EDITORâ€™S NOTE: This story was written for Womenâ€™s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It appears in the February edition of the magazine.
When Sarah Griffin looks down at her No. 1 barrel horse, she sees more than the beautiful black mane.
â€śHeâ€™s such an amazing horse,â€ť Griffin said of Dash N Sparks, a 19-year-old black gelding out of Savanah Hit Song by Dash For Perks. â€śPeople know him everywhere. Itâ€™s unreal that heâ€™s in my barn. I still wake up and canâ€™t believe I own Dash N Sparks.â€ť
Itâ€™s a good thing she does. Even though she rodeos only part time â€“ â€śI went to the minimum number of rodeos you could go to in order to qualify for the (Ram First Frontier) Circuit Finals,â€ť she said â€“ she took advantage of the opportunity Jan. 15-17 in Harrisburg, Pa., by winning the average championship and earning the automatic qualification to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo.
â€śI went in third in the standings, a little over $3,000 behind Alicia Pottmeyer,â€ť said Griffin, of Buffalo, N.Y. â€śI knew if I wanted to go to Kissimmee (Fla.), I had to win the average. I knew trying to win the year-end title would be very hard. I just focused on making three solid runs, and I did.â€ť
She and Sparky rounded the cloverleaf pattern in a three-run cumulative time of 43.01 seconds, 35-100ths of a second ahead of runner-up Jennifer Oberg. Griffin also won the first two go-rounds and finished second in the final, pocketing nearly $5,300 in the process.
â€śTo be able to qualify for the RNCFR is a great opportunity,â€ť she said. â€śWe donâ€™t have those types of events up here. Itâ€™s very gratifying to know that I have an opportunity to compete against the best in the country.
She also will showcase her great gelding, which she acquired three years ago.
â€śHe was trained by Bo Hill,â€ť Griffin said, referring to the well-known trainer. â€śHeâ€™s very quirky. Heâ€™s very high maintenance. He has to get to know you, and he doesnâ€™t like a lot of change.
â€śWe hit it off immediately. I placed at one of the very best barrel racings I went to. Itâ€™s almost like he knows who he is. I just think he throws out that kind of attitude. Heâ€™s one of the greats.â€ť
A strong ego seems to work in Sparkyâ€™s favor.
â€śHe loves the attention in a way; itâ€™s very bizarre,â€ť she said. â€śEverybody thatâ€™s ridden says itâ€™s like a crazy ride. He runs so hard and uses his whole body. Itâ€™s wild, but itâ€™s so fast. Itâ€™s not smooth. Heâ€™s like a sports car.â€ť
Griffin grew up in New York, and she annually attended the rodeo in Attica, N.Y., with her father. Thatâ€™s where she first noticed affection for barrel racing. She was in the sixth grade when she started running but didnâ€™t start rodeoing until she got to college at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo.
This past September, she married Tom Griffin. Now she leans on her husband for that support.
â€śItâ€™s not easy, because I do work full time,â€ť she said. â€śWhen anybody does something really good, they make it look so easy. I think itâ€™s so amazing to be able to communicate with a horse. Itâ€™s a constant challenge for me, and it gives me the drive to do it well.
â€śMy husband is an amazing support to me. I wouldnâ€™t be able to do what I do without him. I owe a lot of my success to him.â€ť
While Griffin had the lionâ€™s share of success in Harrisburg, Pottmeyer had enough gusto to hold on to the year-end championship. Pottmeyer and her horse, Nick Of Shine, placed in two of three go-rounds and finished third in the average. She earned $2,800 maintain her spot atop the standings and join Griffin in Kissimmee in March.
â€śItâ€™s pretty surreal,â€ť said Pottmeyer, a 2014 rookie who leaned heavily on her horse, Nick, a 7-year-old sorrel gelding. â€śI had no idea it was even possible a year ago. Iâ€™d never been to a ProRodeo, so I was pretty intimidated.â€ť
Once she got to work in the arena, the cowgirl didnâ€™t show any worry. She placed a lot throughout the year, all while traveling to the First Frontier Circuit events from her. She travels with her fiancĂ©, Zach Kilgus, a team roping header who won the circuit finals average title with Justin Yost.
â€śIâ€™ve been riding horses as long as I can remember,â€ť Pottmeyer said. â€śI grew up team roping. Iâ€™ve been on rope horses my whole life. I didnâ€™t take barrels real serious until later.â€ť
Itâ€™s a good thing she did, because she has something special in the little red gelding. which stands just 14.1 hands tall.
â€śHeâ€™s really little, but he has a huge attitude,â€ť she said of Nick. â€śHe makes the exact same run every time. I can count on one hand the number of barrels Iâ€™ve hit on him. He handles any kind of ground. He runs harder the madder he is. If heâ€™s in a good mood and being lazy, I know heâ€™s not going to run very fast.â€ť
Nick ran fast to earn the trip to Florida, and sheâ€™ll make the trek with her fiancĂ©.
â€śThat was my biggest goal,â€ť said Pottmeyer, who works full time as an oil and gas abstractor. â€śIt was my fiancĂ©â€™s goal, too. Itâ€™s a big deal to both of us. We might not get to do this very often.
â€śWe live out of the circuit, and it takes eight hours for us to get to Cowtown (in Pilesgrove, N.J.), so itâ€™s 16 hours round trip.â€ť
Still, she finds the time to make the trips worth it.
â€śItâ€™s an addiction; itâ€™s a way of life,â€ť she said. â€śI wouldnâ€™t change it for the world.â€ť
Nor should she.
STARKVILLE, Miss. â€“ Rodeo is much more than a sport.
Itâ€™s a true showcase, the perfect piece of family entertainment. That is the mindset taken by the staff involved with Pete Carrâ€™s Classic Pro Rodeo, which is bringing its show to the Rotary Rodeo, set for 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13, and Saturday, Feb. 15, at MS Horse Park in Starkville.
â€śWe try to have the theatrical portion of our show not interfere with the competition side,â€ť said Cody Whitney, a production supervisor for the Dallas-based livestock firm. â€śWe try to run a good, fast, clean performance without interfering with the competition.
â€śThatâ€™s where weâ€™re different from other rodeo companies. If weâ€™re not ready, the cowboy has to wait. When it comes time for that cowboy to compete, weâ€™ve done everything we can to make that animal ready for that cowboy, so all he has to do is nod his head.â€ť
Thatâ€™s very attractive for everyone involved. Fans love it, which makes the experience perfect for local organizers.
â€śI know Iâ€™m going to have a top performance and that weâ€™re going to have top stock thatâ€™s been at the National Finals Rodeo,â€ť said Bricklee Miller, an organizer with the Rotary Rodeo. â€śThatâ€™s going to give the contestants the best opportunity to have high-marked rides in the riding events and fast times in the timed events.
â€śThat helps make it a fun event for the fans.â€ť
The overall package is set up for everyone involved. The Carr team works hard to make it a fair competition for the cowboys and cowgirls, then puts in a concerted effort to put together a production that will have fans talking long after the final bull is bucked.
â€śWe micromanage our program ahead of time,â€ť Carr said. â€śWe canâ€™t be perfect, but we can dang sure get as close as we can. Weâ€™re always striving to be better, identifying the weaknesses and taking constructive criticism. Itâ€™s an everyday challenge, but I think trying to be better is just trying to take it to the next level.
â€śIâ€™m proud of what we do, but I know we can always find ways to improve things. I like that the people I work with have that same mindset, too.â€ť
The proof is in what happens at each rodeo performance.
â€śI think the key to the success of a Carr rodeo is a combination of good animals and good production,â€ť Miller said. â€śI think itâ€™s really important to keep the fans engaged in what theyâ€™re watching and be very conscience of the time frame so we can have them enjoy a great show.
â€śThe one thing Iâ€™ve found with Pete Carr and his crew is that theyâ€™re very attentive to the overall production. They know what it takes to keep the fans engaged.â€ť
Itâ€™s a start-to-finish project for the entire Carr staff.
â€śWhat starts the production is our version of Americana,â€ť Whitney said. â€śWeâ€™re looking to get peoplesâ€™ emotions up, get them on the edge of their seats so when that first animal bucks, the height of the excitement is already up.â€ť