By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan
Waco, Texas—Life for Team McLeod must sometimes feel like the carousel at the fair.
Michele McLeod and daughter Katelyn—two-thirds of the barrel racing members of Team McLeod along with little sister Lindsey—ride for Hi Point Performance Horses and are known to switch up between numerous mounts through the course of the season.
Michele has been to the last two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos riding Hi Point horses Slick by Design and Kellies Chick, better known as Skye. She's headed back to Las Vegas in December. Katelyn is a rookie in 2015 and spent much of the year aboard Skye before switching at the end of the season to the talented bay gelding Apt to Be Special, aka Toby.
Like the carousel, the McLeods have a lot of good, and fun, choices for mounts. And also like the carousel, no matter what they choose, each one seems to lead to the same place, in this case, the winner's circle.
After Michele took the reins on Toby for the Justin Boots Championships and Wrangler Champions Challenges in Omaha and Kissimmee the last two weekends, Katelyn got back in the saddle for the All American Pro Rodeo Series Finals, held in conjunction with the Heart O'Texas Fair in Waco beginning October 10.
Only 30 WPRA barrel racers qualify to compete in Waco. They earn their trip via All American rodeos throughout the season. All PRCA/WPRA rodeos with less than $30,000 in total purse are automatically on the All American tour and contestants earn 1 point for each $1 earned at designated rodeos along with 50 bonus points for each rodeo in which they compete.
Once in Waco, the contestants are divided into three pools of 10 competitors each. Each pool has two rounds of competition and each round is paid out individually. With no averages paid, the top three money winners based on the two go round payoffs advance to the semi-finals to be held Saturday, October 17.
The final night is a two-run, sudden death sprint to the title. The nine semi-finalists compete in one go round with the four fastest returning within the same performance for the finals. With the slate wiped clean one last time, the All American Pro Rodeo Series Champ is the cowgirl who is the fastest in the final go.
A big payout of $7,500 goes to the winner along with the braggin' rights. All money won in Waco is added to competitors' 2015 qualification standings, helping some possibly get into big added money, limited entry rodeos in the winter of 2016.
Katelyn McLeod is hoping to follow in the footsteps of other top rookies by winning the All American Finals to cap their inaugural season in pro rodeo. In 2014 Sarah McDonald captured both the WPRA Rookie of the Year and All American titles; the year prior, Victoria Williams settled for second in the rookie race but consoled herself with the title in Waco.
McLeod, who finished third in an incredible rookie race, set herself on the path to the All American Championship with a third place finish in round one of Pool A on Saturday night. Her time of 16.30 seconds was just inches behind winner Lisa Thornton and second place Morgan Breaux, another 2015 rookie.
Thornton took the victory lap aboard Straight Toasted, aka Hunter, after posting a 16.23 for the win.
"It's funny, but I knew what kind of horse he was by the end of his two-year old year when we were just trotting and loping the pattern," says Thornton of the gelding she purchased as a two-year old and trained for the futurities. "He was just so focused on doing his job and he seemed to really love it."
Now six, Hunter has really taken to the rodeos, leaving Thornton sixth in the Texas Circuit while qualifying her to Waco.
"My son named him and I did not want to call him Hunter," Thornton laughs. "But he just kept calling him Hunter and it stuck. I told him, I guess it's short for barrel hunter."
Running Sunday night in round two, Michele McLeod opened the performance in a big way, posting the rodeo's fastest time at that point, 16.05 seconds. The matriarch of Team McLeod was riding Ranger, borrowed from good friend Rosie Bradley.
Mom would not sit long atop the leaderboard. Just four horses later, Katelyn and Toby barreled down the alleyway and through the pattern inside the Extraco Events Center. When the clock settled to a stop moments later, it showed 16.04 seconds.
The McLeods would finish 1-2 on the night and Katelyn took top honors for the pool with $4,168 earned in two runs.
"It was great," Katelyn said simply of the big night for Team McLeod.
Thornton finished pool competition with $2,779 in earnings, good enough for second. Michele tied with Breaux for third, both earning $2,084.
Both McLeods will be back to battle for the Championship on Saturday night. Only three qualify from each bracket but the tie breaker goes to the lady ranked highest in the All American standings prior to the finals. Michele was 11th, ahead of Breaux, so she will continue her quest for a first All American title.
The action paused on Monday night, returning with Pool B on Tuesday and Wednesday. Among the scheduled competitors are 2015 Wrangler NFR qualifier, and second-ranked rookie, Vickie Carter, 2014 All American pool winner Andrea Cline, and perennial top 30 cowgirl Natalie Foutch.
For more information on the All American Pro Rodeo Series Finals, please visit www.prorodeo.com and stay tuned to www.wpra.com for continuing updates.
1. Lisa Thornton, Straight Toasted, 16.23, $2,779
2. Morgan Breaux, SS Streakers R Us, 16.25, $2,084
3. Katelyn McLeod, Apt to Be Special, 16.30, $1,389
4. Fallon Taylor, Flos Heiress, 16.44, $695
1. Katelyn McLeod, 16.04, $2,779
2. Michele McLeod, Ranger (registered name unavailable), 16.05, $2,084
3. Laura Kennedy, Hopes Money Boy, 16.16, $1,389
4. Jill Tanner, Credit ta Fame, 16.18, $695