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National All-Region Rodeo Champions Crowned in Equine Mecca, Lexington, Kentucky
story by Lindsay Whelchel
The elite equine show grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky definitely felt wild and western the weekend of November 18-19 for the International Professional Rodeo Association’s National All-Region Finals, Oleika Shriners rodeo.
The top contestants in each of the IPRA’s designated regions worked all season to qualify for their spot at the NARF, and for many contestants on the bubble, Lexington was a last shot in the 2016 IPRA season to make it to the International Finals Rodeo this coming January. Cowboys and cowgirls from across the U.S. and Canada arrived in Kentucky for the first go round Friday night. French-Canadian, Spur Lacasse took the round win in the bareback riding, followed closely by last year’s NARF champion, Trey Moore from Alabama. Rookie Ryan McDaniel took the round in the bull riding, and the no. 1 saddle bronc rider in the IPRA World Standings, Shane Hand, won the round in night one.
Daryl Matthews was quickest in the tie down roping, and rookie sensation, steer wrestler J.W. Ery took the lead in his event. For team ropers Terry Crow and Buddy Hawkins, both multi-time IFR qualifiers, NARF was especially important, because they were right on the bubble ranked no. 15 and 16 going into the weekend, and the team started off strong with a Round 1 win. In the cowgirls’ events of barrel racing and breakaway roping, it was barrel racer, Jodi Colton and breakaway standings leader, Megan Rinehart, both from Tennessee, who took the win.
For Round 2 on Saturday night, we would see bareback rider, Josh Cragar, No.1-ranked bull rider, Corey Bailey and rookie bronc rider, Travis Gardner, take the wins in the rough stock events. For the timed events in night two, Luke Potter of the Southern Region won the tie-down roping. Canadian all-around cowboy, Rodney Weese wrestled his steer and breakaway roper Jenna Lee Hays caught her calf, the fastest, while the No. 1 ranked barrel racer, Kindyl Scruggs won the round, taking her even closer to a world title come January.
The 17-year-old team roping partners and childhood best friends, Brenten Hall and Jake Clay of Oklahoma are making a strong bid for their first IFR qualification, and their win in Round 2 will certainly help. Their mentors, veterans Terry Crow and Buddy Hawkins, who won round 1, came in second and took the average, winning the NARF championship title.
Back-to-back NARF champions were crowned this year with Jenna Lee Hays in breakaway roping and Trey Moore in the bareback riding. “It feels really good, just a small step to the top,” said Moore after his win. He added, “It’s been an outstanding weekend. Great horses, rode good, I’m healthy, so it’s always a blessing.” Josh Cragar also split the event win.
Shane Hand won the title in the saddle bronc riding, further cementing his lead in the race to a world title, and Luke Potter and Daryl Matthews split to win the event of tie-down roping. J.W. Ery, the rookie who was second in the world going into NARF, out wrestled the No. 1 man for the NARF championship and overtook the lead in the world title race, so it will be tight competition at the IFR.
Ery’s win was made even more special by the fact that his father won the same title years before, and he had his dad hazing for him there this weekend. “It’s like a dream come true, not only to have won, but to have won the same finals as my dad with him hazing for me,” Ery enthused.
At the other end of the standings, Canadian bull rider, James Sullivan, was ranked No. 17 going into NARF and needed to make the whistle to try and qualify for the IFR. Not only did he make the whistle, he won the championship. “It feels great. I had high hopes coming into this weekend, and I got it all done so I’m happy with myself. I’m right on the bubble so this might help me out to get in [to IFR],” Sullivan said.
The NARF was clearly important to many contestants this weekend. Not least of which, was barrel racer Jodi Colton, who got to experience her first true victory lawwwp in the storied horse town of Lexington. “My first run went really well. My horse worked great, she was really snappy on the backside of the barrels. My second run she got by them a little, bit but we were bottom of the ground, so I was really pleased with both of them,” Colton said and added of her win, “It feels amazing. This is the second buckle I’ve won on her, so it really means a lot to me, and I got to take my first victory lap last night, so this is really special.”
Next stop for the champs is the IFR in Oklahoma City Jan. 13-15, 2017.