By Amy Wilson
It was the night we had all been waiting for - the first round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo! Fifteen of the finest barrel horses and cowgirls got to run down the famous Thomas and Mack alley for a chance at the nearly $85,000 that is paid out every round.
For six WPRA ladies, it was their first time to the Super Bowl of rodeo. And for the 20 year old Wyoming native, she added another first to her list - her first Wrangler NFR round win. Cassidy Kruse rode her 14 year old gelding JKR Assured Win "JJ" to a 13.84 second run to add over $26,000 to her 2015 earnings.
"I'm ecstatic! I instantly hugged my dad, and it was really hard to hold my emotions together," Kruse said following her victory lap. She was also quick to credit her horsepower, JJ, "I've been riding him since I was twelve years old. That horse deserves more of the fame I get because he's pretty amazing."
PHOTO BY: Kenneth Springer
Kruse didn't get to ride JJ last year, but this year - with the support of her family and a healthy horse- she made it count, "When I got on JJ this year, we as a family sat down and made a goal to make the NFR knowing that he was healthy and ready to go. It's been my dream since I was about eight years old. I'm here living my dream and it's awesome."
Kruse and JJ were predicted by many to do well because of their success throughout the year and in similar pens such as Omaha, and they didn't disappoint. "This win tonight just proves that I can do it," Kruse said with a big smile.
Defending Wrangler NFR Barrel Racing Average Champion, Lisa Lockhart made her first run on Louie since winning Cheyenne, to win second place money with a time of 13.90. World Champion Barrel Racer, Mary Walker had also given her great horse Latte a long break and they came back refreshed with a nice run of 13.96 seconds to place third. Michele McLeod was 14.07 seconds for fourth place. First time Wrangler NFR qualifier Callie duPerier rode the veteran horse, Dillon, to a fifth place finish after stopping the clock with a time of 14.08. And the final money spot went to WPRA Rookie contender, Jackie Ganter with a 14.09 second run.