By Jolee Jordan
HOUSTON -- Once upon a time, Stevi Hillman worked as a radiology technician, training horses on the side to feed her passion for barrel racing. She took a leap of faith to hit the rodeo trail full time, putting her other career on the back burner but always knowing she had a great backup plan if the rodeo road was too unkind.
That backup plan is looking smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror as Hillman continues to establish herself as one of the premier pro barrel racers in the WPRA. After competing in her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in December 2016, Hillman has just kept "Truck"-ing in the new year.
Aboard her tough partner Cuatro Fame, who is known as Truck around the barn, Hillman won a round at the prestigious Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo back in January and captured the rodeo in Sinton, Texas, while earning more cash at San Angelo and San Antonio.
The Weatherford, Texas, cowgirl showed her versatility in the saddle by riding a new mount, the 5-year-old Sharpie, aka MCM Imasharpguy, to the title at the always tricky La Fiesta de los Vaqueros rodeo in Tucson, Arizona.
Back aboard the big bay Truck for her second trip at RodeoHouston, Hillman got off to a rocky start when she kicked over the second barrel to take the first round of Super Series III on Monday night. The good news? Her time of 14.30 seconds would have won the go round.
The win went instead to Jana Bean, who rode her own super-fast bay horse, Chick; she picked up the $3,000 paycheck for her run of 14.41 seconds.
More than half of the 40 invited competitors in Houston have competed in the tournament-style rodeo. Eight women make up each of the five Super Series rodeos and get three go rounds in which to earn as much cash as they can. Following the Super Series Championship--the third round--the top four money winners advance to the semifinals on March 22-23.
All competition at the rodeo is sudden death and no averages are paid out. Once past the Super Series, advancement to subsequent rounds is based on single run times. The four fastest from each semifinal move on to the championship on March 25. The six from each semifinal who don't move on are given one more shot in the wild-card round on March 24. Only the two fastest from that round make it to the final night.
The 10 women run in the championship with the four fastest earning one more run in the Shootout, which is held later that same night. The biggest portion of the purse is divvied out on that final run, with the winner earning $50,000.
With the confidence born of her fast first go time, Hillman came roaring back in the second round with a time of 14.17 seconds, the third fastest of the rodeo so far and best in Super Series III.
Bean picked up another check, this time for fourth, to take the lead in the standings following two rounds. Super Series III championship round on Wednesday night got off to a smoking start with a very tight field making its last plays for advancement to the semifinals. Pam Capper took the early lead with a run of 14.30 as the first runner, hoping to put more cash with her third-place finish in round one.
Jackie Ganter switched from Shooter to Cartel in hopes of another check and pushed Capper to the limits with her 14.31 second effort. Florida cowgirl Sabra O'Quinn and Nosey were also in there tough with a 14.34.
What had been a very tight barrel race suddenly got blown wide open when Hillman's turn to run finally came. With Truck chewing up the ground with his huge stride, Hillman stopped the clock in 14.18 seconds to win her second straight round and come from behind for the Super Series title.
I'm just so proud of my horse," Hillman told the crowd following her second win. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. I'm just so thankful and so excited.Hillman finished with $6,000 won, followed by Bean with $3,750. Last year's Reserve Houston champ, Brenda Mays, stayed in the hunt with $3,000 won to tie for third and fourth with Capper. All four women will make plans to be back in Houston next week for the next round.
"I'm very blessed ... that's all I have to say," said Hillman.
Super Series IV begins Thursday night with another all-star lineup, headlined by the WPRA's richest cowgirl, four-time WPRA world champion Sherry Cervi. Cervi is also the only former RodeoHouston champ left in field; she has won the title in Houston four times on three different horses.
The set also includes Rachel Dice, one of the four finalists here a year ago, along with Amberleigh Moore, the WPRA's No. 2-ranked cowgirl. Rounding out the set are Ivy Conrado, the reigning champion of the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, along with Prairie Circuit champ Emily Miller, Badlands Circuit champ Jana Griemsman, 2016 Cheyenne Frontier Days champion Tillar Murray, and Kassie Mowry, who earned her invite by winning the San Angelo Stock Show Rodeo last month.
For more information on RodeoHouston, visit www.rodeohouston.com and stay tuned to www.wpra.com for continuing updates.
Super Series III
1st Go1. Jana Bean, Dashing Klee, 14.41, $3,000
2. Brenda Mays, Judge My Fame, 14.62, $2,000
3. Pam Capper, Sheza Smooth Flight, 14.73, $1,000
4. Jackie Ganter, Marthas Sixshooter, 14.94, $750
2nd Go1. Stevi Hillman, Cuatro Fame, 14.17, $3,000
2. Cayla Small, Shameon U, 14.31, $2,000
3. Mays, 14.43, $1,000
4. Bean, 14.49, $750
3rd Go1. Hillman, 14.18, $3,000
2. Capper, 14.30, $2,000
3. Ganter, Cartels Fame, 14.31, $1,000
4. Sabra O'Quinn, Bring It On Guys, 14.34, $750
Total Money Won*Hillman, $6,000
*Advanced to Semifinals
Courtesy of WPRA