Winter. Is. Over.

The winter rodeo season has officially ended as barrel racers duke it out in California, but wait—what happened?
Shelley Morgan competes in barrel racing at RodeoHouston.
Shelley Morgan and Kiss won the first Semifinals Section at RodeoHouston 2023. Image by Mallory Beinbron/Impulse Photography.

The 2023 WPRA season for ProRodeo officially kicked off on October 1, 2022, but the real barrel racing drama started in 2023 with the lucrative winter run, leaving athletes and fans with the question: How much does it all matter?

BRM contributor Tanya Randall went on a deep dive of the 2023 ProRodeo standings with the final “winter rodeo,” concluding in San Angelo, Texas, in April. Here’s what she found

Dial it Back: WPRA Barrel Racing Standings as of January 01, 2023.

1Ilyssa Riley $15,582.85 
2Erin Owens Wetzel $13,693.61 
3Stephanie Fryar$10,572.25 
4Kelly Allen$10,177.14 
5Sissy Winn$9,398.33 
6Jackie Ganter $9,124.33 
7Sara Winkelman$9,077.15 
8Lisa Lockhart$8,435.71 
9Austyn Tobey $8,383.75 
10Ivy Hurst$8,338.93 
11Leia Pluemer$8,227.43 
12Jordon Briggs $7,947.22 
13Tiany Schuster $7,788.83 
14Ashley Stpierre Rogers $7,465.12 
15Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi $7,447.40 
16Nikki Hansen $6,526.26 
17Rachelle Riggers$6,413.27 
18Kacey Gartner$6,413.27 
19Cayla Melby Small $6,256.81 
20Rainey Skelton  $6,015.22 

After the first three months of the 2023 season, which began on October 1, 2022, only four 2022 NFR qualifiers were in the new barrel racing standings (bolded above).

How’d they get there?

Sissy Winn, who broke her foot late summer, worked her way back into competition shape at the Texas fall fair rodeos.

Lisa Lockhart captured the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo Championship as a prelude to Promise Me Fame Guy’s stellar performance at the NFR.

Jordon Briggs was working the rolls off of Rollo (Famous Lil Jet) by winning second at the WPRA World Finals.

Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi was second at the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo and placed second in the first round of the WPRA World Finals to have enough won to crack the early season Top 15.

What happened next?

The winter run always changes things in a big way. After a grueling season, most of the NFR qualifiers stay close to home until the winter building rodeos, where they capitalize on lucrative payouts that are concentrated amongst limited entries.

At the conclusion of the lucrative winter run of building rodeos, nine of the 2022 National Finals Rodeo qualifiers are in the Top 15. That’s 60 percent. The number jumps to 12 in the Top 20, making 80 percent of the previous year’s qualifiers already at the top of the world standings. 

WPRA World Standings: April 19, 2023

1Jordon BriggsTolar, TX$87,894.72 7
2Kassie MowryDublin, TX$65,322.24 9
3Jackie GanterAbilene, TX$50,370.96 26
4Hailey KinselCotulla, TX$43,287.95 12
5Brittany Pozzi TonozziLampasas, TX$43,035.88 15
6Sissy WinnChapman, TX$42,451.70 19
7Molly OttoGrand Forks, ND$38,621.61 10
8Jimmie Smith-TewMcDade, TX$35,682.03 22
9Kelly AllenStephenville, TX$33,400.95 29
10Dona Kay RuleMinco, OK$32,752.76 11
11Margo CrowtherNorth Fort Myers, FL$32,448.85 17
12Jessica RoutierBuffalo, SD$31,866.65 13
13Lisa Lockhart (G)Oelrichs, SD$31,680.01 13
14Ilyssa RileyHico, TX$28,023.99 18
15Taycie MatthewsWynne, AR$27,463.21 16
16Sara WinkelmanBig Lake, MN$26,640.67 30
17Emily BeiselWeatherford, OK$26,009.34 17
18Shelley MorganEustace, TX$24,687.39 12
19Wenda JohnsonPawhuska, OK$24,005.50 8
20Amanda WelshStephenville, TX$22,485.49 12

All but four of the WPRA’s Top 20 have qualified for at least one NFR. Those looking for their first trip are Kelly Allen, Ilyssa Riley, Taycie Matthews and Sara Winkelman.

Last year’s NFR qualifiers averaged 13 rodeos, ranging from Briggs at just seven to Winn’s 19. Those in the Top 20 who didn’t make the 2022 NFR averaged 20 rodeos, ranging from 2021 NFR qualifier Molly Otto’s 10 to 2022 Great Lakes Circuit Finals Champion Sara Winkelman’s 30. 

The main difference between Otto and Winkelman was their 2022 season standings.

Otto, along with Jimmie Smith-Tew, Riley, who led the 2023 standings January 1, and Matthews, who narrowly missed the 2022 NFR, finished within the WPRA’s Top 40 last year. 

The Top 40 was once considered the magic number to make the qualifications into the lucrative limited entry rodeos. That’s no longer the case, but there are options, albeit challenging ones.

Jackie Ganter got a big boost to compete at the winter rodeos by winning the Cardholders Race at the WPRA World Finals, which got her into RodeoHouston—the richest winter rodeo. Ganter was in the Top 4 of the WPRA Tour, a designated group of 60 rodeos with $5,000 or less added money that are used for limited entry qualifications. The WPRA Tour got Ganter into Fort Worth, which she won, and San Antonio, where she did extremely well.

Kelly Allen was the lowest in the previous year’s standings at No. 228. She had a great fall that put her fourth in the standings at the dawn of 2023. Her early season standings got her into San Antonio. She won her way into Rodeo Houston by splitting the win with Ilyssa Riley at the Waller County Fair & Rodeo in Hempstead, Texas. 

Only four of the WPRA’s Top 20 as of the conclusion of San Angelo didn’t qualify for or enter Rodeo Houston, the richest rodeo thus far: Jimmie Smith Tew, Margo Crowther, Winkelman and Amanda Welsh. All but Winkelman have an NFR qualification on their resume.

Tew’s “I’m not going to rodeo” mantra worked well for her. She’d won four rodeos over the winter – the National Western Stock Show in Denver, the Fiesta de Los Vaqueros in Tucson—the highest paying outdoor winter rodeo, the Ellis County Stock Show & Rodeo in Waxahachie, Texas—another outdoor run, and the Nacogdoches Pro Rodeo in Texas.

The 2020 NFR qualifier is also the highest ranked barrel racer to have not run at San Antonio or Houston. 

The great winter rodeos in the Southeast are setting up Crowther for return trips to both the Southeastern Circuit Finals and the NFR. She’s won the Dixie National in Jackson, Mississippi, her circuit’s richest rodeo, and did well at San Antonio.

Winkelman is parlaying her Great Lakes Circuit Championship into a chance at the NFR. Although her championship helped her in the standings, it wasn’t enough to get her into Denver, Fort Worth, San Antonio or Houston. She earned her way into Denver through their qualifier. She also picked up checks from Florida to Texas and won the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Welsh, who missed nearly all of 2022 after her horse Frenchmans Firefly was injured at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, won Rodeo Austin and placed in Tucson, the first round at San Angelo as well as Texas Circuit Finals rodeos in Belton and Odessa, Texas.

Qualifier Impact

New this season were the qualifying events for Denver and San Antonio. Both events were very well received. Contestants were extremely gracious toward the Denver committee for working around last minute extreme weather conditions, and the Uvalde event for San Antonio was lauded for its great production and payoff. 

Winkelman is the highest ranking barrel racer to go through the Denver qualifier. Latricia Duke, who sits No. 29 in the standings was the highest ranked barrel racer to go through the San Antonio qualifier.