There are a lot of fans at the NFR! Image courtesy of EloisePlz
As the 50th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo came to a close in Las Vegas last week, rodeo fans awarded their favorite athletes with a little extra Christmas cash by voting them the Fort Dodge Champion American Quarter Horses of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
For the second year, the American Quarter Horse Association and corporate partner Fort Dodge Animal Health teamed up to give fans a unique opportunity to interact online and vote for their favorite American Quarter Horses and the cowboys and cowgirls who rode them at this year's Wrangler NFR. Fort Dodge contributed $25,000 in prize money,awarding $2,500 to the horse owner and $2,500 to the competitor receiving the most online votes in each timed event.
Rodeo enthusiasts cast votes in steer wrestling, heading, heeling, tie-down roping and barrel racing. Only contestants riding registered American Quarter Horses and the owners of those horses were eligible to win the added money.
Normally, the AQHA would like me to publish the rest of their press release and list the winning horses and riders. But when I read the list, I was really surprised. There is more to this story than meets the eye.
Quarter horses are often criticized for being early bloomers in the show ring, reining and cutting arenas, and at the racetrack. The bigs-buck lure of futurities sends these horses into intense competition as three-year-olds. There seems to be a big gap between horses bred for competition and quick maturity vs. the built-to-last Quarter horses that are such an ideal horse for real-world pleasure riding and general use.
So the results of the NFR popularity contest are like a breath of fresh air: almost all the winners are mature horses, some well into their teens and one more than 20 years old, who are survivors and may even thrive on competing. I'm sure they have their share of injuries, probably have their joints injected, and you wouldn't want to look too closely at their foot x-rays. But they are still out there, and still carrying their riders to victory.
These horses are the best advertisement the AQHA could hope for...and they've been on ESPN's NFR television coverage for the past few weeks.
Here are the horses the fans rewarded as 2008 Fort Dodge Champion American Quarter Horses of the Wrangler NFR:
1. Steer Wrestling: RTR Little Willy, a 22-year-old brown American Quarter Horse gelding owned by Gregory Cassidy of Donalda, Alberta, Canada. RTR Little Willy carried three riders in each steer wrestling go-round.
2. Heading: Wranglers Lil Chism, 16-year-old sorrel American Quarter Horse gelding who competed in eight rounds of heading. He is owned by Garrett Tonozzi of Fruita, Colorado.
3. Heeling: Freckles Taz, a 10-year-old bay American Quarter Horse gelding who also went eight rounds with Kinney Harrell of San Angelo, Texas.
4. Tie-down roping: Hickoryote Sue, a 15-year-old bay American Quarter Horse mare, owned by Stran Smith of Childress, Texas.
5. Barrel Racing: The most popular barrel racing horse was also the youngest horse to win an award. Andele Cowboy, is owned and ridden by fan favorite Maegan Reichert of Mount Pleasant, Texas. He is a 9-year-old black American Quarter Horse gelding. With a 13.76 run, the team earned third place. They also won this award last year.