By Jolee Jordan
HOUSTON -- There is little argument that RodeoHouston is not the easiest pen for a barrel horse. Setting on the floor of NRG Stadium, the arena is literally the size of a football field. However, the barrel pattern is very small, similar in size to little indoor rodeos like the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) or the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
Because of this setup, the barrels are no where near a fence. Adding to the level of difficulty, the first barrel is very close to the alleyway, creating a situation where horses leave the darkness of the alleyway on the full run but must be ready to turn almost immediately.
All that said, it takes a special horse to handle the unique conditions--which also includes a huge crowd, often more than 50,000 strong.
So when a competitor arrives here and has more than one choice of mounts, it would make sense to choose the most experienced horse in her rig.
Not for Texan Kelly Tovar, who left 10-year-old Edwin at home, saddling up the 5-year-old, Bakken, instead.
"I bought him in October -- he won the BFA (Barrel Futurities of America), running the fastest time ever," Tovar says. Despite a stellar record from the futurities under the saddle of Molli Montgomery, Bakken did not debut in the rodeos until San Antonio.
"He did well but no money," Tovar says. Competing in her first RodeoHouston, Tovar decided that the setup was more suited to the young gun than the veteran and went with her gut.
"I was super nervous my first run as this was also my first time at RodeoHouston as well as Bakken's," she notes.
RodeoHouston has been a tournament style event since 2007 and has been WPRA approved eight of those years. Forty ladies receive the invite to compete based on a mix of 2017 and 2016 WPRA World and Tour standings along special invites to the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association Champion and the winners of the All American Pro Rodeo Series Finals and the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo. Past RodeoHouston champs get a call as well as do special invites from the committee.
The 40 competitors are divided into five brackets with each group getting three rounds of competition. The top four money winners after the third round advance to the semifinals. Following that round, the top five money winners move into the finals. The finals field is filled out with two more ladies from a Wild Card Round--the 12 semifinalists who fail to advance from that round get one more last chance run.
The final night is a two-run shootout for the huge $50,000 payday awaiting the winner of the final round. All 10 competitors run once and the field is narrowed to the four fastest. After a brief break, the four run one more time to determine the champion. All rounds are sudden death.
Competing in Super Series II, Tovar called her first run on Friday night "less than stellar." She failed to place on a night where Wyoming cowgirl Cassidy Kruse took top honors. Kruse and Scooter stopped the clock at 14.43 seconds for the win.
Meanwhile, Tovar went to her "go-to-gal" Ann Thompson for some advice.
"We regrouped and she helped me tremendously, so with every run he just got better," notes Tovar. In fact, during the second round, she beat all the experience in the field with a smooth run of 14.19 seconds.
Badlands Circuit cowgirl Britta Thiel led the pack going into the Super Series II Championship Round on Sunday with a wide open field behind her.
Sunday proved to be a difficult day for barrel racers as the community learned of the passing of two-time WNFR competitor Nancy Hunter. The news hit especially hard given that Hunter was here just last year, competing to defend her three straight titles earned at RodeoHouston aboard the great Fuzz from 2013-2015; in fact, she ran the two fastest runs of the rodeo.
Though mourning the loss, the group seemed inspired on Sunday afternoon, putting up the fastest round of the rodeo.
Tovar led the group with a 14.09 second effort but was nipped in the end by the come-from-behind cowgirl of the Super Series, Tiany Schuster. The WPRA world-leading Schuster made a horse change following round one, and by round three, Hoosier had found his groove.
Schuster won the day with a 14.02-second run.
After a second-place finish on Sunday, Tovar was named the champion of SSII with $5,000 won. She advanced on to the semifinals along with round-one winner Kruse, round-three winner Schuster, and Thiel, whose two checks also totaled to $3,000 for a three-way tie.
Tovar was quick to credit all those who helped her during the set including Montgomery and particularly her horses.
"Bakken and Edwin have blessed me so much," Tovar said. "I'm so thankful for them both and my family and friends that were there to support me!"
RodeoHouston continues Monday with Super Series III. Headliners include last year's reserve champion in Houston, Brenda Mays, along with six cowgirls who competed in Las Vegas last December: Jana Bean, Pam Capper, Jackie Ganter, Stevi Hillman, Sarah Rose McDonald, and Cayla Small. Southeastern Circuit champ Sabra O'Quinn completes the field coming off a big showing at San Antonio last month.
Super Series II
1. Cassidy Kruse, Dash to Tim, 14.43, $3,000
2. Mary Walker, Perculatin, 14.57, $2,000
3. Britta Thiel, YHS Texs Roger, 14.58, $1,000
4. Fallon Taylor, Flos Heiress, 14.62, $750
1. Kelly Tovar, A Dash ta Glamour, 14.19, $3,000
2. Thiel, 14.21, $2,000
3. Taylor, 14.27, $1,000
4. Michele McLeod, Steakinflingindisco, 14.63, $750
1. Tiany Schuster, Hoosier Fame, 14.14.02, 43,000
2. Tovar, 14.09, $2,000
3. Taylor, 14.35, $1,000
4. Walker, $14.42, $750
Total Money Won
*Advance to Semi-Finals
Courtesy of WPRA
Tovar Tops Leaderboard in Super Series II in Houston
By Jolee Jordan