By Jolee Jordan
Bennington, Kansas—The rookie road can get a bit weary as competitors learn the ropes of the road, face down professional level competition on a full-time basis, and endure the inevitable highs and lows of the pro circuit for the first time in their careers.
Luckily, Randi Buchanan’s goal for her rookie season is simple: to have fun.
“Being a rookie doesn’t matter,” laughs the cowgirl who originally hails from Reno, Nevada but now makes her home in Chouteau, Oklahoma. “I’d like to make the [Prairie] Circuit Finals Rodeo and I’m going to go a little bit over the summer.
“Mostly, I just want to have fun, keep my horse healthy, and just smile every time I get to throw a leg over her.”
The “her” in Buchanan’s rookie plan is her equine partner in crime Cricket, registered with the AQHA as Royal Flight Ta Fame, and it’s been a bit of fate that has her in Buchanan’s rig.
The mare was raised right down the road from Buchanan’s family in Nevada—in the town of Fallon—and Buchanan got her when the mare was about five. The daughter of Stir N Up the Fame out of Tuck A Freckle by Tuck Um Up immediately went into training with Buchanan who has always trained her own horses.
It was certainly not an immediate success story.
“She dumped me quite a bit when I started out with her,” laughs Buchanan. “If I kicked in the wrong spot, she’d definitely buck me off.”
The pair found their groove, however, and began winning at the college rodeos that Buchanan had graduated into by that time.
“I started on cutting horses and came across the junior rodeos,” she notes of her start into the sport; her folks were not rodeo people but rather into cutting horses. “Pretty soon we found out we could pay for school rodeoing and it just went from there.”
In fact, Buchanan earned a spot on the Oklahoma Panhandle State University team in Goodwell. Equally handy with a rope or goat string in her hand as the reins on a barrel horse, Buchanan was a natural for college rodeo and even earned the title of “Iron Woman” at a women’s timed event competition preceding a college rodeo at Kansas State in 2017.
In 2015, she qualified for the finals at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in both the breakaway and the barrels, finishing second in the roping and third in the All Around. She would return to the CNFR in 2017, her senior year, aboard Cricket.
Buchanan graduated with a degree in biology in May of 2017 but did not return to northern Nevada.
“I went for the coaches but then I met somebody along the way so I stayed,” Buchanan says. Her “someone” is boyfriend Payton Holliday, a roper who now helps with a horse training operation in her area. For her part, Buchanan went to work for Holliday’s father who runs computer software for the county assessor.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with biology,” she admits wryly, adding that her boss is very understanding of her rodeo aspirations, allowing her to take her work on the road with her when she goes to competitions.
With her college career wrapped up and young horses to ride, Buchanan made the decision to sell Cricket. Although she found a good home for the mare, she soon began to regret her move.
“I sold my trailer and put my truck up as collateral and begged my way into getting them to sell her back to me,” she jokes. The new owners obliged and Cricket returned to Buchanan in the fall of 2017.
“I rodeoed on my permit a little last year but then my good horse ended up needing surgery,” Buchanan explains. After spending a few events seasoning young horses, and giving her mare time to get healthy before hitting the road, Buchanan bought her card for 2018 with no expectations other than to enjoy the process.
Even that modest goal was proving a bit difficult at first as Buchanan ran into some penalty blues in her first competitions of the 2018 season.
“I was having serious heck,” she says. “I had been to like eight rodeos and was hitting lots of barrels.”
The turning point came when she teamed up with Cayla Small. Small knows about the rookie road—she claimed the WPRA Rookie of the Year title in 2016, qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) along the way.
“Cayla got in the rig with me and after my run in Hugo (OK) I said, ‘I need help!’”
With Small’s help, Buchanan broke down her runs and began to pinpoint areas to improve in her riding and timing with the talented 10-year old mare.
“It was an overnight change,” she says. “I joked with Cayla, ‘I guess I needed you to show me how to ride the horse I trained.’”
The first rodeo for the now recharged pair was in Bennington, Kansas, home of the 43rd annual Bennington PRCA Rodeo sponsored by the Bennington Lions Club, held the final weekend of May. Buchanan competed in the slack.
“She runs in there hard and you don’t pick her up at all, just let her drop in and work,” Buchanan describes Cricket’s style. “When she got around the first, I thought, ‘this is setting up to be a good run.’”
After what she described as an “awesome” second turn, Buchanan felt home free with her mare’s solid third turn.
“She had been having a problem not running all the way back through the timers,” Buchanan says, noting that the mare will still sometimes buck, making it tough to think of motivating her all the way home with more than just a few kicks. “I just got a good hold of the horn and let it fly.”
“I was more happy just that I stayed square in the middle of her!”
Dodging the “broncy” bullet, Buchanan stopped the clock in 16.72 seconds, winning her first pro rodeo by two tenths of a second over Savannah Pearson. She earned $1,340, moving to 13th in Prairie Circuit standings.
Although she tipped a barrel to place in Strong City the same weekend, she went the following Tuesday to Woodward (OK) and left winning there as well.
“It’s been a very good week,” she says. “I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that we can keep it going.”
Buchanan will continue making her way in a handful of Prairie Circuit rodeos in the next few weeks while hoping to get a spot at her hometown rodeo in Reno. The rodeo has a limit and she will get a chance if someone turns out and is replaced by those on the alternate list.
“I’m second on the list right now so I’m hoping,” she says, noting that she’ll be hauling with her former high school rodeo team roping partner, Rachel Primm, another northern Nevada native. “Reno was a goal of mine for next year so it’s good either way.”
For more information on the Bennington PRCA Rodeo, please visit them on-line at www.benningtonprcarodeo.com.