By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan
Puyallup, Washington—No birthday present could be sweeter than a dream come true.
That's exactly what Wyoming cowgirl Cassidy Kruse delivered to herself at the Justin Boots Playoffs at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup over the weekend.
Kruse came to town ranked 10th in the WPRA World standings, chasing her dream of a qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. After sweeping both go rounds and winning the average, Kruse is headed for the bright lights of Las Vegas with season earnings of $72,647.
"I hate to say this," admits the cowgirl, "but I feel like this finalized my first trip to the NFR."
"It's unreal to me," she added. "It's always been in my dreams and now my dream has come true."
Kruse celebrated her 20th birthday on Monday, September 14, just one day after picking up the win in Puyallup worth $8,357.
It all began on Saturday. After running in Lewiston, Idaho aboard her back-up horse Guys Dashing Girl, Kruse got back on her standard, the great 14 year old gelding JKR Assured Win, known affectionately around the barn as J.J.
The Justin Boots Playoffs were open to the top 48 competitors in the WPRA World standings as of August 24; each WPRA barrel racer made one run in one of four performances on Friday and Saturday, September 11-12. The top 12 advanced to the Championship Round on Sunday, September 13 and were given one more shot at a piece of the estimated $37,000 total purse.
Kruse and J.J. took the field by storm on Saturday night, taking first in the long go for a check worth $3,449. Her time of 14.57 was almost two tenths faster than second placed Deb Guelly of Canada.
Though Kruse is a second year member of the WPRA, she only competed at a few rodeos as a rookie in 2014 so this was her first trip to the Washington State Fair.
"All my life, people have told me, "you've got to do good at Puyallup. This is the one,'" she laughs. "It was so cool just to be there and then to win it? It's unreal."
Coming into the final day, Kruse was staring down a stacked field that included the WPRA's World leader Callie duPerier and the number three cowgirl Sarah Rose McDonald, five-time Canadian champ Guelly and 2014 Ram National Circuit Finals Champ Carmel Wright among others.
"There was no pressure on me, even though I won the first go," says Kruse who is sponsored by Roasted to Perfection, MVP Products, Dazzle Rock Tack and "my parents.' "I was so excited just to be there and to be in the short go."
"I told myself, my horse is feeling good so no matter what, I'm here, it's been fun and I need to just go do what I'm supposed to."
PHOTO BY: Kent Soule
Running in the middle of the pack on the random draw for the final run, Kruse nearly equaled her first round time, posting a blistering 14.61 for another round win and $1,460. Ivy Conrado came closest, stopping the clock at 14.66 seconds for second.
With a two-run average time of 29.18 seconds, Kruse easily took the win by three tenths of a second over Conrado with Wright and two-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Michele McLeod finishing third and fourth. Kruse picked up another $3,449 for the average win.
Kruse has just five rodeos left on her schedule, though she says she may skip a scheduled stop at the Pendleton Round-Up in favor of going straight to Albuquerque, Amarillo, Kansas City and finally, Omaha on the final weekend of the regular season.
"It was weird; when I entered Kansas City, I thought, that's my last rodeo of the year," she laughs. "I haven't had to enter anything and it's strange. I keep checking my book but there's nothing in there."
Though she spent her 20th birthday driving, Kruse was thrilled.
"It couldn't have gone any better."
The cowgirl is starting to look ahead to Las Vegas, noting that her family caught her win at the Justin Boots Playoffs via Pro Rodeo Live's radio broadcast and can't wait to cheer her on in Vegas.
"They said they were screaming [listening to the radio] and that they are probably going to embarrass me in Vegas," she laughed. "I told them they can't embarrass me."
With the pressure of the final season push beginning to subside, Kruse reflected on her great season, which began with a big win at Lafayette, La., way back in January.
"At the beginning of the year, I wasn't qualified—I didn't get to run at any of the big rodeos," she notes. "It's neat that we still did it. I think it shows that it can be done [without being able to compete at the big winter rodeos.]"
Kruse also notes the contributions of sometime hauling partner, and fellow Wrangler NFR qualifier Taylor Jacob, whom she leapfrogged to move to ninth in the standings this week, and friend Britany Diaz, also a Wrangler NFR qualifier.
"Getting to travel with Taylor was great for me. She taught me a lot because she's been up and down the road. Things like how to control the panic. I grew up with Britany Diaz and she told me to make sure my horse is feeling good. I've had a lot of people supporting me and helping me out."
For more information on the Washington State Fair Rodeo and Justin Boots Playoffs, visit www.thefair.com and www.prorodeo.com.
1. Cassidy Kruse, JKR Assured Win, 14.57, $3,449
2. Deb Guelly, Royal Star Commander, 14.74, $2,956
3. Rachel Dice, Tivitosatthegogobar, 14.78, $2,463
4. Michele McLeod, Kellies Chick, 14.81, $1,889
Brittany Kelly, The Opposum, 14.81, $1,889
6. Ivy Conrado, CFour Tibbie Stinson, 14.84, $1,314
7. Callie duPerier, Dash ta Diamonds, 14.87, $985
8. Carmel Wright, Sweetheart Special, 14.88, $657
9. Andrea Busby, Jet O Red, 14.90, $493
10. Sarah Rose McDonald, Fame Fling N Bling, 14.91, $304
1. Kruse, 14.61, $1,460
2. Conrado, 14.66, $1,095
3. Wright,, 14.73, $730
4. McDonald. 14.81, $365
1. Kruse, 29.18, $3,449
2. Conrado, 29.50, $2,956
3. Wright, 29.61, $2,463
4. McLeod, 29.64, $2,1435
5. McDonald, 29.72, $1,478
duPerier, 29.72, $1,478
7. Busby, 29.85, $712
Vickie Carter, Blazin ta Fame, 29.85, $712
Kelly, 29.85, $712
10. Dice, 29.88, $328