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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the March edition of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is republished on this site with the approval of the WPRA.
By the time the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo begins March 25, Lindsay and Jesse Kruse will have welcomed their second child.
The baby was due the end of February, giving Mom about a month to have herself and Lenas Mijo Dulce ready for the national championship. Lindsay Kruse is ready for the opportunity.
â€śIâ€™m really excited to run at it this year,â€ť said Kruse, married to Jesse, the 2009 world champion saddle bronc rider. â€śI like the new location, and it looks like they are making it a lot more enjoyable for the contestants. It has a bigger purse. I just hope to win some of that money theyâ€™ve added this year.â€ť
She maneuvered her way to the RNCFR in Kissimmee, Fla., by having an outstanding season in the Montana Circuit. Her pregnancy prevented Kruse from competing at the Ram Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo in mid-January.
â€śThey let me have a medical exemption,â€ť she said, noting that the exemption allowed her a shot at year-end awards. â€śI had a decent lead, about $5,000, but I couldnâ€™t defend myself.â€ť
Instead, Carmel Wright won two go-rounds and placed in another to win the average in Great Falls, Mont. She pocketed more than $7,000 and passed Kruse. But by finishing second in the year-end race, Kruse will join Wright in Florida.
â€śI donâ€™t mind the drive,â€ť Kruse said, noting that the family will be part of the traveling posse. â€śWe usually go to Texas this time of year.â€ť
Her road trip is delayed a little, but she plans to have a pretty good partner in the mix. Harley is a 13-year-old sorrel gelding by Pobre Dulce and out of Lenas Country Bar. This marks Kruseâ€™s sixth RNCFR qualification and Harleyâ€™s second.
â€śHeâ€™s tough,â€ť she said. â€śHe likes being on the road. He just likes to do it. His personality is better when youâ€™re on the road.
â€śHeâ€™s kind of a quirky thing. He doesnâ€™t get along with many people. You definitely have to have a bond with him.â€ť
Thatâ€™s a good thing for Kruse, who said she and Harley just clicked from the first day they got together.
â€śHeâ€™s all cow-bred with no barrel breed in him,â€ť she said. â€śHeâ€™s kind of odd-shaped, but heâ€™s pretty in his own way.â€ť
It works, but so does the relationship between Sara Rose McDonald and her horse, Fame Fling N Bling, a 9-year-old roan mare she calls Bling. Like Kruse, McDonald finished as the year-end runner-up to Victoria Williams, who also won the average at the Ram Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo.
â€śIâ€™m excited to go there because itâ€™s close to home,â€ť said McDonald of Brunswick, Ga., the Southeastern Circuit and WPRA Rookie of the Year. â€śI know itâ€™s a good rodeo, so I just want to make good runs.â€ť
Thatâ€™s exactly what happened for Gretchen Benbenek last year. She took advantage of the tournament-style format and raced to the national championship last spring at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie, Okla.
She placed fifth in the opening go-round and was solid on the second run on Shot of Firewater, a 12-year-old bay she calls Maverick. The speedster is by Firem Jet and out of Miss Willie Ada; Maverickâ€™s mom was Benbenekâ€™s primary mount before the gelding came into his own.
By finishing third in the two-round average, the tandem advanced to the RNCFRâ€™s semifinals, finishing second to Kassidy Dennison. Benbenek and Maverick excelled on their final run, picking up more than $13,000 and a $20,000 voucher for a new pickup.
â€śOther than the Prairie Circuit Finals, Iâ€™ve never been in the position to defend a title,â€ť said Benbenek, the two-time reigning Prairie Circuit year-end champion from Aubrey, Texas. â€śI feel a little pressure about it, but itâ€™s a brand new arena that Iâ€™ve never been to.
â€śI just need to go in there hungry and wanting it and determined, then weâ€™ll see how it goes.â€ť
It helps that she has a good experience, albeit in Oklahomaâ€™s red dirt and not in the shadow of Disney World.
â€śI think Florida has shown a lot of interest in rodeo lately, and it doesnâ€™t have any other big events there,â€ť she said. â€śI can already feel thereâ€™s a new level of excitement. Iâ€™ve never got to rodeo in Florida. I hear the facility is really nice, and I think it will be a good place for my horse in me.
â€śItâ€™s right there by Disney World, and Iâ€™ve got some family coming down so we can do something else while weâ€™re there.â€ť
Her focus, though, is defending that national championship. Though the winter has been relatively slow for Benbenek, she has a lot of faith in Maverick.
â€śI like to give my horse a good break over the winter,â€ť Benbenek said. â€śHeâ€™s been running good. Weâ€™ve just been a little bit out of (the money). We havenâ€™t hit our stride.
â€śI go everywhere to win. I donâ€™t go to get second place or just show up. I have expectations of winning. I realize the competition there is going to be very tough, and winning is not an easy thing to do. As long as I feel like I can make the best run I can and as long as me and my horse are physically prepared, Iâ€™ll be happy with the outcome.â€ť
Thatâ€™s the attitude of a proven winner.