On the Bubble: Last rodeos of the season propel some Badlands contestants to NFR
The bubble isn’t necessarily where a rodeo contestant wants to be in late September, but that’s where Lisa Lockhart found herself on the weekend of Sept. 26-27.
After rodeoing through a season she calls a “struggle,” due to COVID and canceled rodeos, she found herself in twelfth place in the world standings, five days before the pro rodeo year ended on Sept 30.
The top fifteen barrel racers in the world qualify for the Wrangler National Finals, and Lockhart wanted to make sure she was one of them.
The PRCA’s Pro Tour Finale, normally held in Puyallup, Wash., was moved to Rapid City, S.D., and Lockhart and her fellow qualifiers had one more opportunity to make some money and secure a spot for the 2020 WNFR.
In her runs in Rapid City, she knocked over two barrels, winning zero.
But she wasn’t knocked out of the standings; she fell from twelfth to thirteenth place, with Ryann Pedone overtaking her.
“I’ve never been in quite this position before,” the Oelrichs, S.D. cowgirl said. “It is so stressful. Part of it is so out of your control, which, at that point, it’s in God’s control then.”
The entire year has been difficult, Lockhart said. Barrel racers often pick and choose what rodeos to compete at, depending if their horse likes the arena and the ground conditions. But with so many rodeos canceled, it was difficult to make money.
Lockhart’s horses do well in large arenas at big rodeos, including the Calgary (Alb.) Stampede and Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, which also pay well. “That’s part of my strategy, and for barrel racers in general, to find arenas and ground your horses prefer.”
There was a lot more travel this year, too, she said.
For example, “If you went to Utah, it was for one rodeo,” Lockhart said. “That’s something (in a normal year) we would probably never do. I made more trips going to Utah and Idaho on different weekends in a row, but then I had to come back for a rodeo here. You didn’t get to schedule a cluster in one area.”
Add to that the fact that everybody was competing at the same rodeos, so competition was stiffer. “It was tough everywhere,” she said. “Everybody was at the same rodeo, every time. It was a complete dog fight.”
This will be Lockhart’s fourteenth qualification to the Wrangler NFR.
Steer wrestler Jace Melvin didn’t have it so tough, as his spot for his first WNFR was secure as the final days of the rodeo year approached.
Coming into the Rapid City Pro Tour Finale, he was ranked ninth, but won a bit more than $3,300 to jump two places.
Even though he had his berth sewn up, “I never let my guard down,” he said. “People said you’re going to make it, you’re good. But I didn’t believe it till Saturday night. I tried to go into (the Tour Finale) like I was fifteenth” in the world standings.
After winning about $1,900 in Rapid City, he and fellow traveling partner Jule Hazen turned the truck towards the Stephenville, Texas rodeo, which ended September 27. There, Melvin tied for first place with four other steer wrestlers and pocketed $1,400, making his regular season earnings $46,225.
Melvin, a native of Ft. Pierre, S.D. who now lives in Bluffdale, Texas, finished the 2019 rodeo season in eighteenth place in the world, three holes out of an NFR qualification. That was incentive enough to make him work harder this year.
“When I got home from rodeoing last fall, I went to work,” he said. “I didn’t have any money. I went to work, put some money away, and started practicing every day I could, working every day I could. When they had a rodeo or a jackpot. I was going.”
He reiterated what Lockhart said about the competition being tougher this year, due to fewer rodeos. “Every guy in the top 100 in the world, in almost every event, was at every single rodeo,” he said, “whether it was Peterson, Iowa, or Dickinson, N.D. or Fredonia, Kan.
“It was a fun year, don’t get me wrong. We went to a bunch of rodeos that I’d never been to before, and I always enjoy that. We did a lot of driving, but I don’t mind driving a whole lot.”
Melvin traveled much of the year with Hazen, Eli Lord and Cody Devers.
Qualifying for his first WNFR is a “dream come true,” he said. “I’m glad to have accomplished it, and I’m looking forward” to running ten steers at the WNFR.
Other area cowboys and cowgirls who are headed to the WNFR include first timers bareback rider Jamie Howlett, Rapid City, in sixth place; steer wrestler Bridger Anderson, Carrington, N.D., in tenth place; heeler Levi Lord, Sturgis, in twelfth place; and Shorty Garrett, Dupree, S.D., in fourth place.
Reigning world champion tie-down roper Haven Meged, Miles City, Mont., returns to the WNFR, as do saddle bronc riders Cole Elshere, Faith, S.D., and Chase Brooks, Deer Lodge, Mont., and barrel racers Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D. and Lockhart. Heeler Chase Tryan, Helena, Mont., goes into the Finals in fifteenth place.
Rapid City’s Shane O’Connell, who went to the WNFR in 2018, missed going this year by five places and about $8,500.
According to the PRCA website, the closest margin between number fifteen and “crying hole” was in the tie down, where only $175 separated Hunter Herrin, from number sixteen, Cory Solomon.
The top fifteen in each event will compete for world titles and gold buckles at the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, to be held this year at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Dec.3-12. Tickets are limited, due to social distancing guidelines. As the public health situation evolves, more tickets may be released for sale.
Visit the PRCA’s website at http://www.prorodeo.com for more information.
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