By Jolee Jordan
Lockhart Wins RNCFR For First Time in Storied Career
Kissimmee, Florida—At this point, there are very few things missing from Lisa Lockhart’s resume. After 12 trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), Lockhart has won nearly every major rodeo on the ProRodeo schedule, from Cheyenne Frontier Days to the Calgary Stampede, from the Wranlger NFR average—twice—to the Canadian Championship. It’s all part of a $2.5 million career.
About the only things missing are a gold buckle for winning the WPRA World Championship and a National Championship earned at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR).
Lockhart has had chances at the latter . . . she’s won a record-tying 11 year-end circuit championships including 10 in the Badlands Circuit from 1996 through 2018; she added another title in the Montana Circuit in 2016. After winning both the year-end and average title at the Ram Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2018, Lockhart earned her 14th trip to the RNCFR.
The veteran cowgirl has had plenty of success, competing in the RNCFR in every location in which it has been held from Pocatello, Idaho to Oklahoma City to Guthrie and now in its home in Kissimmee, Florida. Competing on several different horses, Lockhart has won go rounds and qualified for the final round but never won the rodeo.
The final championship event of pro rodeo’s circuit system, the RNCFR is in its third decade of awarding national titles. The circuit system was designed with part-time competitors in mind by allowing them a chance to rodeo closer to home and still battle for year-end titles. Only the year-end champions and the winners from each circuit finals rodeo qualify to compete here each year.
The RNCFR is a tournament style rodeo with two full rounds determining which of the 26 contestants will compete on the final Sunday in the semi-finals. Eight competitors earn a spot and the final day is two rounds, both sudden death, with the four best from the semi-finals making it to the final round.
Lockhart’s chances in 2019 seemed dimmed somewhat when the cowgirl lost the opportunity to ride her number one mount, the million dollar Wrangler NFR gelding Louie after the horse was injured during RodeoHouston. Best back-up horse Rosa was also unavailable as the talented mare is spending time in the breeding center, passing on her outstanding genetics to another generation for owner Alan Woodbury.
So Lockhart fell back to third-string horse, Prime Diamond “Cutter,” a black gelding that she’s had since he was two years old. Following her usual training process, Lockhart has brought the son of Prime Talent along slowly, hauling him on the road for experience and entering a small spattering of smaller rodeos in the last year.
Now eight years old, Cutter stepped up in a big way in Florida. He galloped out to a pair of second place finishes in the preliminary go rounds, winning the average by just over a tenth of a second to earn more than $15,000 — all before the final Sunday when the big money starts getting handed out.
Championship Sunday begins with the semi-final round of eight cowgirls and Great Lakes Circuit reserve champion Kricket Gintner was the first to compete. The mother of two who is a second-generation RNCFR competitor—her mom Tammy Whyte won the Great Lakes titles several times—made a beautiful run at 15.46 seconds to lead the way.
Southeastern Circuit champ Ericka Nelson was next in the draw. Riding the super consistent gelding Friday, Nelson was on fire, stopping the clock at 15.38 seconds to take command.
Lockhart drew third. She guided the black gelding into the first corner, turning it nicely. Making another smooth run, she stopped the clock at 15.47 seconds, good enough for third with still five ladies to compete.
Wilderness Circuit cowgirl Jessie Telford ran down the alley next. Already holding the fastest run of the rodeo at 15.19 seconds, run in the opening go round, she and Cool Whip wrapped the first turn again but got a little too quick on the backside of the second corner, pulling the barrel over with them as they left. The time was amazing . . . 15.18 seconds but the barrel penalty eliminated the Wrangler NFR duo from advancing to the final four round.
Lockhart’s fellow Badlands Circuit competitor, Jessica Routier came next, hoping for more of the success she and horse Missy have enjoyed in Kissimmee in the last two years. They won more than $15,000 here in 2018 and took the victory lap for the second go win with a time of 15.28 seconds.
The gritty palomino was tough again, tying with her friend Lockhart at 15.47 seconds, leaving the pair splitting third and fourth with three more to run.
The ninth ranked cowgirl in the current WPRA World standings, Dona Kay Rule, sent High Valor down the alley next. The veteran who simply dominated the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals last fall made a pretty run that fell just short at 15.50 seconds.
The Turquoise Circuit had a representative in the semi-finals for the second year. Leia Pluemer and her mare Sister were rookies in 2018 but still managed a phenomenal season, earning the right to compete in Florida by winning the Turquoise Circuit Finals Rodeo in Prescott Valley. Unfortunately, a bad stumble on the approach to the first barrel cost them precious time on the clock and the pair closed out their first RNCFR with a time of 16.02 seconds.
Nelson and Gintner knew they were safe as the final cowgirl prepared to take her shot. The only former RNCFR champion in the semi-finals, Ivy Conrado was hoping to make history with a second national title, earned aboard a different horse, a feat only accomplished by two other ladies.
With the pretty palomino JLo’s braids flying, Conrado let it all hang out on her run, making another smooth run that fell just a bit short at 15.52 seconds. Interestingly, she placed sixth on all three runs in Kissimmee.
The stage was set for the final four and for the second straight year, the field included both Badlands cowgirls. Along with cowgirls from the Southeastern and Great Lakes, the ladies took the short break given between rounds as the rodeo essentially begins again with the top four in each event.
Gintner was competing in her first RNCFR as was Nelson while Routier and Lockhart were the veterans, though Lockhart admitted to being unsure what Cutter would do with two runs in the quick turnaround time.
Because all the monies won here count towards WPRA World standings, the moment is big for all the ladies. Could someone use a big payday here to vault towards their first Wrangler NFR like Routier did in 2018?
Nelson has been close to a Wrangler NFR appearance in the past and came to Florida with a great start to the 2019 year with more than $31,000 already won. Lockhart was ranked 13th in the WPRA World standings with $25,000 won while Routier sat 25th with more than $16,000 won in 2019. Gintner was ranked 84th.
The final round is drawn for positions and Routier took the number one spot on the ground. Missy was digging around the turns again, this time stopping the clock at 15.36 seconds to take the early lead for the title.
Lockhart was next to run and again, she eased her way into the first corner. With the gelding that moves effortless and cuts off the clock without looking fast gliding around the turns, Lockhart gave a little love tap for encouragement on the way home and the gelding responded with a big run home. Her time lit up the crowd inside Silver Spurs Arena . . . 15.30 seconds to take the lead.
Nelson’s hometown of Century is located in Florida’s panhandle, still making it a good long drive for the cowgirl to compete but certainly closer than most of the events she rides in during the course of the season. Friday was flying as Nelson ran third on the ground, hoping to bring home the title to the Southeastern Circuit for the first time since 2010.
Laying down a great run, Nelson just caught the second barrel as she left the corner, costing herself the resulting five second penalty on top of a run that would have been 15.36 seconds.
Gintner and her horse Jax were the last with a chance to bust up the Lockhart victory. The pair made yet another great run but the time of 15.43 seconds left them in third place.
For the first time in a storied career, Lockhart was introduced as the champion of the RNCFR, taking her victory lap in the back of a Ram pick-up alongside her new Cactus saddle and Montana Silversmiths buckle. She also earned a $20,000 voucher towards a new vehicle from Ram, a new Polaris Ranger, a 65 Venture OtterBox cooler, and a pair of Justin Boots
“There’s been a few trips, definitely a first,” Lockhart told ProRodeoLive’s Steve Kenyon after the rodeo about her 14th RNCFR. “This is monumental for many reasons for me.”
“I’m kinda speechless actually,” she laughed. “We didn’t know what to expect coming here and I knew in my heart he could be competitive but I never dreamed anything like this, ever.
“Just even coming in today and trying to stay focused. You never know what they’ll throw at you when they’re so unseasoned and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.”
Lockhart noted that the atmosphere of the championship round and back-to-back runs didn’t faze the gelding either.
“It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He’s been hauled a lot in my trailer so he’s seen the sights, he’s seen the commotion, things like that, that really helps but as far as runs back-to-back [you don’t know],” she said.
“I just thought it was a good set up for him, not too big, not too small,” Lockhart continued of her strategy before the rodeo. “I thought it was worth the chance and tried him here.”
“I’ve had him since he was two; he’s finally eight and it’s time,” she said, adding that she feels her timing with the gelding will improve with more runs and more seasoning.
“He’s faster than I thought he was as well, I’m not gonna lie,” she laughed when asked about the horse’s deceiving style; it’s so effortless he doesn’t appear to be running as hard as he obviously is. “He has always been kinda of laid back and I wondered if I’d babied him too long and he’s old, he’s eight and he still hasn’t stepped up. He’s so smooth, you don’t think you’re going that fast.”
Thanks to the $26,155—most likely a RNCFR record for earnings for WPRA barrel racers—Lockhart now has more than $51,000 towards the WPRA World standings, enough to put her inside the top five of the current WPRA World standings come Monday.
“It’s nice knowing I do have a young horse kind of coming on and is totally capable because I’ve always wondered and I’m sure others have wondered, ‘is there life after Louie?’” Lockhart admitted when asked about the rest of the season. “I have to hand a ton of credit to Rosa.
“Just when you think you have enough horses, somebody gets hurt and you’re down to one and it just happens. You can never have too many.”
The RNCFR Champion receives an automatic invite to the 2019 Calgary Stampede, qualifications for which won’t be finalized for a few weeks yet. Lockhart is guaranteed a spot on that list with her RNCFR win and will have the opportunity to return to the rodeo she won in 2015.
Routier finished as the second high money winner with earnings of $18,194, more than doubling her season standings thus far. The Buffalo, South Dakota cowgirl is also winning RodeoAustin which concludes on Saturday, for another chance to boost her bottom line.
Gintner had an amazing first RNCFR, taking home more than $12,000 to Wisconsin. Nelson, too, had a great inaugural RNCFR with $11,750 won. That’ll help her chances at competing at the 2019 Wrangler NFR, pushing her season earnings to more than $33,000.
“It is awesome,” Lockhart summarized the 2019 RNCFR experience. “Just the whole concept, how it all happened, it’s just above and beyond, words cannot express it.”
The Texas circuit took home the team title with the Badlands finishing third thanks to the two barrel racers who won half of the team total of $91,808.
For more information on the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), visit them on-line at www.rncfr.com and www.prorodeo,com.
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time, Earnings
1. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, Southeastern, 15.38, $7,581
2. Kricket Gintner, Dial A Little Fame, Great Lakes, 15.46, $5,686
3/4. Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, Badlands, 15.47, $2,843
3/4. Lisa Lockhart, Prime Diamond, Badlands, 15.47, $2,843
5. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, Prairie, 15.50
6. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, Mountain States, 15.52
7. Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, Turquoise, 16.02
8. Jessi Telford, Famous Cool Whip, Wilderness, 20.18
- Lockhart, 15.30, $7,581
- Routier, 15.36, $5,686
- Gintner, 15.43, $3,791
- Nelson, 20.36, $1,895
Lisa Lockhart, Badlands, $26,155
Jessica Routier, Badlands, $18,194
Kricket Gintner, Great Lakes, $12,319
Ericka Nelson, Southeastern, $11,750
Jessie Telford, Wilderness, $10,993
Ivy Conrado, Mountain States, $4,162
Meka Farr, Wilderness, $3,412
Leia Pluemer, Turquoise, $2,653
Shali Lord, Mountain States, $2,843
Christina Mulford, First Frontier, $2,274
Kissimmee, Florida—Not since 1989, just the third year in the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo’s (RNCFR) history, has a barrel racer from the Badlands Circuit captured the national championship during the circuit system’s crown jewel event.
Mary Bonogofsky won that year aboard Lady Lord, a half sister to Frenchmans Guy, the now legendary sire, and no other barrel racer from the Dakotas has been able to take the championship since then.
There’s a great chance that fact will change in 2019 as the Badlands barrel racers dominated round two of the 2019 RNCFR held once again in Kissimmee, Florida.
Both Jessica Routier and Lisa Lockhart were in Las Vegas last December for rodeo’s Super Bowl, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and both have had great success at the circuit level as well. Lockhart just tied Kristie Peterson for the most circuit championships after earning her 11th in 2018—ten of those have come from the Badlands Circuit. Though she has never won the RNCFR, she has been in the final four on more than one occasion.
Routier owns a couple of titles from her home circuit and used a Reserve Championship at the RNCFR in 2018 and the $15,000 payday she earned here to help launch her to her first Wrangler NFR. She finished second in the WPRA World standings in 2018 and second behind Lockhart in the Badlands Circuit to earn her spot in Kissimmee.
Competing on Friday afternoon, Lockhart built on a second place finish in round one by stopping the clock at 15.36 seconds for the round lead after the first half of the field had competed. Lockhart moved to the top of the leaderboard in the average as well, all while riding her young horse Cutter.
“I wanted to do cartwheels last night! So proud of Prime Diamond (Cutter) winning 2nd in the first round at the RNCFR!” she posted on social media following round one, including the hashtags: #bigshoestofill #toooldforcartwheels. Fans are used to seeing Lockhart aboard a buckskin, either the legendary gelding Louie or young gun Rosa but neither was available, forcing Lockhart to jump aboard the black gelding that she has been slowing bring along in the last couple of years.
Lockhart ran dead last on the ground on Friday, a position that hadn’t been favorable for cowgirls here in the first two performances but was smooth and fast to land 30.65 on a pair of runs, more than three tenths better than second place Ivy Conrado at the time.
The round closed out on Saturday afternoon, the final perf of preliminary action. The RNCFR invites just the year-end circuit champion and the winner of the circuit finals rodeo from each of the 12 circuits along with the Mexican Rodeo Federation for a total of 26 contestants. Every cowgirl gets two runs before the field is cut down to the top eight on two runs.
Those ladies advance to the Semi-Finals, held during the fifth performance on Sunday, March 24. All times are dropped and the eight cowgirls compete in a sudden death round, vying to be in the top four. Those four move into the Finals held within the same performance. Again, the slate is wiped clean; the fastest lady in that round is named the National Champ and receives all the prizes.
Because all monies won count toward WPRA World standings, the pressure is amplified as the winner could walk away with enough for a big boost towards a trip to the Wrangler NFR and maybe a WPRA World Championship.
On Saturday afternoon, Routier broke through with a blistering run aboard her mare Missy. Routier had run a 15.79—out of the money—in round one on Thursday afternoon but roared back with a time of 15.28 seconds, good enough for the round win. She also moved up to third in the average with a time of 31.07. Through the preliminary rounds, Routier has earned almost $10,000.
First round winner Jessie Telford did not place in round two but her 15.61 added to her 15.19—the fastest run of the rodeo to this point—in round one, landed her second in the average at 30.80. The Wilderness Circuit cowgirl has won nearly $11,000 already.
Lockhart held on for the average win, running her 2019 RNCFR earnings to more than $15,000.
Mountain States Circuit champ and former RNCFR winner Shali Lord bounced back from a downed barrel in round one to claim a share of third in the second go with Great Lakes cowgirl Kricket Gintner with matching times of 15.43 seconds.
Southeastern Circuit Champ Ericka Nelson won fifth with 15.46 while Conrado took sixth for the second consecutive go round with her run of 15.48 seconds. Telford, Lord, Nelson and Routier competed on Saturday while Lockhart, Conrado and Gintner ran Friday.
Beyond Lockhart and Telford, it was a battle in the average. Routier was one one-hundredth ahead of Conrado for third and fourth. Turquoise Circuit cowgirl Leia Pluemer was two one-hundredths behind Conrado in fifth while another five one-hundredths separated her from sixth ranked Nelson.
Gintner and Dona Kay Rule, the Prairie Circuit champ, rounded out the field of eight for the Championship Rounds on Sunday.
Both Badlands cowgirls have a chance to claim their circuit’s second title while Telford gives the Wilderness Circuit a chance at a second championship.
Recently engaged to Wrangler NFR team roper Billie Jack Saebens, Conrado is the only former RNCFR Champ to qualify for Sunday. She last won the title in 2016 aboard her AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year CFour Tibbie Stinson. She’ll try to become just the fifth WPRA barrel racer to claim more than one RNCFR title and only the third to do so aboard more than one horse as she is riding JLo, the Reserve AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year, in 2019.
Charmayne James and Rachel Myllymaki are the only two cowgirls to win the RNCFR aboard two different horses while Kristie Peterson earned four aboard Bozo and Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi took back to back titles on her great horse Duke.
Seven different circuits will be represented on Sunday as a team title is also awarded each year. All members of the winning circuit get a little extra bonus money as well.
All action is being broadcast on Pro Rodeo Live www.prorodeolive.com and the final round will air on CBS SportsNetwork on April 8 at 8:30 P.M. ET.
For more information on the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), visit them on-line at www.rncfr.com and www.prorodeo,com. For continuing updates on the ladies barrel racing, stay tuned to www.wpra.com.
Results (In Progress)
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time, Earnings
1. Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, Badlands, 15.28, $6,254
2. Lisa Lockhart, Prime Diamond, Badlands, 15.36, $4,738
3/4. Kricket Gintner, Dial A Little Fame, Great Lakes, 15.43, $2,843
3/4. Shali Lord, Freckles ta Fame, Mountain States, 15.43, $2,843
5. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, Southeastern, 15.46, $1,327
6. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, Mountain States, 15.48, $948
7. Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, Turquoise, 15.52
8. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, Prairie, 15.53
9. Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtreme, Montana, 15.56
20. Jessi Telford, Famous Cool Whip, Wilderness, 15.61
11/12. Cheyenne Allan, RS Mollys Honor , Columbia River, 15.67
11/12. Teri Bangart, RCA Three Bugs Honor, Columbia River, 15.67
13/14. Kylie Weast, Hell on the Red, Prairie, 15.69
13/14. Lori Todd, Wranglers Bedrock, Turquoise, 15.69
15. Brittney Barnett, Frenchmans Pick, California, 15.75
16. Hailey Kinsel, Thunder Stones, Texas, 15.81
17/18. Christina Mulford, Panamacharlieharly, First Frontier, 15.86
17/18. Tonia Forsberg, VVR Bighorn Cartel, 15.86
19. Pauline Ochoa Rivera, Mexico, 15.96
20. Luisa Herrera, Mexico, 16.26
21. Tara Stimpson, Painted Fling, 17.54
22. Kelly Bruner, French Zone, Texas, 17.19
23. Sabra O’Quinn, Bring It on Guys, Southeastern, 20.27
24. April Masterson, Jim Case, First Frontier, 21.06
25. Meka Farr, DD Dee Cee, Wilderness, 21.13
26. Lacinda Rose, RR Meradas Real Deal, Great Lakes, 21.24
Average on Two
- Lockhart, 30.65, $6,254*
- 2elford, 30.80, $4,738*
- Routier, 31.07, $3,412*
- Conrado, 31.08, $2,274*
- Pluemer, 31.10, $1,327*
- Nelson, 31.15, $948*
- Gintner, 31.25*
- Rule, 31.26*
- Todd, 31.31
- Mulford, 31.32
- Wright, 31.36
- Allan, 31.45
- Barnett, 31.48
- Forsberg, 31.53
- Weast, 31.71
- Kinsel, 31.71
- Herrera, 33.15
- Bruner, 33.22
- Stimpson, 33.63
- O’Quinn, 36.00
- Lord, 36.47
- Farr, 36.48
- Bangart, 36.58
- Rose, 36.87
- Rivera, 37.62
- Masterson, 41.44
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Total Money Earned
Kissimmee, Florida—When Jessie Telford finished competing at the Ram Wilderness Circuit Finals Rodeo in Heber City, Utah, last October, the Caldwell, Idaho cowgirl did not think she would be making the trip to Florida as a member of the Wilderness Circuit’s contingent to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) when March rolled around.
Telford finished second in the year-end standings to Honeyville, Utah’s Meka Farr though she won more than $29,000 while competing in Utah, Nevada and southern Idaho during 2018’s regular season. It was all part of a phenomenal year for the trainer and mom who punched her ticket to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in 2018 after winning more than $80,000 during the regular season.
Once in Las Vegas, Telford ably switched between her own horse Cool Whip and the borrowed mare Shu Fire to rocket up the standings, landing fifth in the final WPRA World standings with better than $200,000 won.
After Vegas, the rodeo season kicks right back into gear in January but it rocked on without Telford, who took a much needed break with husband Jake, also a talented trainer who focuses on reining horse competition and her kids, Shawny and Sierra. Telford did not jump back into competition until the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in February and since then has earned more than $13,000 in just a handful of rodeos.
But just weeks before the scheduled start of the RNCFR, Telford got a call to compete in Kissimmee, the RNCFR’s home since 2015. She would replace Andrea Jones, who won the Ram Wilderness CFR but whose horse was injured and unable to compete.
The circuit system began in 1975 as a way to include those competitors who couldn’t haul full time around the country, offering them a regional opportunity for championships without having to give up full time jobs or family commitments.
The country is divided into 12 circuits—or regions—and each has its own finals rodeo at the end of the regular season. Only the year-end champions and the winners of the circuit finals rodeos as well as two competitors invited from the Mexican Rodeo Federation move on to the RNCFR.
The National Championship was put together in the 1987 and first contested in Pocatello, Idaho before moving to Oklahoma and then to Florida. It is a lucrative opportunity for cowboys and cowgirls to fill their Wranglers with cash. Now in its fifth year in Kissimmee, the RNCFR has many perks for contestants including a $1,000 stipend for all who compete as well as free stalls and hospitality during the rodeo. The entire community rolls out the red carpet for the contestants and their families.
The 26 contestants in each event compete in two full go rounds and the field will be narrowed to eight based on the two-head average. The eight-lady finals on Sunday, March 24 will be clean slate, sudden death to the title through two more rounds, a semi-finals of the eight followed by the finals for the four fastest from the semi-final round.
The champion here will receive a ton of loot from pro rodeo’s top sponsors including a $20,000 voucher toward a new RAM vehicle, a Polaris RANGER UTV, a pair of Justin exotic boots, a new Cactus Saddle, and a buckle from Montana Silversmiths. The payout is equally impressive thanks to Experience Kissimmee, Osceola County and all their partners, and all monies won here count toward the WPRA World standings.
Telford competed in the opening performance of the 2019 RNCFR, the third cowgirl in the draw. The long strided Cool Whip raced into Silver Spurs Arena, just swallowing the first barrel. As the son of legendary stallion Dash Ta Fame sprinted back across the line, the scoreboard lit up with a time of 16.19 seconds.
Not only was the time nearly half a second better than the rest of the opening performance, it was the fastest time run here since 2017.
“It was the first,” laughed Telford in an interview with Western Sports Round-Up’s Steve Kenyon after the performance. “I had friends asking me to send the video and I told them, ‘it was the first.’”
Telford is on her own in Kissimmee with her family busy with other commitments. In fact, her daughters are attending a breakaway roping clinic taught by WPRA World Champion Lari Dee Guy.
“It was a last minute deal and that’s why they’re not here,” she explained. During Telford’s run at San Antonio, the rest of the family was in Fort Worth for the NRCHA’s World’s Greatest Horseman contest. “Normally they would be with me at something like this.”
The whole Telford clans stays busy with horse events, with everyone competing as well as cheering for each other. Jake keeps client horses as well as his own along with Telford’s barrel racing prospects. With Shawny and Sierra beginning to show reiners as well as rope and run barrels, the Telford house is loaded up.
“It’s getting ridiculous how many kids’ horses we’ve got out there,” joked Telford as she tried to figure how many actually were on their place. “We’ve got Jake’s outside horses and I don’t like to count our own.”
The second performance of the RNCFR was held Thursday night, March 21. Although the field closed the gap, no one was able to knock Telford from the top position.
Lisa Lockhart came closest, not riding a buckskin as fans are accustomed to seeing. The many-time Badlands Circuit champ stepped onto her newest prospect, the black horse she calls Cutter and posted a great time of 15.29 seconds to win second. Meka Farr and Woody ran out to third with a time of 15.35, giving credibility to the moniker given to the Wilderness Circuit barrel racing field as the “the Snake Pit.”
First Frontier Circuit cowgirl Christina Mulford won fourth, riding the 19 year old phenom Harley. The rock-solid grey gelding has carried three different cowgirls to the Ram First Frontier Circuit Finals including Mulford, who has won the year-end championship the last two seasons.
First time RNCFR competitor Leia Pluemer won fifth for her home circuit, the Turquoise Circuit, and 2016 RNCFR Champ Ivy Conrado took the final round check in sixth with her time of 15.60 seconds.
Telford picked up $6,254 for the win and will return for her second round in the Saturday matinee performance, designated Tough Enough to Wear Pink day and the final perf of preliminary competition. Telford competed here two years ago and had nothing but praise for the RNCFR’s unique format where each circuit also competes as a team for a team title.
“It’s more of a vacation atmosphere,” she noted, adding that she is taking in less of the entertainment offered in the surrounding area without her family in tow. “Everyone is staying here and no one is going to any other rodeos. It’s fun . . . not the stressful, normal rodeo atmosphere where you’re rushing off to the next rodeo.”
The 2019 RNCFR continues on Friday, March 22 with the first half of the second go round during the National Patriot Day perf at 1 P.M. Eastern time. The field includes Lockhart, Farr, Mulford, Pluemer and Conrado.
For more information on the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), visit them on-line at www.rncfr.com and www.prorodeo,com. For continuing updates on the ladies barrel racing, stay tuned to www.wpra.com.
Results (In Progress)
Name, Horse, Circuit, Time, Earnings
1. Jessi Telford, Famous Cool Whip, Wilderness, 15.19, $6,254
2. Lisa Lockhart, Prime Diamond, Badlands, 15.29, $4,738
3. Meka Farr, DD Dee Cee, Wilderness, 15.35, $3,412
4. Christina Mulford, Panamacharlieharly, First Frontier, 15.46, $2,274
5. Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, Turquoise, 15.58, $1,327
6. Ivy Conrado, KN Fabs Gift of Fame, Mountain States, 15.60, $948
7. Lori Todd, Dashin Red Warrior, Turquoise, 15.62
8. Lacinda Rose, RR Meradas Real Deal, Great Lakes, 15.63
9. Tonia Forsberg, VVR Bighorn Cartel, 15.67
10. Ericka Nelson, Goodfrenchmanfriday, Southeastern, 15.69
11/12/13. Brittney Barnett, Chicks Keen PocoPoo, California, 15.73
11/12/13. Dona Kay Rule, High Valor, Prairie, 15.73
11/12/13. Sabra O’Quinn, Bring It on Guys, Southeastern, 15.73
14. Cheyenne Allan, RS Mollys Honor , Columbia River, 15.78
15. Jessica Routier, Fiery Miss West, Badlands, 15.79
16. Carmel Wright, Fortunes Last Xtreme, Montana, 15.80
17. Kricket Gintner, Dial A Little Fame, Great Lakes, 15.81
18. Hailey Kinsel, Thunder Stones, Texas, 15.90
19. Kylie Weast, Hell on the Red, Prairie, 16.00
20. Kelly Bruner, French Zone, Texas, 16.03
21. Tara Stimpson, Painted Fling, 16.09
22. Luisa Herrera, Mexico, 16.89
23. April Masterson, Jim Case, First Frontier, 20.38
24. Teri Bangart, RCA Three Bugs Honor, Columbia River, 20.91
25. Shali Lord, Freckles ta Fame, Mountain States, 21.04
26. Pauline Ochoa Rivera, Mexico, 21.66
Kissimmee, Florida—For more than two dozen barrel racers, this year’s RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo is a great chance to make some waves and grab a heap of cash in the process.
The four-day event – set for March 21-24 at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla. – will award more than $1 million in cash and prizes in the seven rodeo events and is a top-notch opportunity for some of the sport’s top talent to earn five-figure pay days. With so much on the line, that puts the RNCFR up there with the biggest winter rodeos, from Denver and Fort Worth, Texas, to San Antonio and Houston.
Couple that potential windfall with the chance to win a circuit national championship, and 26 excited barrel racers will be raring to go when the barrels are set and the clock is primed in the arena.
“As far as winter rodeoing goes, you count on the rodeos that have a lot of money, and the RNCFR has a lot of money, so your goal is to do well,” said 2016 RNCFR champion Ivy Conrado, who will represent the Mountain States Circuit once again. “You’re not necessarily going in to win a rodeo, because I don’t think that’s how you approach any of these big winter rodeos. If you’re going to win it, it’s just part of the plan and it just happens.”
That’s exactly what occurred for Conrado in 2016 on a mare named CFour Tibbie Stinson “Tibbie,” and she feels confident her current top mount – 10-year-old palomino mare KN Fabs Gift of Fame “JLo” – will thrive in Florida. She’s not going to put too much pressure on herself or JLo, though.
“The RNCFR is a great setup for JLo,” said Conrado, who has qualified for the last three Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. “I’m going to just see how it goes and ride her how I know how. If it’s to be our thing (to win), it will be, and if it’s not, it’s not.
“If you try to push it and try to make it all about winning, that’s when you make big mistakes. You want to treat it like it’s just another rodeo, but then again, when you’re at those big winter rodeos with lots of added money, it’s all about executing your opportunities.”
The arena’s deep ground could play a factor in the barrel racing outcome, Conrado says.
“They’re going to be running so many on the ground, and we don’t know if they’re going to be running 14 (or more), and it’s so deep there,” said Conrado, a Hudson, Colo., native. “You really don’t know how it can play out, and that ground really can decide who can win it and who can’t, as far as how you draw. But there are a lot of rodeos like that.
“Thankfully, JLo kind of stands up (through the ground), so we can go for it whenever we need to.”
JLo and Conrado are off to a great start in 2019, sitting second in the WPRA World Standings with more than $28,000 in earnings through mid-February. The 24-year-old cowgirl hopes to keep things going at the RNCFR and finish her winter rodeo schedule with a flurry.
“JLo feels great, and she did well at the circuit finals and the All-American Finals, so I’ve got a little cushion,” Conrado said. “We’re just getting back in the groove of things after Vegas. Hopefully, we can get it done (at the RNCFR), take a good break and enjoy it.”
This marks the last year money from the RNCFR will count as official money for the world standings, and while Conrado agrees that aspect gives the event added importance in 2019, she doesn’t think it will affect her desire to qualify for it in future years.
“It counting (for the world standings) plays a role, but at the same time, that’s a lot of money and can pay entry fees and fuel for a lot of rodeos regardless,” Conrado said. “It’s a great rodeo, and you want to go to it anyway. That’s a lot of money to run at.”
Conrado is one of three former RNCFR champions who will run down the alley in Kissimmee this year – 2007 winner Shali Lord and 2015 champ Carmel Wright are the others – and the field includes reigning WPRA World Champion Hailey Kinsel and 2017 World Champion Nellie Miller. The loaded entry list includes a total eight Wrangler NFR qualifiers, and Conrado says the RNCFR is yet another example of the depth of talent currently permeating the sport.
“The competition is constantly getting tougher, and anywhere you go, you’re running against people’s first-string horse,” she said. “You can’t go anywhere anymore and not run the best in that area, the best in six states or the best in the world. Barrel racing is getting so tough, and the times are getting so tight.
“It’s fun to compete against the best and try to fix minor things and do different things. It’s a fun time to be barrel racing, but it’s a hard time to win a lot of money, that’s for sure.”
For Turquoise Circuit average winner Leia Pluemer, this year’s RNCFR represents a new challenge for the first-time qualifier. Luckily, she has had circuit buddy Lori Todd as a good source of information.
“It’s very exciting to qualify for it,” Pluemer said of the national circuit finals. “Lori is an awesome gal, and it’s pretty cool to be able to go there with her. She went last year, so I’ve been asking her a lot of questions about where to park, the stalls and the arena, and she’s been able to help me figure it out.”
Pluemer, from Las Lunas, N.M., will be aboard her 9-year-old sorrel mare Famous French Bug “Sister,” and is confident the talented horse will give her a chance to contend in each round.
“She likes the deep ground,” said Pluemer, who also will haul her backup horse, Shooter, to Florida just in case. “Knock on wood, but she doesn’t really struggle with any kind of ground and pretty much handles everything well.”
Perhaps the most daunting aspect of qualifying for her first RNCFR is the nearly 30-hour cross-country trek Pluemer will need to make with her horses in tow. Ever the optimistic rodeo competitor, Pluemer is looking at the trip as a potentially fun excursion.
“From New Mexico, it’s a 27-hour drive, but driving’s always fun and we’re used to being on the road,” said Pluemer, the 2018 WPRA reserve rookie of the year. “We’ll probably hit a couple other rodeos going there and on the way back.”
Making solid, fluid runs are the main goals for the RNCFR rookie, and luckily she says, her horse is a model of consistency.
“Sister is very consistent, and she’s not a barrel-hitter,” said Pluemer, who was 14th in the world standings with $12,498 through Feb. 11. “If we hit a barrel, it’s usually my fault, and it doesn’t happen very often. I’m just going to go in there and keep her feeling good and running good, and she’ll do her thing.
“I’m usually just along for the ride, and she does all the work.”
This year’s RNCFR will be held in conjunction with Country Thunder Florida, a country music festival that boasts headliners like Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Tracy Lawrence, Luke Combs and Granger Smith, just to name a few. So, regardless of how things go during the rodeo for the national circuit finals qualifiers, they can rest assured they’ll have the chance to have fun at the concerts.
“I’m sure we’ll go to (the concerts), and it sounds like lots of fun,” Pluemer said. “After the rodeos, I usually just go to bed because I’m not much for going out. Going to a concert like that is always better than going to bed early, I guess.”