New Jersey-The rough and tumble world
of professional rodeo is not often mentioned in the same
circles as the Ivy League but that may be changing in 2013.
One resident of Princeton, New Jersey, home of the famed
university of the same name, may be putting the city on
the map in rodeo circles.
Liz Leonard has been on a roll in the
First Frontier Circuit this summer culminating with a pair
of back-to-back wins at the weekly rodeo in Woodstown. The
Cowtown Rodeo is the cornerstone of the First Frontier Circuit
and hosts the country's oldest weekly rodeo. Cowtown has
been a Saturday night staple since 1955 and is still run
by the Harris family, the same family that founded the original
rodeo back in the 1920's.
With Princeton a short 70 mile trip
to Woodstown, the rodeo is an ideal venue for Leonard.
"I know a lot of girls have to
haul further to get to Cowtown, but for me, it's closer
and it's a weekly rodeo," she says. "It's great
and my horse runs good in that arena so it really pays off
for me to be able to go each week."
The cowgirl was born and raised in "Jersey"
but always loved horses and riding. Her mother still rides
to this day but Leonard says she's not sure how she ended
up a professional barrel racer.
"That's a good question,"
she laughs. "It just kind of happened."
Ten years after starting the sport,
and several years into her professional career with the
WPRA, Leonard is on track to qualify to her first First
Frontier Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2013. Much of her winnings
this season have come inside Cowtown's arena.
"My horse has been on a roll,"
she admits. "Amazingly, he has run around the same
time each week."
In fact, Leonard won both the August
3rd and July 27th rodeos with 17.94 and 17.90, respectively.
She has posted 17.89, 17.77, and another 17.90 in previous
weeks, placing every week since June 22. The earnings have
vaulted the cowgirl to sixth in the current circuit standings
with nearly $2,500 in earnings.
"I've gone the last two years to
watch [the FFCFR in Harrisburg, PA]," she says, noting
it is just about three hours from her home. "It got
me motivated to go and try to qualify."
Leonard's partner in this pursuit is
the 11 year old Perks are Easy, aka Sherman. She found the
horse for sale on Barrel Horse World and liked the breeding.
"A woman in Kansas owned him. He
was four years old and I never saw him before [the purchase],"
she says. "I watched a two minute video and bought
"He's one of the nicest horses
I've ever owned." Unlike many of her fellow competitors,
Leonard doesn't have her own arena; she simply trail rides
to keep her horse in good condition and says he only sees
the barrels at the rodeo.
Sherman has his quirks, like all good
barrel horses, but handles the side gate set-up at Cowtown
like a pro.
"You have to move down the bucking
chutes and during the perfs, there are bulls loaded,"
she laughs. "It doesn't bother him at all. He came
from Kansas so he's had lots of exposure to livestock!"
Cowtown gives buckles to each event's
season high money winner and Leonard has that high on her
list of goals, along with the circuit finals qualification.
"I would love to win that,"
She is certainly in the hunt for the
title and there is plenty of rodeo action left before the
season champions are crowned. Cowtown has a rodeo every
Saturday night through the end of September. In fact, the
close of Cowtown coincides with the last weekend of the
2013 rodeo season.
In the meantime, Leonard is contemplating
the trick of keeping her horse in shape through the "wicked"
winters which often include frozen and icy ground for the
FFCFR which happens in January each year.
"I've always wondered how they
do it," she says of the cowgirls who have qualified.
"My horse can be a handful if he's not ridden on a
She's hoping to have to come up with
a solution, including possibly sending Sherman to a trainer,
one "who has an indoor arena!" to stay legged
It's a problem the cowgirl hopes to
have to solve.
"I'm really looking forward to
that. It would be very cool to qualify to the circuit finals.
I know many of the women here that have been doing this
and have qualified many times . . . to be amongst them would
be a pretty good honor."
For more information on the Cowtown
Rodeo series, visit them on-line at www.cowtownrodeo.com.