It took 12 months, and 62 rodeos, but still the championships in the Texas Circuit came right down to the wire on the final day of the Texas Circuit season. Despite the number of runs over the course of the year, and the thousands of dollars won, no titles were decided until the final barrel racer sprinted across the finish line on the final day.
The final margins of victory? Barely over $1,000 and one tenth of a second.
To say the Texas Circuit Finals average and year end title battles were both a knife fight could be understating the issue. In the end, Sissy Winn and Shelley Morgan emerged from the fray victorious at the conclusion of the 2021 Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo held once again in Waco on December 30-January 1, 2022.
“I knew it came down to the last run, it was so tight,” Winn said. “With those ladies and the caliber of horses competing . . . I knew anybody could win the next round.”
“That made it so much more special,” she continued of her win in the average following three rounds. “It could have been anybody’s game that day; it just happened that it was mine.”
Winn claimed the average win with 47.13 seconds on three runs. Ilyssa Riley was second at 47.24 while Morgan was third at 47.29.
For Morgan, the Eustace, Texas, cowgirl picked up her second year-end title in the circuit by edging out fellow 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualifier Cheyenne Wimberley by $1,081. She also won back in 2014.
“I knew we were really close together coming into the finals because I looked,” Morgan admitted with a laugh. With nearly $20,000 won prior to the Finals, Morgan was fourth, trailing leader Wimberley by just over $3,000 with Stephanie Fryar and 2021 WPRA World Champion Jordon Briggs sandwiched in between.
Though Morgan was hoping to again punch her ticket to the next level in the circuit system, the newly renamed NFR Open, she didn’t make winning her game plan.
“I didn’t plan to try to go make the fastest run each night,” she said. “I mean, if you think, ‘I need to win this much to pass the one ahead of me,’ that doesn’t really work out.”
“I just planned to go make my runs and if it works out, then it does. If it doesn’t, it just doesn’t.”
Texas Circuit Finals Champion Sissy Winn
For her part, Winn was happy to even be in Waco. The Chapman Ranch, Texas, cowgirl had to fight down the stretch to be among the top 12 to qualify to the finals.
“I just wanted to make it; when I came off the road [in the summer], I was like 15th or 16th,” Winn said. “It literally came down to the final run of the season.”
In fact, Winn won $6,700 in the last three weeks of the regular season with wins in New Braunfels, Buffalo and Fort Worth at the Stockyards Rodeo on the final day of the year, September 30.
Her streak came aboard her great gelding Chewy who is registered Chewingthehotwire. The 8-year-old gelding is by Flaming Firewater and out of the Royal Quick Dash mare, Native Quick Dash. Winn bought the gelding in 2019 from Shelby Ridling, who trained and futuritied him as a 5-year-old.
Winn took Chewy on the road with her that first year to season him.
“My dad was asking, ‘why are we hauling this horse?’” Winn laughed. “I rode him at a few rodeos but nothing spectacular.”
Following the summer, Winn discovered some minor issues which prompted her to turn Chewy out for about a year and a half, time well spent in her opinion.
“He grew up a lot and matured and it made him a better horse,” she said. Winn got back on the gelding in May but was struggling a little to get figure him out.
“He’s so willing and wants to please but it just took some time for us to trust each other,” she explained.
“He’s so fast and powerful it kind of scares me,” she admitted with a laugh. Following the Fourth of July, she committed to staying with him for the remainder of the season and soon the pair had found their groove.
After a hot fall, Winn came to Waco after taking a good long break from rodeo.
“It was nice to be home, do things like being social,” she joked. “I still rode five days a week, but we didn’t go to any rodeos.”
Though appreciated, the break did leave Winn with some nerves on the first night of the circuit finals. Chewy was so laid back during warm up that even Winn’s mother Melissa was wondering if the gelding would fire.
Chewy proved their worries unfounded when he smoked the field in the first go, stopping the clock in 15.67 seconds run for the win.
“It was good to get the first one out of the way,” Winn noted. She took advantage of available practice time the next morning, doing some slow work to move Chewy bigger around the corners.
“He does what I want,” she said. “Honestly, if I hit one, it’s my fault. So, on that second run, he did what I asked, a little rounder on the turns.”
Her second run stopped the clock at 15.77 seconds, good enough for third behind Briggs’ round winning — and new arena record — 15.49.
With one run remaining, Winn trailed Briggs by just two one-hundredth of a second.
“I knew he’d do his best,” she said of Chewy. “It was exciting that it was so tight.”
On the final night, Chewy laid down a 15.69, good enough for second behind Riley’s 15.61. When Briggs suffered an extremely rare 5-second penalty, Winn took the title and pocketed $7,907, an awesome early birthday present for the cowgirl who turned 24 on January 5.
Along with big earnings from the early 2022 rodeos, the circuit finals money jumped Winn’s season earnings up to $15,696, good enough to take over number one in the WPRA World standings.
“I’ve never seen that,” said Winn, who shared horses with her older sister Amy as a kid in junior rodeos before she worked her way up to the pro ranks. She finished the 2021 season ranked 20th. “So, even if it’s just for the week, it’s cool. All my friends have been congratulating me, they’ve seen how hard I’ve worked. This is really something.”
Winn wanted to thank her parents, Tom and Melissa, and sister, Amy, for being in Waco to support her along with her veterinarian Dr. Marty Tanner and shoer Bob Hodges, who have both been instrumental in Chewy’s success.
Texas Circuit Champion Shelley Morgan
Morgan was coming off her best year as a professional after earning $107,973 at her third Wrangler NFR in December. Riding her then-7-year-old mare, HR Fameskissandtell, aka Kiss, Morgan placed in five of 10 rounds and grabbed a seventh place average check too.
Kiss is by CEO, a son of Bugged With Honor, and out of the Dash Ta Fame mare, Fames Fiery Kiss.
“She’s about as consistent as you can get,” Morgan said of Kiss. “That’s what I love about her. I’ve had some good horses in my life, but she is something else. She loves her job and is so easy. You just send her in there.”
“I definitely feel like a fly could ride her. I just sit up there and flop around,” she joked. In truth, the duo has become a team to reckon with in the ultra-competitive world of WPRA barrel racing. In Waco, their consistency was on full display with runs of 15.77, 15.78 and 15.74, good enough to place in every go round.
“My husband and I talked about that, three seven’s, that’s just great,” she said.
Morgan felt the barrel race in Waco was so tough thanks to the efforts of the committee, who tractor drug after every four barrel racers throughout the finals.
“I think it allowed the barrel race to be more fair and even,” she said. “It was enjoyable because it was so tight, and I have to give credit to the ground being so even.”
“When we show up, we just want a fair chance. We’re so thankful for the drags, it definitely makes a difference.”
For some horses, coming off 10 pressure-packed runs at the Wrangler NFR and coming to the circuit finals just two weeks later might be a tough ask. But Morgan builds her season a bit differently and knew Kiss would be ready.
“She gets the winter and summer runs and I run my other horses in the spring and fall so she has that time off,” Morgan explained. Her 2021 season was further improved by Morgan and Kiss’ win at the Ram National Circuit Finals (what’s now known as the NFR Open) in Kissimmee, Florida, back in April.
“The fact that she did so good at the RNCFR set me up in my opinion,” Morgan said. “I didn’t have to enter as much so the summer was easier on her.”
The $16,372 payday in Florida facilitated an early exit from the rodeo road as well with Morgan comfortably set for the Wrangler NFR by early August.
“I was able to give her a big break there through mid-fall. I never let her get completely out of shape, but I felt like she had a good break, and I was able to bring her back and be ready for the 10 days [at the NFR].”
The advantage of winning so much at the RNCFR was on Morgan’s mind as she hoped to earn a chance to compete there again, though in 2022 the event moves to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in July with the new name NFR Open.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to go back. It’s a lot of money and can help set you up for another NFR.”
Winning big in events that provide lucrative opportunities is key for Morgan’s long-term plan for Kiss.
“I want her to last a long time so money like that [the RNCFR] just helped me not have to run her quite as much,” she said. “The easier the road is for her, the happier I will be.”
“However long she lasts, it’s perfect,” Morgan said. “Everything she does is extra special.”
Texas Circuit Finals Results
Barrel racing: First round: 1. Sissy Winn, 15.67 seconds, $2,108; 2. Shelley Morgan, 15.77, $1,581; 3. Ilyssa Riley, 15.83, $1,054; 4. Jordon Briggs, 15.93, $527. Second round: 1. Jordon Briggs, 15.49 seconds, $2,108; 2. Kylee Scribner, 15.64, $1,581; 3. Sissy Winn, 15.77, $1,054; 4. Shelley Morgan, 15.78, $527. Third round: 1. Ilyssa Riley, 15.61 seconds, $2,108; 2. Sissy Winn, 15.69, $1,581; 3. Shelley Morgan, 15.74, $1,054; 4. Jimmie Smith, 15.79, $527. Average: 1. Sissy Winn, 47.13 seconds on three head, $3,163; 2. Ilyssa Riley, 47.24, $2,372; 3. Shelley Morgan, 47.29, $1,581; 4. Stephanie Fryar, 47.93, $791.