By Jolee Jordan
Austin, Texas — Abby Penson had a plan for 2016. A big part of that plan was to focus on her futurity age horse, a tough mare called SR My Daddys N Oil, while a smaller part was to take her eight year old mare Pearl Snappin to some bigger rodeos and work on furthering her seasoning.
After three runs inside the Travis County Expo Center during RodeoAustin’s Ride for the Brand Cowboy Tournament(TM), the plan may just have to change a little.
That’s because Penson stormed through the final two rounds in Austin, collecting $14,876 including the final round win to earn the Championship and vault inside the top twenty of the WPRA’s World standings.
“It’s a game changer for sure,” laughs Penson, noting that everyone is asking the young cowgirl if she is planning now to hit the rodeo trail. “It makes me want to go.”
Penson is the first in her family to rodeo though her father made his living ranching. In fact, her father Tim Pursifull is the one who purchased Pearl for Penson, buying the mare as a two year old through the Four Sixes Ranch’s Return to the Remuda Sale held annually in October. Pearl is by Ketchum Cowboy out of Naturally Best, by Peppy San Badger. Penson notes that Pearl's breeding is “not your typical barrel horse” breeding.
“She was kind of a handful,” Penson notes. “I didn’t start her until the summer of her four year old year but she is so athletic she picked it up pretty quick.”
Penson, who lives in Blossum, Texas, did all the training on Pearl and makes her living training horses for outside owners.
“I love starting colts; it’s my favorite part,” says Penson of the training process.
Penson married last September and folks are just starting to realize that the Abby Penson whose name they are reading in so many results is Abby Pursifull. Her husband Chris is a sometimes roper, when time allows.
PHOTO BY: Kirt Steinke
Penson’s plan for 2016 started off well as she won fourth at The Patriot Futurity in February in Fort Worth. She also won the Invitational at the same event aboard Pearl, a win worth $10,000.
“We’ve placed in four or five rodeos,” says Penson, “but my focus was going to be on the futurity horses because she is really nice. But I got off her for a bit while I went to Austin.”
RodeoAustin kept its tournament style rodeo began in 2015 but changed the format. The rodeo began with 96 WPRA barrel racers and each made a run in one of twelve performances. during the Qualifying Rounds. The top 16 at the conclusion of the long round advanced to the Playoff Round. That round was held over the course of two performances and the top eight times from that round moved into the Finals held on the final night of the rodeo, Saturday, March 26.
There were no averages kept or paid during the rodeo and only the fastest advanced from one round to the next.
Penson competed in the second to last performance of the Qualifying Rounds.
“We had a good run but she was a little set-y,” Penson remarked of her 15.37 second run. “I was excited to make the semi-finals — it was a big deal for me.”
Reigning Texas Circuit Champ Kelly Tovar and her gelding Edwin won the long round with a smoking time of 15.02 seconds. Penson finished in a tie for ninth place.
Moving into the Playoff Round, Penson drew first to run in the first playoff night.
“She worked awesome!” Penson says of Pearl. “Because she was set-y the first run, I just made sure to really ride up there and she made a perfect run.”
Her time of 15.13 seconds was the second best of the rodeo but there was just one problem: now she had to sit through the remaining 15 barrel racers across two nights to see if she would get to the next round.
“I was so nervous,” she noted. 2015 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) cowgirl Cassidy Kruse gave her a good run with her 15.18 second run but the rest of the field struggled a bit. In fact, just six cowgirls finished with clean runs, leaving two spots in the finals to ladies who had hit barrels, Morgan Breaux and Jackie Ganter, the reigning WPRA Rookie of the Year.
“I was super excited; I have never made the short go at a bigger rodeo before,” Penson says.
When Saturday rolled in, Penson got another happy surprise: her husband, who works six days out of the week, was able to come to watch her compete.
“My mom drove over [she was working not far away] and I knew she was coming but he surprised me,” says Penson. She noted that it was that much more special to have her family with her.
Running third in the Final round, Penson set the time to beat at 15.29 seconds.
“My goal was just to not hit a barrel. The third barrel was way down there and I knew she would be real tight,” she says. “We actually got past the first a bit and I thought, ‘oh, no that cost me.’ But she made up time with two perfect turns on the second two.”
More nerve-wracking moments followed as Ganter competed right behind Penson.
“Jackie was right after me and then Benette [Little] . . . it was a long time for a couple of riders,” she laughs. “I enjoyed it. It was very fun.”
In the end, Ganter and Breaux would tie for second with matching runs of 15.32 seconds while tough newcomer Kellie Collier finished fourth at 15.41. Only Penson and Collier placed in all three payoffs.
The win in the final round was worth $9,400 and a RodeoAustin branding iron as the champion of their tournament. The big paycheck shot Penson to 18th in the current WPRA World standings.
“It was not in the thought process at all,” says Penson of a run at the WNFR. “My goal was to make the Texas Circuit Finals, which is tough, and the All American Finals. Take the next couple of years to work our way up to maybe making a run.” (RodeoAustin does not count for Texas Circuit standings.)
Penson admitted to checking out the schedule for the summer this week, looking at some possible runs.
“I was planning to go to some of the bigger ones like Reno and Cheyenne but now I’m thinking about what else I could enter, maybe make a little run at it.”
“She seems to be running good so it’s a good time to go,” she laughs. “Maybe we’ll see what happens . . . it’s worth a try.”
For more information on RodeoAustin and their Ride for the Brand Cowboy Tournament, visit them on-line at www.rodeoaustin.com.
1. Kelly Tovar, BB French Fooledya, 15.02, $5,144
2. Michele McLeod, Slick by Design, 15.23, $4,602
3. Benette Little, Chicados Cash, 15.27, $4,061
4. Cassidy Kruse, JKR Assured Win, 15.28, $3,519
5. Kellie Collier, Streakin Easy April, 15.29, $2,978
6. Clay Sewalt, KR Silver Spur, 15.32, $2,436
7. Jackie Ganter, Guys French Jet, 15.34, $1,895
8. Danyelle Campbell, Repete Fame, 15.36, $1,354
9. Kelley Schnaufer, Jess Undeniable, 15.37, $541
10. Abby Penson, Pearl Snappin, 15.37, $541
1. Penson, 15.13, $4,935
2. Kruse, 15.18, $4,113
3. Tovar, 15.37, $3,126
4. Little, 15.48, $2,139
5. Deb Guelly, Docs Flashy Scooter, 15.59, $1,316
6. Collier, 15.68, $822
1. Penson, 15.29, $9,400
2. Morgan Breaux, SS Streakers R Us, 15.32, $5,875
3. Ganter, 15.32, $5,875
4. Collier, 15.41, $2,350
Total Money Won