Leslie Willis Wins Fort Smith Old Fort Days Futurity

By: Hope Sickler

South Carolina cowgirl and notably one of the best barrel racing futurity trainers in the industry Leslie Willis had a week in Fort Smith, Arkansas that she will never forget. Willis was crowned the 2017 Fort Smith Old Fort Days Futurity Champion when she rode Ryon Rocks to victory in the championship round Saturday evening.

Ryon Rocks is a 4-year-old gelding by Louisiana Senator and out of Phoebe Ryon by Bill Ryon and out of Dashing Phoebe. Texas breeder Dale Rankin raised the talented gelding "Ryon" and Willis and her husband, Jason, bought him at the BFA Sale in December 2015.
Willis has been training futurity horses for a living for years and winning the inaugural Old Fort Days has been on her bucket list since day 1.
This was my first time to win Fort Smith and it was definitely on my bucket list," laughed Willis. "I stayed with "Ryon" at his stall until it was all over. I was excited and had tears in my eyes the entire time. It was an unbelievable moment and a dream come true!
Old Fort Days Futurity has been around for years and years and it is known as the granddaddy in the futurity world. It is only open to 4-year-old futurity horses which makes it that much more special since most futurities today are open to both 4 and 5-year-olds.
"Fort Smith is the only futurity that has never been a 5-year-old futurity. What makes it so special is it has always been that way and when other futurities were changing, Fort Smith stood their ground and insisted on staying a 4-year-old futurity."
With fierce competition Saturday night in the championship round, Willis made sure to keep herself and "Ryon" calm and focused before their run.
"He stayed calm and was focused. He was listening to me and it was then my job to put him in the correct spot, and then kick and push in other spots. I am grateful that it all worked out," Willis said. "I didn't go full-speed to the first barrel because I wanted to make sure that I got it turned. After the first barrel, I pushed him hard the rest of the way."
Certainly, a week and a moment that she will never forget, Willis is incredibly grateful for the horses that she gets to train and jockey and is quick to give her four-legged partners all the credit.

Like what you see? Sign up for our newsletter to stay current on all the latest rodeo news and your favorite content from FloRodeo.

IFYR Joins Roster Of Ote Berry Junior World Championship Tour Events

© Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

The Ote Berry Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship has added a key event to its tour for 2018: the International Finals Youth Rodeo. Known as the world’s richest youth rodeo, the IFYR will be one of 18 stops on the tour—up from 12 in 2017. 

Rising Star: Bridger Anderson—A Steer Wrestler, Not A Paleontologist

We first met steer wrestler Bridger Anderson at the 2017 Junior NFR back in December in Las Vegas. The tall, lanky 19-year-old impressed with his abilities to handle the pressure of the Ote Berry Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship competition. 

Let's Tip Our Hats To The 2018 Pro Rodeo Hall Of Fame Inductees

The Pro Rodeo Hall Of Fame has announced their roster of 2018 inductees. This year, the honor was awarded to five contestants along with the contract personnel, stock contractor, livestock, committee, notable, and Ken Stemler Pioneer awards.

Are You FloRodeo's Next Rising Star?

© Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Rodeo Recap: Young Peebles, Mauney NOT Retiring & Arena Records Broken

Courtesy of Bull Stock Media

The youngest of the Peebles clan has been showing some hints of what's to come in 2018, C5 has a rockstar in their herd who just won't let up, records fell like flies in Logandale, Nevada, and talk of J.B. Mauney retiring after a tough injury has only added fuel to his fire. 

Poly Royal: Largest College Rodeo Kicks Off Today

Cal Poly Rodeo Team

The 78th annual Poly Royal Rodeo kicks off today with Cal Poly State University’s 11,000-seat Alex G. Spanos football stadium converted into a rodeo arena for the weekend in San Luis Obispo, California. 

Top 5: Rodeo Arena Power Couples

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.jpg

Did he fall in love with the way she tamed that fire-breathing dragon of a barrel horse she was running? Was she impressed with his muscles as he wrestled a steer to the ground, or his ability to heel that nasty dragger?

Calgary Stampede Roster Announced: Can Thurston Go 4-For-4?

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Stampede has announced the roster of contestants for the 2018 “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” today, and a name we’ve grown used to seeing next to the "W" is back to compete. Saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston will be making another trip back to Calgary for a chance to make a record-breaking fourth consecutive title at the $2 million rodeo. 

INTRODUCING: The Ultimate Junior Rodeo Rankings

In the past decade, the popularity of junior rodeo has skyrocketed, producing cowboys and cowgirls who become more prolific with each generation. 

Rodeo Recap: RNCFR Shakes Things Up And A Great Horse Was Lost

Photo By Randy Feere

Big checks at RNCFR meant a couple long-time world standings leaders lost their No. 1 positions, Canadian rodeos are warming my heart and soul, and the bareback riding world lost a special equine athlete this past weekend.