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NFR Preview – Barrel Racing and Breakaway Roping

Nov 26, 2021

NFR Preview – Barrel Racing and Breakaway Roping

It’s been a stellar year for rodeos across the country. For many of them it was a comeback after the pandemic and that has offered contestants more opportunities as they pursue a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification. I’ve been to several events and watched them live. I’ve also tuned into the Cowboy Channel and seen rodeos that I couldn’t attend.  I’ve followed the Professional Rodeo Cowboys association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and what an exciting year it has been. I can’t wait to walk into the Thomas & Mack Center, — and The Orleans Arena for breakaway roping — feel the energy of the Wrangler NFR and see who emerges as our 2021 world champions. With an increase in prize money in Las Vegas, there is a lot at stake and it’s more than gold buckles. On that note, I have some thoughts that I will share in a series of blogs.

Barrel Racing

The favorites – While barrel racing is not technically a team event, it definitely takes a horse and rider team to win it and because of the relationships that these women have with their horses, they are a team. The favorite team this year has a history in Las Vegas, a history at the NFR and most of all a history of winning. It’s none other than Hailey Kinsel and her great mare DM Sissy Hayday that we all know as Sister.

This dynamic duo has won the last three world titles, and the first two came out of Las Vegas. They’ve set records on the basketball court in the Thomas & Mack and the baseball diamond of Globe Life Field. She leads the world standings and there are going to be a lot of people building their fantasy rodeo teams around Hailey and Sister. During the past three NFRs, they have earned $601,154. There is no question that they are the team to beat.

Jordon Briggs

Jordon Briggs is no stranger to the Thomas & Mack Center, even though this is just her second qualification. She is the daughter of Kristie Peterson who won four world championships in the 1990s. Kristie’s last world title was in 1998 – Jordon was 10 years old. Her mom’s success came aboard French Flash Hawk “Bozo.” Bozo was a once-in-a-lifetime horse for Kristie, and now Jordon has one that might just fit the same bill. When she qualified in 2009, it was aboard Frenchman’s Jester. Her season changed that year with a fourth-place finish at Cheyenne Frontier Days. They made the push and competed in Las Vegas.

Jordon loves training young horses and usually when she gets one that has big potential, she sells it. Then along came Famous Lil Jet, “Rollo.” After working with him, she knew how special he was and that he should have the opportunity to run at the Thomas & Mack and also was confident she could get him there. Rollo is such a superstar that Jordon’s fellow barrel racers selected the seven-year-old gelding as the Nutrena Horse of the Year presented by AQHA. They are going to be fun to watch.

Shelly Morgan has had one of the best years of her career. The three-time NFR qualifier is in third and less than $20,000 behind Hailey. Dona Kay Rule is fourth and her fans are so grateful to see her qualifying for another NFR. She competed in 2019, qualified in 2020 and had to go home before she and Valor could make an appearance because of COVID rules. High Valor, the 12-year-old gelding that Dona Kay rides is a two-time horse of the year.

Hailey Kinsel

The veteran in this year’s field is two-time world champion Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi. She has qualified 15 times and this will be five in a row for the talented horsewoman. She will start in ninth place. Lisa Lockhart almost spent December at home, but some big wins the end of the season moved her to 14th and she also will be at her 15th NFR. Lisa’s qualifications have been consecutive and most of them have been aboard her great gelding An Oakie With Cash “Louie.” She’s had success on another buckskin, Rosas Cantina and a black gelding, Prime Diamond. With her experience in the Thomas and Mack and her horsemanship, she’s bound to add to her earnings.

The rookies – There are two NFR Rookie’s this year – Amanda Welsh and Molly Otto. Amanda starts in seventh place and I expect the Thomas & Mack Center to be great for her and Frenchman Fire Fly. The 11-year-old gelding has taken her to the championships at the Badlands Circuit Finals rodeo for three consecutive years. The arena there is similar to the Thomas & Mack Center. Amanda and Firefly have dominated in the small pen in Mandan, North Dakota. Small barrel patterns are one thing. The electricity and noise in the Thomas and Mack are another. Amanda’s brother Bobby Welsh has been here in the bull riding so she has that experience in her favor as well. This Wyoming cowgirl has been dreaming about running down the alley all of her life.

Getting in at the final spot is Molly Otto who has a different background than most rodeo competitors. She grew up in town and didn’t get her first horse until she was 15 and had to beg her parents for that to happen. She worked really hard to become a good rider before she started competing. That has paid off this year. She has a five-year-old Palomino, Teasin Dat Guy that Molly got when he was four. When “Chewy” came to Molly she was told that he was lazy and would likely be a kid’s horse. She took him to a jackpot just hoping to make a solid run. They set a new arena record and now the duo will be running in Las Vegas.

National Finals Breakaway Roping

This is the second year for the National Finals Breakaway Roping and the first for it to be held in Las Vegas. Last year, the women who qualified each roped in 10 rounds. Then they had a semifinals and finals where the fast times got paid. There were no overall champions based on total times. This year, the events will be held at The Orleans Arena December 6th and 7th. The format will be based on the traditional NFR format of 10 full rounds with the world champion crowned based on total money and the NFBR champion based on fastest total time on 10 runs.

Martha Angelone

The favorites – Shelby Boisjoli leads the pack. This is her second NFBR and she is riding Nutrena AQHA/WPRA horse of the year, No Wimpy Turns. Two years ago, she competed at the College National Finals Rodeo and finished as the reserve champion. Breakaway roping was gaining in popularity but she probably never dreamed that she would be competing in Las Vegas just two years later. Shelby has a wealth of experience and as one of three girls that played basketball and now ropes, she is very competitive. She is dating the 2019 college and world champion tie-down roper, Haven Meged, and we can bet that Haven has given her some advice about what to expect in Las Vegas.

The veterans in this group have almost 50 WPRA championships to their credit. It’s incredible to look at their careers and see how they have persevered doing something they love just waiting for the opportunities they are having now. Coming in at third is Erin Johnson who won those titles in breakaway roping in 2011, 2012 and 2015. She has had a stellar year. She and Loni Lester (who finished outside the top 15) tied for the win at the Caldwell Night Rodeo to become the first breakaway champions in that rodeo’s history.

J.J. Hampton is one of the most decorated ropers in WPRA history with 17 world titles and the WPRA National Breakaway Roping title last year. She is so excited to be roping in venues that she has watched family members compete in and is one of the most exciting ropers to watch. She became the first champion at the Reno Rodeo last June and won every round on the way to the Silver Spurs that are awarded to champions. Her slowest round was the first at 2.7 seconds. Then she roped her next two calves in 2.0 seconds and got the win in 6.7 seconds.

Jackie Crawford

Lari Dee Guy has 8 of those WPRA buckles, is an awesome horse trainer and is known for her “Rope Like a Girl” campaign. She will start the 10 rounds of competition in fifth behind J.J. and while these ladies didn’t start roping competitively when they were infants, combined they probably have close to 80 years of roping experience.

Jackie Crawford rounds out the list of the world champions. She has 20 WPRA titles to her credit and won the title last year after breakaway was added to many PRCA rodeos. They had to modify a saddle for her as she was expecting her second child in March. She is married to NFR header Charly Crawford who is happily letting his wife have the limelight now.

Martha Angelone won the championship at the NFBR last year and is back hoping for a repeat. She will start in 9th place.

The Rookies – Since this is only the second year for this event and the first for it to be held in Las Vegas, all of these women are having new experiences. Nine of these ladies are making their first appearance at the NFBR.

Sawyer Gilbert is leader of the newcomers starting the competition in third place. She did something this year that rodeo contestants dream about. She won two of the oldest, most legendary, and difficult rodeos in the U.S. – Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming and Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon. She starts the competition in second place. When the regular season was over, she headed to her family’s ranch near Buffalo, South Dakota and went to work gathering cows, weaning, and shipping calves. She comes from a long line of rodeo competitors and can handle pressure.

There are two former National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association breakaway champions represented here in Taylor Munsell (2019) and Joey Williams (2012). Munsell, who competed for Northwestern Oklahoma State University, starts in sixth place after finishing in the top 25 last year.

Williams who won her college title as Joey Painter for Black Hills State University watched last year’s competition on television. A month later she gave birth to her third child. She competed in rodeos in her circuit in the barrel racing and when the same rodeos added breakaway roping and she was winning at them she – with the support of her family and husband – decided to try to qualify. Joey’s family has been involved in rodeo for generations. Her grandmother was Miss Rodeo Wyoming and went on to be crowned the first Miss Rodeo America in 1955. She is the first to compete on rodeo’s biggest stage.

The final spot this year made history for Taylor Hanchey. Taylor got a name change in April when she married world champion tie-down roper Shane Hanchey. She set the arena record in the barrel racing in the Thomas & Mack Arena as Taylor Jacob and she and her great gelding made two consecutive appearances there. She changed her focus to raising and training young horses until this year. Her competitive juices are flowing and she can’t wait to rope against the rest of these women. And she’ll likely be doing it on a horse that Shane has ridden in the Thomas & Mack Center.

The other rookies on the list are Danielle Lowman who will be representing the Navajo Nation; newlywed Kelsey (Chace) Domer; Cheyanne Guillory; Sarah Morrissey and Nicole Baggarley.

Iron sharpens iron – That saying about iron sharpening iron could be used with every event at this year’s NFR. To be the best, compete against the best and that is exactly how this competition is shaping up.

My prediction – It’s going to be great watching all of these ladies compete in Las Vegas.