RNCFR PREVIEW FIRED UP FOR FLORIDA Talented barrel racers excited for RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo By Neal Reid F or circuit competitors, it doesn’t get any better than the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo, and this year’s crop of talented barrel racers is primed and ready to run for a national title at
this year’s championship event. Whether it’s a seasoned vet or a rookie making their way to Kissimmee, Florida, for the first time, the RAM NCFR is a special rodeo, one they relish highly. That’s certainly the case for Megan Champion, a mother of three from Ukiah, California, who won the California Circuit year-end and average titles in her rookie year. “I’m pretty excited about it,” said Champion, runner-up to Carly Taylor for 2019 WPRA Rookie of the Year honors. “Who knows? I might not ever make it again. I’m excited, so I’ll just take that excitement and have fun.” Champion said she wasn’t aware until mid-rodeo at the circuit finals that she had a chance to top 2017 WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller and punch her first ticket to the RAM NCFR, which will be held April 2-4 at Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park. “I didn’t realize going into the circuit finals that I could still win,” said Champion, who notched her achievement aboard a pair of mares named Katy and Smarty. “For some reason, I thought the season was over. Being close to Nellie in the circuit (standings) was exciting in and of itself, because she’s amazing. So, I was just happy to make it there and be there.
Megan Champion barely missed winning the WPRA Rookie of the Year title in 2019 but she did win the California Circuit Rookie Title as well as the year-end and average title to earn her first ever trip to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida. She was shocked to learn she had won the year-end after surpassing WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller at the Circuit Finals. Photo by Gene Hyder
goals. “So, I’m just going to do what I always do – give it my best and let my horses give it their best, and it’ll fall where it’s supposed to fall.” Montana Circuit year-end champion Lindsay Kruse knows how Champion feels. She’s headed back to the RAM NCFR for the seventh time and will join her husband – 2009 PRCAWorld Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Jesse Kruse – as a competitor in the stacked field. Lindsay and Jesse qualified for the event together while they were dating in 2015, but this will be the first time the couple will be able to compete at the national championship simultaneously. “The last time we both qualified, he had to have knee surgery right after the circuit finals, so we weren’t able to compete together,” Lindsay Kruse said. “You get to do what you love together, and you understand it when it’s hard and not going good. You get it, so there’s no explaining needed.” The Kruses also will have the support of their three children – all age 8 or younger – since the Winston, Montana, family travels together, and Lindsay will be aboard her trusty mare, Cover Girl, in Kissimmee. The 9-year-old horse helped Kruse run away with the circuit’s barrel racing season title, as she finished nearly $10,000 ahead of Margaret Poloncic when the dust had settled. It will be Cover Girl’s first trip to the RAM NCFR – Kruse lost her last great horse, Harley, after they competed in the 2016 event together
“Then, I realized after making one of my runs that I was $200 away and could still win the saddle. I was like, ‘What? How cool!’ It definitely gave me a confidence boost like, ‘OK, I can do this.’” She edged Miller $30,232 to $26,515 in the final season standings and also took home the average crown after a trio of solid runs. Regardless of how the scenario played out, Champion said just getting the chance to compete against such top-level talent in her circuit is a thrill. “It’s rewarding and exciting to be able to run with the best girls in the world, but it’s also very humbling because you just never know,” Champion said. “You have just as many lows as highs, so you can doubt yourself.” But thanks to Katy – a horse owned by Rachel Dice – and Smarty, whom she owns, Champion was able to hit it big in the circuit ranks. “It’s all the horses,” said Champion, who is testing her mounts at the big winter rodeos in Texas. “I’m just the jockey, and I’m fortunate they do their job and they love it. I just try to let them work and stay out of their way.” Champion will enjoy her time in Florida, no matter the outcome. “I just take one run at a time, and honestly, I’m just really grateful to be there running with the best girls,” said Champion, who lists qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the top of her
14 WPRA NEWS MARCH 2020
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