Thanks to coordination on the part of Women’s Professional Rodeo Association President Jimmie Munroe and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo General Manager Allen Rheinheimer and his diligent rakers, the ground has been fast and fair—and the efficiency with which the rakers are working produces no lag time on the production.
A Little Background
Munroe explained that Rheinheimer, who was newly appointed as NFR general manager this year, brings years of experience as a horse show producer to his role here in Las Vegas on rodeo’s biggest stage. What people might not know is that before he was hired as GM, Rheinheimer worked behind the scenes at the Finals for many years.
“Allen produces some of the largest hunter-jumper shows all over the United States, from the Hamptons in New York to Gulf Port, Miss.,” said Munroe. “Shawn Davis first met him almost 20 years ago. They had the World Cup of jumping here in Las Vegas and hired Allen to come in for that event. Las Vegas Events also brought Shawn in to be in charge of the event, so that’s where Shawn first met him. Shawn was impressed with him and asked him to work the National Finals in December.”
Since working that first NFR many years ago, Rheinheimer has been on the NFR production team every year. When a new GM was hired this year, Rheinheimer was the man selected.
“He’s such a nice man and really knowledgeable on the production end,” added Munroe.
Brand New Dirt
Brand new ground was loaded in Thomas & Mack arena this year, and with all the positives that come with getting new ground, challenges arise.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Munroe. “Allen’s crew measures the temperature and the moisture every five hours in about 13 different places. They have a piece of equipment that has a laser on it to make sure the ground is level. They’re making every effort to make sure the ground is safe, and not just for the barrel race, but for all the other events.”
Munroe explained that Rheinheimer benefits from his association with individuals vastly experienced in the event business.
“Randy Spraggins and Stanley Rheinheimer, who is Allen’s brother, they’re in charge of the ground here,” explained Munroe. “Randy has had so much experience with so many different venues. He was at The American and NFR last year and he’s overseen the process at so many PBR events over the years.
“I think it was in 2011 here at the NFR during a breakout summit the WPRA participated in, Randy was one of the speakers. He talked about his experience with the PBR in places like New York City. It’s amazing the knowledge and experience he has from doing that type of work.”
As to how the conversation started about raking after every runner, Munroe credits Rheinheimer with proposing a solution that would work within the confines of Thomas & Mack. She also appreciates the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association for approving the NFR ground rules to include the hand raking.
“With the space available, we couldn’t bring a tractor and implement in to drag halfway through the performance since there was really nowhere to park it,” said Munroe. “The alleyway is so long. It wouldn’t be ideal to try and bring a tractor down from up top. The roping box on the opposite end wasn’t big enough to get their tractor and piece of equipment in there so Allen said, ‘We can hand rake after every runner.’ He’s really the one who has helped get that done. He felt that if we were going to hand rake, we needed to do it after every barrel racer because if you wait until after five, you’ll have some deep ruts, so it would be harder on the rakers and take more time as a result.”
One item in any event that is always critical is timing, because the NFR is after all a show.
“It was very important to figure out the timing,” said Munroe. “Those men are doing a great job. They have a very limited amount of time of when they can start and when they can finish. They’re doing it in about 18 seconds per runner. That takes a lot of effort and I know they’ve got to be in great shape. It was a concern too that a horse didn’t see them to avoid causing any problem with a run.
Thankfully, the rodeo pit crew is working with seamless precision.
“It’s happening so fast people don’t even know they’re doing it,” said Munroe, adding that she was pleased with the way the early rounds went. “The ground started out good. It was good the first night and a little better the second night.”
Prior to the third round on Sunday, Dec. 4 when we spoke, Munroe noted, “It’s getting settled, they weren’t even able to get the ground moved in there until just prior to the rodeo, but they worked on it continually. Once that ground got in the building, they went over it continually.”
Munroe believes the ground continues to hold up because not only is the crew working with fresh dirt, which helps, but they remain diligent about checking it all day to keep tabs on moisture content. They keep meticulous records and are prepared to make the appropriate adjustments.
“I just really can’t thank them enough—Las Vegas Events, Allen Rheinheimer and his crew—all of them for all they do for the event and for trying to improve it all the time,” said Munroe.
What Munroe hopes is that ground conditions help produce the kind of tight, top-notch competition in all events that NFR fans expect.
“What we always try to stress is we’re not saying, ‘Make it good for the barrel racers,’ we want it good for all the contestants and livestock,” said Munroe. “Everyone has a big investment in their livestock. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the stock contractors or the barrel racers, the roping contestants or the steer wrestling horses. If it’s good for our event, it’s good for all the events. I think there might’ve been a misconception that we want it 3’ deep, no we want a good, safe base but we never want deep, shifty ground.”
Advancing the Sport
The combination of hand raking after every runner here on rodeo’s grandest stage and the broader television coverage enjoyed by the sport this past summer during Cowboy Channel’s 100 Days of Rodeo is helping raise awareness about ground conditions across the country.
“People realized how many committees were dragging the ground halfway through the barrel racing,” said Munroe. “And, our directors have done a really good job at reaching out to all their committees.”
Committees watching here in Vegas, as well as those at home, might be making some notes in their rodeo planning playbooks on how great ground not only levels the playing field, but results in faster, tighter times and a more exciting contest for spectators.
“Cheyenne was great,” said Munroe. “In the short round, they drug and worked their ground halfway through. They were pleased with it. Our women have been so complementary of these committees that are making the effort. If they win and are interviewed by the Cowboy Channel, I don’t think I’ve seen one that didn’t thank the committee for their efforts to drag halfway through. It’s making it better for the entire rodeo because what’s good for our event is good for all the events.”
Munroe emphasized that the WPRA circuit directors have been vigilant about staying in touch with their committees and working hard to continue advancing the sport in more ways than one. In the constant evolution of professional barrel racing at rodeos, Munroe notes that many factors have changed over the years, and she is happy to see things like the payouts and ground improve. As an 11-time NFR qualifier and past world champion, she certainly has great perspective from which to draw.
“Raking certainly isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the years,” she said. “One year when it was in Oklahoma City I won the first five rounds. I hit a barrel and didn’t win the average, but I placed in like 8 or 9 rounds, and I won a little over $10,000. I thought it was great, don’t get me wrong, but a lot has changed. That was the year before equal purse money (with the team ropers). That was ’84.”
In comparison, after Round 9 of the 2021 NFR, WPRA Word Standings leader Hailey Kinsel had already banked $123,213 in NFR earnings alone, and had stayed on her great horse DM Sissy Hayday for every round.