Despite mucky ground, finals a dream come true
The rodeo arena floor at the Mesa County Fairgrounds was more water than dirt Sunday.
A small lake formed where riders at the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association Finals usually warm up and cool down, and the competition area was caked with mud that was six inches deep as horses stepped in it.
But few riders were more affected than barrel racers, who had to worry about the safety of their horses more than slower times.
Friday, Nicole Waggoner was dumped from her horse rounding a barrel. The horse dislocated a hind leg, an injury that often leads to horses being euthanized. The severe injury in the rough conditions put a damper on the CPRA Finals, but it didn’t ruin the newness of the experience for Fruita rider Sophia Crews, who was competing in her first finals.
After three years on the CPRA circuit, the 28-year-old Crews finished fourth in barrel racing Sunday and narrowly missed placing in the three-day average standings for the final rodeo of the CPRA season.
“When you’re running on ground the way it was today, you’re really protecting your horse as much as you can,” Crews said. “We have wraps and stuff to put on the legs and brace tendons, you know, just like a professional runner or any other professional athlete.
“You’re doing all the stretching you can and making sure your horse is in tip-top shape, so they can adjust to terrible conditions. This is some of the worst ground I’ve raced on.
“You watch somebody take a fall like we had on Friday, and it really gets under your skin. You’re thinking about it when you round the barrel they just fell on, and just paying attention to how you have your horse set and that they’re upright and taking care of themselves. You run all year together, and you get them out on ground like this, and it can be really detrimental to their health.”
But being able to compete in the finals rodeo after making numerous trips as a spectator growing up was a “dream come true” for Crews despite the rough conditions.
“As a kid, watching those girls compete gave me butterflies,” Crews said. “It’s definitely something that is off my bucket list now. To watch it for so long and to finally get a chance to compete is unreal. I learned a lot about racing being here. Seeing some of these amazing girls ride on some terrible ground, it really teaches you about riding.”
It was also the largest event where Crews’ family and friends have been able to watch her compete. Crews’ husband, Chance Wiltfang, and two children, son Cole, 10, and daughter Kaci, 8, led a large cheering section.
“It’s a lot of time and a lot of money, but my kids realize what a big deal this is, even though it’s cut into family time,” Crews said. “They’re really excited and saying ‘dream come true,’ and it’s really been a big deal for all of us.”
Laura and Travis Bounds of Grand Junction finished third in mixed team roping. Rifle’s Dallas Rohrig finished fourth in the three-day average for bull riding.
Olathe cowboy Tuff Ramsey and Meeker cowgirl Cynda Norell each finished in the top five of the all-around standings.