Kinsel honored with gold buckle, Pozzobon wins average title at 60th Wrangler NFR
By NEAL REID
LAS VEGAS – Saturday was a great day for barrel racers Hailey Kinsel and Carman Pozzobon.
Kinsel, of Cotulla, Texas, officially accepted her gold buckle as the 2018 WPRA World Champion one night after clinching the title, and Pozzobon, of Aldergrove, British Columbia, made another clean run to claim the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average crown at the Thomas & Mack Center. The talented cowgirls were honored in front of 17,150 in Las Vegas, both wearing wide smiles and filled with emotions after 10 grueling days in the desert.
“I dreamed about how this was going to feel, and it’s even more,” said Kinsel, who finished with a WPRA-record $350,700 in season earnings. “I’ve got a lot of thoughts, and they’re all good. I’m going to enjoy this as long as I can, but I’ve got circuit finals in two weeks and Denver after that.”
Perhaps the most surreal moment of the whole 10 days was when Kinsel stepped up on the World Champions’ stage in the arena to receive her championship saddle and buckle along with the other eight world champs.
“Oh man, it was amazing,” she said. “Everyone up there is so deserving, and they’re heroes of mine. It was definitely surreal and was pretty awesome.”
Kinsel, last year’s WPRA reserve world champion, had a dreamlike 10 days in Las Vegas, winning an event-best four rounds, placing in two others and earning $157,865 in the process. She rode her prized 7-year-old palomino mare, DM Sissy Hayday “Sister,” in the first nine rounds and enjoyed a solid Round 10 run aboard 14-year-old gelding, Thunder Stones “TJ,” prior to picking up her hardware.
“We had (the world title) won, and I could have run her and gone for the (RAM) Top Gun Award, but she owes me nothing,” the 24-year-old Kinsel said of Sister. “We accomplished our main goal, so she had the night off. I ran my backup horse, TJ, and he proved he deserved to be here, too.
“He’s special, made a great run and kept me in the average tonight.”
Kinsel earned $11,423 for finishing seventh in the Wrangler NFR average and easily outdistanced second-place Jessica Routier – a Wrangler NFR rookie who finished second in the average and banked $153,000 in Las Vegas – by $98,996 for the world title. Amberleigh Moore won $157,231 at the Finals to vault from 13th to third in the world standings with $246,357, while Pozzobon’s consistency moved her from 15th to fourth in the world with $204,831.
Pozzobon did not perform like a Wrangler NFR rookie while riding her 8-year-old buckskin mare, Ripn Lady “Ripp,” during all 10 rounds at the Thomas & Mack Center. She and Ripp were the only duo to finish 10 rounds without a downed barrel and won the $67,269 average check with a total time of 139.46 seconds.
“Oh, it’s amazing, and it hasn’t set in yet, that’s for sure,” Pozzobon said. “I almost wanted to cry (on the victory lap), and that’s the first time I’ve flapped my hat around. It definitely fulfilled my whole dream and was a neat experience.”
Pozzobon overtook Routier for the average lead with a runner-up finish in Round 8, then finished sixth in the ninth round and third in Round 10 to clinch the average. It was a monumental triumph for Pozzobon, who had no specific plans or goals upon entering the $10 million rodeo nearly a dozen days ago.
“I had no expectations of anything,” Pozzobon said. “Once I got there (on top of the average), it pretty much makes you a magnet to those barrels. The nerves didn’t bother me, and it’s just another rodeo at the end of the day.
“I just had to keep on making clean runs all the way through.”
Pozzobon gave most of the credit to her steady steed, Ripp.
“She’s been amazing,” Pozzobon said. “I tried to get on my backup horse, but she was a little scarier in the alley, and I didn’t know which one to take because Ripp was getting a little revved up too tonight. I actually pulled her ears back and put ear plugs in, and she handled it the best tonight.”
Fellow Wrangler NFR rookie Kylie Weast won the 10th round on her 6-year-old mare, Reddy, in 13.37 seconds, the fastest barrel racing run of the Finals. The go-round win helped her finish 10th in the final world standings after placing in five rounds in Las Vegas.
Moore was second in Round 10 in 13.65 seconds, while Pozzobon took third at 13.68.
In other news, Wrangler NFR rookie Jessica Routier took home the Jerry Ann Taylor Award after being voted “Best Dressed” by her peers. She received a $5,000 check courtesy of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame for the honor.
The 2017 PRCA Media Award winner for print journalism, Neal Reid is covering his 15th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this year. He has written for USA Today, the WPRA News, Western Horseman, American Cowboy, ESPN.com and ESPNW.com, just to name a few. Follow him on Twitter at @NealReid21.