his body in the best working condition possible.

“I’m just trying to get in better shape, especially with my back the way it was,” he said. “I couldn’t make myself do a full set of sit-ups; it hurt. I’ve got injections, and my workouts … those guys are busting me up getting me ready.

“I want to go to Vegas with toned muscles and in shape.”

That’s something Smith has enjoyed most of his life. He grew up in Florida to a rodeo family. His father, Chris, rode saddle broncs and competed in team roping, while his mother, Jule, competed in all the women’s events in high school.

“A lot of people don’t know, but Jared is a very accomplished team roper,” Jule Smith said, adding that Jared and his older brother, Casey, have competed in rodeo all their lives.

More importantly, Jared Smith is one of the elite bareback riders in the rodeo, and he gets to prove it in Las Vegas in December.

postheadericon Armes rides roller coaster to NFR

Steer wrestler Bray Armes, right, moves into position during his first-round run in Lovington, N.M. Armes has ridden the ups and down of the 2013 season to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It is Armes' second NFR qualification.

Steer wrestler Bray Armes, right, moves into position during his first-round run in Lovington, N.M. Armes has ridden the ups and down of the 2013 season to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It is Armes’ second NFR qualification.

PONDER, Texas – The 2013 ProRodeo season has been quite a roller coaster ride for Bray Armes.

The 31-year-old steer wrestler from Ponder has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year, finishing the regular season with $57,094 in earnings and No. 14 on the money list; only the top 15 in each event earn the right to play for the biggest pay in the sport from Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

“Making the NFR means everything to me,” said Armes, who grew up on a farm near Gruver, Texas. “I’m just trying to achieve the next goal, and that’s the world title.”

Bray Armes

Bray Armes

Armes has proven his place among steer wrestling’s elite, and the only way to win a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship is to qualify for the NFR, then have a strong showing during the sport’s grand finale. Armes has accomplished step one, but it wasn’t without obstacles.

You see, Armes lost his No. 1 mount to a freak occurrence the first of August when Ricky Bobby bolted from his stall during a lightning storm, wondered onto a highway and was hit by a semi-truck. Any person who loses a close friend knows the heartache that comes from it; rodeo cowboys have those relationships with their horses.

“It took me a while to get over that,” Armes said.

The Armes family – Bray; his wife, Neelley; and their children, Breely and Drake – considered Ricky Bobby a member of the family.

“They’re like one of us,” Armes told Brad Cox with the Hobbs (N.M.) News-Sun just days after Ricky Bobby died. “We take care of them like we want to take care of ourselves. We want them to do the best they can every time, so we’re going to treat them as good as we can. You become pretty attached.”

Whether it was heartache or something else, there were struggles.

“After that happened, I didn’t win for a month,” he said in mid-November. “I was jumping around from horse to horse just trying to figure out what to ride. I was just having heck, and there, toward the end, my other horse, Sambo, just stepped up. We were running at longer scores, and I did real well with him.”

When times were tough, the Texas cowboy leaned on his faith, his family and his traveling partners, Casey Martin, Sean Mulligan and Dru Melvin. Martin, a three-time NFR qualifier from Sulphur, La., leads the world standings. Melvin and Mulligan also have competed in Vegas.

“I got to travel with a group of great guys, and we all built off each other,” Armes said. “I’ve been real fortunate to be able to rodeo with the guys I travel with, guys that have the same goals. We all have families, and we’re there to take care of business. It makes it a lot easier.”

The toughest part of being on the ProRodeo trail is spending so much time away from home, but it’s business. Armes utilizes technology to keep up to date with the goings-on at home, including video-chats.

“We talked every day, sometimes several times a day,” he said. “I was really missing them, and I wasn’t winning, and they all came to Cheyenne (Wyo.) to spend time with me. I won quite a bit at Cheyenne, then Drake got in the truck with us for a couple of weeks. I did good in (Kansas rodeos) Dodge City, Abilene and Phillipsburg, and he was right there rooting me on.”

The entire clan will be in Las Vegas rooting for Armes. He’s hoping that will be the driving force to a successful NFR, where go-round winners will earn $18,630 each night. He plans to ride Ote, a palomino horse owned by Matt Reeves, the third-ranked steer wrestler from Cross Plains, Texas.

“At the end of the year, I rode that horse everywhere,” Armes said. “Almost every time I nodded my head, I placed.

“That’s my choice I’m going to ride at the finals. I hope it all goes as planned.”

Last year’s championship went quite well. He earned more than $85,000 during the rugged 10-night NFR, moving from 15th to sixth in the final world standings. Having last December in his memory banks is an advantage heading to this year’s finale.

“Last year I was worried about the average one time, and it cost me,” he said, referring 10-round aggregate pays nearly $48,000 to the steer wrestler with the best cumulative time. “It was in the ninth round, and I just needed to make a good run. I didn’t make a very good run.

“In my opinion, you’ve got to try to win every round, and the average will take care of itself.”

It’s that kind of faith that keeps Armes among the best in the world. He hopes to prove it during that glorious 10 days in December.

postheadericon Friends produce benefit for Ford

LAS VEGAS – Bruce Ford is a five-time world champion bareback rider and a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

He’s also a survivor and one of the most caring and most giving men anyone could ever meet. That’s what his friends say, and they should know. A great number of Ford’s friends have gathered together to help the cowboy through some difficult times he’s faced in 2013.

The biggest obstacle came in September, when floodwaters ravaged much of Colorado. Ford’s property near Kersey, Colo., was severely damaged as Mother Nature wielded a sharp tongue and damaging waters. Ford and his wife, Sherry, found safety with their animals.

Bruce Ford

Bruce Ford

If that weren’t enough, Ford has struggled with diabetes and has spent several days in the hospital recently. A big toe and a portion of a foot had to be removed because of the damage the disease has caused.

Now the rodeo community that has called Ford a member is reaching out to its brother through the Bruce Ford Flood Relief Benefit, a live auction that will take place around 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Sonoma Room in the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It occurs during much of the hoopla and celebration that takes place around the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s marquee event for which Ford qualified 18 times.

“I know Bruce as well as a brother,” said Bob Logue, who, like Ford, rode bareback horses at the NFR numerous times. “Me and Bruce rodeoed together. It’s the one person I knew I could always count on. In my past, I felt the need to help someone who needed it, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

Logue is the primary organizer of the event, working closely with former bareback rider and website designer Corey Brown; former bareback riding NFR qualifier Kelly Wardell; and Katie Ford, Bruce’s daughter-in-law. They’re hoping the rodeo community comes out in full force, whether donating items or being part of the auction, which follows the welcome reception for the 119 NFR contestants.

“As much as anything, Bruce is such a longtime icon in the sport, then you’ve got his son, Royce, and his nephews that have all qualified for the finals,” said Randy Corley, an 11-time Professoinal Rodeo Cowboys Association Announcer of the year, who will call the action during the NFR for the 13th time. “Bruce was such a good friend and such a giver for people.

“He’s the kind of guy that you want to rally around and help when you have a disaster. He was just one of a lot of people that were affected by this disaster, but he just happens to be one that we know.”

Corley was instrumental in securing the location of the benefit at the South Point, contacting owner Michael Gaughan, also a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

“Michael and Donna Gaughan wanted to be involved, and they donated the room and other stuff for this,” Corley said. “He wanted a good plan and wanted it to be a good deal, and I think that’s what they’ve done.

“I hope people rally and that they do the little things or the big things that make a difference. I believe in helping people, and Bob Logue does, too. People hit circumstances where they need help, and this is one of those instances.”

Corley’s sentiments are a true reflection of the lifestyle that is rodeo.

“As far as I’m concerned, everybody in rodeo is family,” Wardell said. “I want us to raise a bunch of money in a short time. I think it’s important to help each other out. In rodeo, when we get done, all we have left are our friends and the people we rodeoed with along the way.

“When one of us is down, it’s important to me that we all gather around and try to lift that person up.”

Ford has been down. The flood happened more than two months ago. In the weeks since, he’s been hospitalized with complications of diabetes. Logue has visited with his longtime friend several times and has been in constant contact with Katie Ford.

“We’ve had so many people who have reached out, whether it’s donating items for the auction or donating money,” Logue said. “I talk to Bruce at least once a month, and sometimes I’ll talk to him two or three times a day.

“Being a rodeo cowboy and a goal-setter, you seem to gravitate to people with the same goals and the same life experiences. Me and Bruce … we were sidekicks.”

Ford touched a lot of people that way, and that’s another reason they’re part of the benefit in Las Vegas.

“As a bareback rider coming up through the amateur ranks, I couldn’t think of who didn’t like Bruce Ford,” said Brown, who operates 4B Web Design. “He was an idol for a lot of bareback riders. On one hand, it’s good to help a fellow bareback rider out, but I also got to meet him and I think it’s the right thing to do. I have skill sets that can help spread the word through the Internet.

“I think a lot of that man, and he paved a lot of ways for bareback riders for a long time. It’s an honor to even be associated with it.”

Ford is planning to be at the benefit. It’s just more proof that cowboys know how to face adversity; they trust in their faith and their friends.

postheadericon Cooper ready for his run at NFR

MONUMENT, N.M. – The terrain around Monument is rugged, but so are the people who live in Lea County, N.M.

It’s home to Jim Ross Cooper, where the landscape molded him as much as his famous rodeo family. You see, the four-time team roping qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has a powerful legacy in the sport; his father, Jimmie, is the 1981 all-around world champion who was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2005.

“I don’t think pressure is the right word when you’re Jimmie Cooper’s son,” Jim said. “You’re born with your last name and in rodeo, but you’ve also grown up with probably the best teacher. It’s more of an expectation of what you want to happen.

Jim Ross Cooper

Jim Ross Cooper

“I wouldn’t call it pressure, because you’ve had it your entire life. You’ve been competing since you were 8 or 9 years old; you should’ve learned to handle it.”

Jim will be one of four Coopers competing in the NFR and the second heeler, joining seven-time world champion heeler Clay O’Brien Cooper. The others are tie-down roping brothers Tuf and Clif Cooper, who are Jim’s second cousins – Tuf is the reigning two-time world champion.

“Tuf’s not making that family legacy any easier, but instead of seeing it as pressure, I’d love for them to start saying that stuff about me,” Jim said.

He has made a name for himself, but it doesn’t yet include a coveted gold buckle, the world championship trophy for which every cowboy strives. His father owns one, and so does Mike Beers, the father of Cooper’s heading partner, Brandon Beers. Together Jim Cooper and Brandon Beers had an outstanding regular season and have set themselves in prime position to make a run for gold during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

“Team roping is not really a physical sport, so it’s more of the mental aspect of it,” Cooper said. “The key is having the right horses and the right attitudes that can help you find your success. My partner and I have the best horses we have had, and that’s helped us a lot.”

Both cowboys are third in the world standings in their respective disciplines. Beers has earned $97,373, while Cooper sits at $105,195 – in rodeo, dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most money won at the end of the season will be crowned world champion.

“I don’t think people can fully understand that when things start going your way at the right time, sometimes it can take on its own personality,” Cooper said. “Sometimes the rope just bounces on instead of off. We had that at the right times this season.”

Sometimes, though, the bounces haven’t always gone Cooper’s way. That’s rodeo. All a cowboy asks is the opportunity to compete.

“Only team ropers, even people who team rope for recreation, can understand how many things can go wrong during a run,” he said. “You’re literally adding in five entities to the equation with two ropers, two horses and a steer. That’s double your chances of human error that you don’t have in any other sport in rodeo. One of the old guys was telling me that team roping is the hardest event to be consistent at because you’re dealing with five minds.”

And only those who handle that challenge the best earn the right to compete in ProRodeo’s championship. For Cooper, he loves the idea of competing with Beers, a cowboy Cooper considers family.

“We’ve known each other forever,” said Cooper, who owns a slice of ProRodeo history by teaming with his brother, Jake, as the first set of twins to qualify in team roping for the NFR; that happened in 2007. “There is no tension. I don’t have to wonder what he’s thinking. You can call him a brother, but he’s more like a cousin that you’ve seen for three or four months a year for every year of your life. You don’t have to keep in touch, because the next time you see him, you’re best buds again.”

It’s been that way since the two cowboys were young, back when their dads were chasing their gold buckle dreams. Now Jim Cooper and Brandon Beers are following their dreams.

“The biggest difference for me over the years, besides the obvious of going from being a kid to having better discipline, is that I’ve had work at having nicer horses and having better horsemanship,” said Cooper, who credits his sponsorships from Tate Branch Dodge, Classic Ropes, Bloomer Trailers and Jaco Brands for him compete among ProRodeo’s elite. “I’ve learned just how important horsemanship is and that the horsemanship aspect is as important as the roping aspect. Trevor (Brazile) was all about horsemanship growing up, and I believe that’s why he’s been able to be so dominant for so long.”

Brazile is one of just two men in ProRodeo history to have earned 18 world championships, and he owns the record with the most all-around gold buckles at 10. He’ll likely better both those marks this season. He just won his fourth steer roping world title and has qualified for the NFR in team roping and tie-down roping; he owns a $122,000 lead in the all-around standings.

With each passing year comes greater experience, and Cooper sees that as a positive. In his previous three trips to Las Vegas, he and his partners have placed in just six go-rounds. He could see that as a negative, but he doesn’t.

“I haven’t had success at any NFR yet,” he said. “I’m going in with an open mind. I’m going to have fun, and I’m going to take 10 cuts at them like I do at any rodeo. If you can have fun and make money, then it’ll go well.

“The only pressure Brandon and I have going into the finals is the pressure we put on ourselves.”

That’s exactly how championship dreams come true.

postheadericon Faith guides Winters to the NFR

Jean Winters of Texline, Texas, circles the cloverleaf pattern earlier this season at the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb. Winters, the 2013 Calgary (Alberta) Stampede barrel racing champion, has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in her career. She will run her sorrel gelding, Zan, at ProRodeo's championship from Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas (WPRA PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

Jean Winters of Texline, Texas, circles the cloverleaf pattern earlier this season at the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb. Winters, the 2013 Calgary (Alberta) Stampede barrel racing champion, has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in her career. She will run her sorrel gelding, Zan, at ProRodeo’s championship from Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. (WPRA PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

TEXLINE, Texas – Tucked inside the New Mexico-Texas state line, just 10 miles from Clayton, N.M., is the home of Jean and Guy Winters.

It’s there that they have raised and educated their two sons, Pecos, 17, and Brazos, 15. It’s where they have focused their lives on the basics: Faith, love and family. You see, Jean Winters is a woman of great faith –in God, then in everything else.

“I rodeo to glorify God,” said Winters, a barrel racer who has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in her career. “What drives me is knowing that I was created for a purpose.”

The family has been involved in rodeo all their married lives. In fact, Guy and Jean spent the first few days of their honeymoon at a rodeo in northeast Colorado, where Guy was working as a pickup man. They owned a livestock production company for about 15 years, with Guy running the show.

Jean Winters

Jean Winters

“He started his first contract in 1995, and he owned one bucking horse,” Jean Winters said. “In 2010, Guy got bucked off a colt and broke his neck. It was a wakeup call for us being able to do it and being able to do it correctly. I was rodeoing, and instead of being whole-heartedly in the rodeo business, he also loved going with me, so we had to choose.”

They prayed, focused on their faith and made the decision.

“We felt like we were there for a reason, and our season was ending, so we sold most of the rest of our stock,” she said.

Rodeo isn’t the most stable of businesses, whether it’s in production and owning bucking stock or racing a fast horse around the cloverleaf barrel pattern. That’s where the Winters’ faith pulls them through all the challenges and doubts that come the way of the rodeo trail.

“It’s a hard life, but I like a challenge of working with a horse,” Jean Winters said. “I like the adrenaline rush of working in the arena. I’m not going to be able to shine God’s light on everyone at every rodeo I go to, because I fall short of that. But I have a drive to do this – to train the horses and to run around the barrels – because I believe I have a purpose.”

She’s had that purpose all her life. Her mother and father taught Jean the power of God’s strength, and she believed it. From a little girl, when she worked to train her Shetland pony, there was a hunger.

“God put this drive in my heart, and I didn’t know what it was until later in life,” she said.

Winters secured her first invitation to ProRodeo’s grand championship in early July, when she won the barrel racing title at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede. Just like everything else in rodeo, it didn’t come easy.

Winters competed in three preliminary go-rounds without success and failed to advance to the semifinals. Instead, she and the others tried to secure their place in the final day of competition through the wild card round, in which only the top two contestants advanced. Winters finished second in the wild card to qualify for the semifinals, where she finished third – the top four in the semis advanced to the finals.

That’s where Winters and her 11-year-old sorrel gelding, Crickets Peppy Zan, scored the best. They rounded the cloverleaf pattern in 17.40 seconds, one of the fastest times in the 10-day championship, and earned the $100,000 first-place prize – only half that counted toward qualifications for the NFR.

“I am just so very thankful for Calgary,” said Winters, who earned the right to compete at the Stampede by finishing well in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s inaugural qualifying tour in 2012. “I’m thankful I had the opportunity to go to Calgary because, all in all, my season was not very good. I would go to rodeos and not place at all. At San Antonio, I did well, then I went to Houston and could not win a dime. I’d finish just one hole out of the money at more rodeos than I care to remember.

“My year has been one of extreme highs with the win at Calgary and extreme lows with not winning money through the season.”

But the year was brilliant in that Winters shared time with Zan, a horse she has ridden for seven years and has owned for four.

“I just had a gut feeling the horse would work good,” she said, noting that he’s just 14.1 hands tall. “He is quick. He can get somewhere fast. He has a gritty attitude. You couldn’t wear him out.

“He’s a real kind horse, and he knows that when he’s with a little kid, they can lead him around, and he’ll change for whoever’s around him. But you don’t throw a little kid on him. He believes speed is a good thing, and it doesn’t matter who’s on him.”

So t how did she overcome the roller coaster that is the rodeo trail?

“It was a learning year, in that I learned to trust God more and to depend on Him more,” she said. “In the middle of all that, I can say, ‘At least I won one rodeo and did well in San Antonio.’

“If I ever really thought about the rodeos I entered this year and look at the money won, I could get really depressed. I choose to, instead, say God has a plan for it.”

It’s what works for Jean Winters. Her faith has carried her a long ways this season … all the way to Las Vegas and ProRodeo’s championship event.

postheadericon Benbenek racing toward her dreams

AUBREY, Texas – From the first day she swung her leg over a horse, Gretchen Benbenek has had a love affair with the majestic animals.

These days, she chases that passion while riding racehorses on the ProRodeo trail, and she’s pretty good at it, too. Raised on Montana, Benbenek was part of two women’s national championship teams at Oklahoma State University and now lives in Aubrey.

She also is the 2013 Prairie Circuit champion barrel racer, a title she earned over the course of the season at rodeos primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.

“My house is about 40 miles south of the border, plus I went to OSU for five years,” Benbenek said. “I know a lot of these rodeos, and I know a lot of the people up here. I love the people, and my horse gets along with the ground real good. I guess if he liked deep, sandy ground, we’d probably run more in the Texas Circuit.”

Gretchen Benbenek

Gretchen Benbenek

That horse is Maverick, a 10-year-old bay gelding whose registered name is Shot of Firewater, and he is a big part of Benbenek’s life, in and out of the rodeo arena. You see, Maverick’s mom, Miss Willie Ada, blazed around the cloverleaf pattern with Benbenek on her back. Now that’s Maverick’s job.

“It means everything to have a second-generation horse like this,” said Benbenek, who was part of OSU’s title teams in 2001 and 2004. “I guess I would keep going if I had to buy something and start over, but this means a lot. His mother meant the world to me, so to be able to keep going on her baby is just special to me.”

It’s an amazing relationship, but the genetics passed along to Maverick are just as incredible

“He’s got his mom’s mind and her heart,” she said. “She had the biggest heart in the world. She was cutting bred; she shouldn’t have been a barrel horse, but she did really well for me because she has such big heart.

“He tries every time. It sounds funny, but I think he just wants to do whatever I want him to do. He just wants to make me happy.”

She’s happy. In addition to winning the Prairie Circuit title, Benbenek and Maverick performed well enough through the 2013 campaign to finish 45th in the final world standings with a little more than $22,000. That means the tandem’s strong run has earned them the right to compete at many of the limited-entry rodeos that are scheduled for early in 2014.

Now she’s got her sites set firmly on the future and seeing where Maverick can take her.

“I’m spoiled rotten,” Benbenek said. “His mom was easy, and he is easy. I switched his feed on him; he’s feeding Bluebonnet now, which is doing a lot for him. It used to be that he did fine at home, but on the road, I had trouble keeping weight on him. Now I actually have to make sure I don’t feed him too much. I also give him Oxy Boost every time before I run, and while we’re on the road, about as much alfalfa hay as he wants.

“He’s so fun to ride.”

Fun comes from playing, but rodeo is a business. For Benbenek, it’s one of two she has; in addition to traveling tens of thousands of miles a year to compete for prize money, she also is a real estate appraiser for Merit Advisors of Gainesville, Texas.

“I’m an independent contractor so I can leave when I want, but I’m not making money as an appraiser when I’m gone,” she said. “I’ve got to be making money somewhere.”

That’s why the rodeo business is such an important part of Benbenek’s life. With her year-end championship in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region, the Montanan-turned-Oklahoman-turned-Texan has qualified for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will take place next spring in Oklahoma City.

That event – known as ProRodeo’s national championship – will feature a large purse, and winners in each event earn a $20,000 voucher toward the purchase of a new Ram truck.

“I need a new truck, so I’m really looking forward to that,” Benbenek said with a laugh.

The reality, though, is none of this would be in place if it weren’t for a little cowgirl assistance toward the end of the circuit season. It was mid-July, and the north Texas cowgirl was in search of ways to step up her game; she found them in words spoken by a barrel racing veteran.

“I was just placing along, like I always do,” she said. “I actually sat and talked to Layna Kight at Pretty Prairie (Kan.). She said something that hit me. I don’t need to go in there thinking I need to just make money, but I need to go in there with the mind-set that I need to win.”

Though she placed a lot throughout the season, she found herself in the winner’s circle a little more toward the end of the season.

“My big push was around Labor Day weekend,” she said, pointing to wins in Vinita, Okla., Hastings, Neb., and Dayton, Iowa; she also earned a nice paycheck in Fort Madison, Iowa.

The push of first-place paydays was incredible for Benbenek’s confidence, and she parlayed that into the circuit championship and a solid run at the All American ProRodeo Finals, which took place in early October. She closed out her 2013 season a week later in Duncan, Okla., during the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, collecting an additional $2,210 and the trophy buckle for being crowned the circuit champ.

“This is such a big thing for me because it’s been such a goal of mine,” she said of the Prairie Circuit title. “This is something that I’ve been working for every single day and have been thinking about every single day since this rodeo ended last year, because it was such a heartache for me last year.”

The heartache is over, and the future looks quite bright for Benbenek.

postheadericon NFR horse Open Range dies

Jared Smith, a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, starts his ride on Open Range during the Waller County (Texas) Fair and Rodeo in early October. Open Range, a 6-year-old bay, was selected to perform at this year's NFR. Open Range died Thursday from a neurological disorder. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Jared Smith, a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, starts his ride on Open Range during the Waller County (Texas) Fair and Rodeo in early October. Open Range, a 6-year-old bay, was selected to perform at this year’s NFR. Open Range died Thursday from a neurological disorder. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Carr Pro Rodeo’s Open Range was an outstanding athlete, selected as one of the top 100 bucking horses in ProRodeo to perform at the upcoming Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

The bay was just 6 years old when it died Thursday in Bryan, Texas.

Ranch manager Jeremy Hight checked on the bucking horses and bulls at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and said everything looked fine. Open Range was in the pasture near Athens, Texas, with most of the other Carr Pro Rodeo and Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo horses that will go to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in a couple of weeks.

“The next morning, he was in dire straits,” Hight said. “The vet said it was a sudden onset neurological disorder.”

Open Range was taken to Texas Equine Hospital in Bryan, Texas, where he was treated by Dr. Cliff Honnas. Open Range suffered a seizure there and died.

“I feel empty,” said John Gwatney, Carr’s production supervisor. “I feel like we lost one of the family.”

This was to be Open Range’s first trip to the Wrangler NFR. Open Range was a half-brother to River Boat Annie, the 2007 reserve world champion bareback horse that will perform at the NFR for the ninth straight year. Open Range will be replaced by Real Deal, the 2005 Bareback Horse of the Year that also will buck for the ninth time at the NFR.

postheadericon Holeman, Benbenek earn circuit crowns

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a story that appears in the November 2013 edition of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA.

June Holeman was giddy.

It was Saturday, Oct. 19, and she stood inside the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan, Okla., with as big a smile as the 70-year-old cowgirl could muster.

“I just can’t believe it,” Holeman said, referring to her Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo average championship. “This hors just started running right a week or two ago. It’s just crazy.”

Holeman and Hopes Money Boy rounded the cloverleaf pattern three times in a cumulative time of 48.69 seconds to claim the title and earn the right to compete at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will take place next spring in Oklahoma City. They won the second round with the fastest run of the weekend, 16.03 seconds, and placed in the other two.

In all, Holeman earned $4,713 in the southern Oklahoma community, and more than doubled her season earnings in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region.

“I raised him,” said Holeman, the oldest Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier in the sport’s history, earning that record in 2005 when she raced inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas at the age of 62. “He was hurt for two years, so he’s late getting going.”

It looks like Tall Boy is catching up for lost time. The 6-year-old sorrel gelding first began in competition in June at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte, Neb., just two hours from Holeman’s Arcadia, Neb., home. Holeman mustered less than $4,000 through the circuit’s regular season, so the big sorrel’s big performance in Duncan was especially significant.

“I’ve won the average a few times,” she said. “I still go to rodeos for my fans. It’s much harder than it used to be on me, and every year is harder for me. I turned 70 in June. I can hardly saddle this horse; I’ve got to get on a bucket.”

That’s because the smaller Holeman is mounted on a 16.2-hand-tall horse, which is why the gelding carries such a barn name. It doesn’t help that Holeman has a little trouble hoisting the saddle over the horse’s back because of an injured shoulder.

Still, she loves the opportunity she has with the young horse.

“This is just very exciting,” she said.

The three-round circuit finale also served as a punctuation point for year-end champion Gretchen Benbenek of Aubrey, Texas, who had clinched that title before opening night. Still, Benbenek earned a check in every go-round and finished third in the average, pocketing $2,210.

Gretchen Benbenek

Gretchen Benbenek

“This is such a big thing for me because it’s been such a goal of mine,” she said. “This is something that I’ve been working for every single day and have been thinking about every single day since this rodeo ended last year, because it was such a heartache for me last year.”

The heartache is over, thanks to Shot of Firewater, a 10-year-old bay gelding out of Miss Willie Ada by Firem Jet. Maverick is carrying on a family tradition for Benbenek, who rode his mother while competing in college rodeo at Oklahoma State University a decade ago. In fact, Benbenek was part of the two women’s national title teams the Cowgirls had in 2001 and 2004.

“It means everything to have a second-generation horse like this,” she said. “I guess I would keep going if I had to buy something and start over, but this means a lot. His mother meant the world to me, so to be able to keep going on her baby is just special to me.”

So is competing in ProRodeo. Though she lives south of the Red River, Benbenek prefers to compete in the Prairie Circuit for a number of reasons.

“My house is about 40 miles south of the border, plus I went to OSU for five years,” Benbenek said. “I know a lot of these rodeos, and I know a lot of the people up here. I love the people, and my horse gets along with the ground real good. I guess if I liked deep, sandy ground, we’d probably run more in the Texas Circuit.”

It worked out just fine for Benbenek. Of course, she got a little help in mid-July while visiting with one of ProRodeo’s veterans.

“I was just placing along, like I always do,” she said. “I actually sat and talked to Layna Kight at Pretty Prairie (Kan.). She said something that hit me. I don’t need to go in there thinking I need to just make money, but I need to go in there with the mind-set that I need to win.”

Though she placed a lot throughout the season, she found herself in the winner’s circle a little more toward the end of the season.

“My big push was around Labor Day weekend,” Benbenek said. “I won Vinita (Okla.) and won Hastings (Neb.). Even though they weren’t in our circuit, I won Dayton (Iowa) and won some money at Fort Madison (Iowa).”

All that winning became contagious, which is the mentality Benbenek took into the circuit finals. Of course, having a great horse like Maverick helped a ton.

“He’s got his mom’s mind and her heart,” she said. “She had the biggest heart in the world. She was cutting bred; she shouldn’t have been a barrel horse, but she did really well for me because she has such big heart.

“He tries every time. It sounds funny, but I think he just wants to do whatever I want him to do. He just wants to make me happy.”

He’s done his job well.

In October, Benbenek and Maverick were more than solid. In addition to placing in three rounds in Duncan, the duo finished second at the All American Finals in Waco, Texas, beating a field of talented players, including Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers like reigning world champion Mary Walker, Michele McLeod, Kaley Bass and Fallon Taylor.

“Our circuit finals has been really tough,” said Benbenek, who works as a real estate appraiser for Merit Advisors out of Gainesville, Texas. “I just got done at the All American, and this is tougher than that.”

Now that she and Holeman are qualified to compete in Oklahoma City next spring, she’s looking forward to the opportunity and the payout that is available. She also is looking forward to seeing how well Maverick performs inside Jim Norick Arena, which once served as the NFR’s home.

“I’m spoiled rotten,” Benbenek said. “His mom was easy, and he is easy. I switched his feed on him; he’s feeding Bluebonnet now, which is doing a lot for him. It used to be that he did fine at home, but on the road, I had trouble keeping weight on him. Now I actually have to make sure I don’t feed him too much. I also give him Oxy Boost every time before I run, and while we’re on the road, about as much alfalfa hay as he wants.

“He’s so fun to ride. He can scoot across the ground pretty good, but he’s not the thing out there. He doesn’t turn quite as sharp as my mare does, but he’s pretty quick around the turns, too. I just have to put him in the right spot going into that first barrel.”

Whatever they’re doing together, it’s working. She may as well stay with it.

postheadericon Dirty Jacket is the Real Deal

Dirty Jacket and Real Deal are two very athletic geldings owned by Pete Carr, and they were two of the biggest stars this past weekend at the Texas Stampede in Allen, Texas.

Wes Stevenson rode Real Deal, and young gun Orin Larsen rode Dirty Jacket; both posted scores of 88 points to share the event title. It marks two straight first-place splits for Real Deal, who led Steven Dent to 89 points and a share of the title in Hempstead, Texas, a little more than a month ago.

That’s pretty good for a horse that was named the Bareback Horse of the Year eight seasons ago and performed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo eight straight years beginning in 2004. It’s proof that Real Deal is still one of the greatest bucking beasts in the game.

But Dirty Jacket is the story of 2013. In this calendar year, the 9-year-old bay gelding has bucked 11 times. He has led cowboys to at least a share of a go-round title 10 times. Even though the Texas Stampede counts toward the 2014 world standings, it’s quite a phenomenal feat for the 2013 Reserve Bareback Horse of the Year.

Dirty Jacket’s next trip will be in four weeks when he bucks during the fifth go-round at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo; he’ll buck again in the 10th round, and all 15 bareback riders in the world championship hope to see their name next to his when the draw is conducted.

He’s just that good.

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