Journal on the Road

Running in Oklahoma

April 2, 2011

The National Circuit Finals Rodeo began March 31, and barrel racer Nellie Williams of Cottonwood, California, was among the competitors.

By Larri Jo Starkey

Nellie Williams of Cottonwood, California, rides Rebas Smokey Joe in the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. (Larri Jo Starkey photo) To see more photos, scroll to the slide show below.

The National Circuit Finals Rodeo is the culmination of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association circuit system, which divides the United States into 12 circuits. In each event, each circuit sends one exhibitor with the top year-end money-earnings and one exhibitor who won that circuit’s finals rodeo.

Nellie, who went to her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010, competed in 17 rodeos in the California circuit to win the year-end title and a trip to Oklahoma City, where the National Circuit Finals has moved for the first time in 25 years.

“This rodeo is run really similarly, which is nice,” Nellie says. “It’s real fast-paced and fun, so I like it a lot. I feel comfortable. You come down the alley the same way as at the NFR. It’s a blind first barrel, which can be tricky.”

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Nellie and Rebas Smokey Joe, her 1995 black gelding, had no trouble with the first barrel or the other two. Her time wasn’t the fastest of the evening, but the clean run keeps her in contention for the April 3 short go.

“We raise our own (horses) but we don’t sell them,” Nellie says. “We raise as many as we need.”

Unlike many barrel racers, Nellie has only one mount with her.

“I just have the one, and we raised him from a colt,” she says. “I used to run his mom in high school rodeos, so we’ve always had him and trained and done everything with him, so it’s kind of special to me to be able to say that.”

Nellie’s father, Sam, who bred “Blue Duck,” also made the 30-hour drive with him from the family’s 180-acre California ranch while Nellie, attending classes at Chico State University, flew. Her mother, Roxy, flew to Oklahoma with Nellie and will make the long drive back with Sam when the rodeo is over.  Nellie will return to college and start focusing on the California circuit again. She’s not thinking about that now, though. She’s thinking about her next run.

“I think my horse worked good (April 1), so if I just make a good run tomorrow, we should be all right for the average,” she says.

Nellie and Blue Duck will be back for the finals April 3, qualifying eighth.

To see more photos from the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, watch the slide show below. Click on each photo to see the caption.

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