By Ted Harbin
The 2017 season is one of redemption for Jana Griemsman.
She finished last year 18th in the world standings, a little more than $16,000 outside the top 15 and a chance to play on the grandest stage in the game, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. She exited the rodeo trail before the conclusion of the regular season; it was a tough decision, but one that was in the best interest of her mount, Chase it with Brandy.
“I was 16th when I quit,” said Griemsman of Piedmont, S.D. “It was heartbreaking, because my horse was doing great and in her prime, and then she had some health issues. The vet said I could run her but with risks.
“I decided I better let my horse be a horse and be home.”
It was a smart choice. After letting Brandy rest a few weeks, the tandem returned to action at the RAM Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in mid-October. Griemsman won the average championship and clinched the year-end crown and earned her way to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which takes place April 6-9 in Kissimmee, Fla.
This marks her second qualification to the national championship, having last played in 2008 when the finale was in Pocatello, Idaho. That was the same year Brandy was born, and they’ve come a long way in the cowgirls’ return.
“It’s the next closest thing to the NFR for me,” she said. “You compete all year long in your own circuit just hoping to get to a level like this.”
For the first time in the event’s history, money won in Kissimmee will count toward the world standings. Each of the 26 (24 from the 12 U.S. circuits and two from the Mexico Circuit) girls in the mix has a chance to gather big-time cash, and that can go a long ways toward qualifying for Las Vegas in December.
“It’s very helpful that the money counts,” Griemsman said. “I was blessed to do so well at my circuit finals and get a head start on my year.”
As of mid-February, she had pocketed nearly $12,000 and was 13th in the world standings; more than half that came from her run at the circuit finals.
“Now you just hope to make it count in Kissimmee and get a good paycheck there,” she said. “Having that money count is nice.”
Photo by Ric Andersen
More than $93,000 was paid out a year ago, and four-time world champion Sherry Cervi gathered a big portion of it. She earned nearly $15,000 and wasn’t even in the final four racing toward the title.
“It’s always a goal of mine to make it back to that event,” said Cervi, a 13-time RNCFR qualifier from Marana, Ariz., who earned her way to Florida by winning the RAM Turquoise Circuit Finals average title. “Now that the money counts for the standings, it’s a little more of an incentive.”
Cervi has the longest pedigree of any of the contenders for this year’s national championship; that includes 19 qualifications to the Wrangler NFR, where she earned three average titles over her storied career.
“You can win a pretty good chunk of money” at the RNCFR, she said. “You don’t even have to win first, and it’s still going to pay good. If it can help somebody get down the road and closer to the NFR, then it’s always good to have that kind of money available.”
The championship moved to Florida in 2015, which allowed the veteran cowgirl the opportunity to cross off a state on her competitive run. Now she returns and is looking forward to the opportunities that await.
“You get to see people and meet people from other circuits that you might not always have the opportunity to meet,” Cervi said. “It’s a real fun and different atmosphere than a normal rodeo, but in a positive way. The town of Kissimmee and the committee there are very welcoming.”
Photo by Mike Rastelli
Sabra O’Quinn knows that more than anyone in the field. She lives just an hour and a half from Silver Spurs Arena in Ocala, and this year marks her fifth qualification. It will be the first time she’s ever competed at the championship in her home state.
“It’s extra special for me because it’s in the state of Florida,” said O’Quinn, who was the 2016 runner-up to Lindsey Hayes-Banks, the Southeastern Circuit’s year-end and average champion. “That’s a big plus, and it was a goal set for 2016 to get to that point.
“By having the money count for the standings, it’s going to make that rodeo even more prestigious. When it counts toward the world standings, you’re going to get the best of the best. I think it’s great for the circuit girls. I don’t like to travel that much. It’s nice to run at that kind of money and not have to haul all year long.”
Even though she’ll be a little more acclimated to the Florida weather, there is no home-field advantage for O’Quinn.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, the level of competition is even,” she said. “There is so much depth in horses today. You’ve just got to go in and make your run and hope everything goes your way.”
It takes a solid season in each cowgirl’s circuit to earn the right to compete in Kissimmee, but the opportunity for rewards is greater. For the first time in the 30 year history of the RNCFR a total of 26 ladies will get the chance to race for the national championship and will include two in every event from Mexico, so it is a pretty exclusive field.
Griemsman made a run at the Wrangler NFR a year ago and opted to preserve her talented mare instead of testing the horse’s limits and risking further injury. It has allowed her a valuable opportunity.
“We’re going to make this family trip to Kissimmee a fun one and take care of a little business on the side,” she said. “You hope you win money and have success, but at the same time, we’re making it a vacation just for us.”
That’s just another benefit to the RNCFR being in the Sunshine State.
|Jana Griemsman - Badlands||Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi - Mountain States|
|Nikki Hansen - Badlands||Emily Miller - Prairie|
|Trula Churchill - California
(*replacing Kris Gadbois)
|Tracy Nowlin - Prairie|
|Nellie Miller - California||Lindsey Hayes-Banks - Southeastern|
|Amberleigh Moore - Columbia River||Sabra O'Quinn - Southeastern|
|Kathy Grimes - Columbia River||Tiany Schuster - Texas|
|Wendy Chesnut - First Frontier||Ari-Anna Flynn - Texas|
|Karly Stoltzfus - First Frontier||Lori Todd - Turquoise|
|Jordan Moore - Great Lakes||Sherry Cervi - Turquoise|
|Ashley Baur - Great Lakes||Jessie Telford - Wilderness
(*replacing Kimmie Wall)
|Lisa Lockhart - Montana||Calli Van Tassell - Wilderness|
|Carmel Wright - Montana||Luisa Herrera - Mexico|
|Kathy Korell-Rach - Mountain States
(*replacing Kim Schulze)
|Nasyerih Yeverino - Mexico|
Photo by Ric Andersen
|2016||Ivy Conrado||2001||Delores Toole|
|2015||Carmel Wright||2000||Sherry Cervi|
|2014||Gretchen Benbenk||1999||Rachael Myllymaki|
|2013||Brittany Pozzi||1998||Kristie Peterson|
|2012||Brittany Pozzi||1997||Kay Blandford|
|2011||Tana Renick||1996||Charmayne James|
|2010||Tammy Bruso||1995||Kristie Peterson|
|2009||Barb West||1994||Kristie Peterson|
|2008||Shelley Murphy||1993||Sharon Smith|
|2007||Shali Lord||1992||Kristie Peterson|
|2006||Lisa Novak||1991||Kelli Fletcher-Currin|
|2005||Shelly Anzick||1990||Rachael Myllymaki|
|2004||Terri Wood Gates||1989||Mary Bonogofsky|
|2003||Sheri Sinor Estrada||1988||Deb Mohon|
|2002||Tara Polich||1987||Charmayne James|