DUNCAN, Okla. – Jeanne Anderson won both the year-end and the finale titles last year in the Prairie Circuit.
She’d love to do it again this year. With just a month and a half remaining on the regular season, Anderson is the No. 1 barrel racer in the region, having earned more than $6,800.
“It’s really a big deal to me to compete in the Prairie Circuit,” said Anderson, a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from White City, Kan. “I really like my circuit, and I make sure I focus on it. Winning both the circuit and the circuit finals last year was really cool for me.”
Even though she has a slim lead over Tana Poppino of Big Cabin, Okla., Anderson knows the road to back-to-back titles is winding and uphill. In fact, she is consulting with veterinarians at Kansas State University to find out what is ailing Firebug, the 13-year-old gelding that has been her main partner on the rodeo trail.
“It’s something high in her right hind leg, and it’s real hard to X-ray anything up there,” Anderson said. “They’re going to try to do a nuclear scan, and hopefully it’s going to tell us where it is and where to start doctoring.”
She knows it’ll take a healthy mount to achieve some of her goals, the primary one being another circuit title via Destination Duncan and the 2012 Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for Oct. 18-20 at the Stephens County Expo Center.
“I’m really excited about having the circuit finals in Duncan this year,” Anderson said. “I think the people in Duncan want to put on a good finals, and that’s good for us. We’re one of the toughest circuits in rodeo, so it’ll be good to finally have a good finals.”
Anderson is one of nine ProRodeo contestants who lead the standings with a month and a half remaining in the regular season, which ends Sept. 30. Other leaders are bareback rider Jared Keylon of Uniontown, Kan.; steer wrestler Dean Gorsuch of Gering, Neb.; team roping-header Hunter Munsell of Arnett, Okla.; team roping-heeler Braden Harmon of Mustang, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Jesse James Kirby of Dodge City, Kan.; tie-down roper Hunter Herrin of Apache, Okla.; steer roper Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan.; and bull rider Dustin Elliott of North Platte, Neb.
The leaderboard is chalk full of great athletes, including world champions Gorsuch (two), Patterson (two) and Elliott. In addition, Herrin is a five-time NFR qualifier, so there is plenty of great talent in the region that includes Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.
“My biggest goal is to make it back to the NFR, but my circuit is right there with it,” Anderson said.
Sometimes rodeo pays great dividends; sometimes, it’s quite a struggle. The latter has been the case for Anderson this season.
“This has been a horrible year,” said Anderson, who has just a $37 lead over Poppino, a good friend and traveling partner. “Firebug’s hurt. During Woodward (the third week in July), he slipped. It got really bad in Hill City.”
That was a little more than a week later. She turned out of two rodeos in Iowa that week and rode a younger horse in Dodge City, a tour rodeo with the largest purse of any event in the Prairie Circuit. That particular week included major stops in Abilene, Kan., and Phillipsburg, Kan.
“I’m pretty much a one-horse girl right now,” she said. “I did well at Burwell (Neb.), Wahoo (Neb.) and Manhattan (Kan.), and I was really excited to go on my Kansas run that week. It got disappointing pretty fast.”
Still, Anderson is holding out hope Firebug recovers quickly.
“To qualify for the circuit finals, you need to have a healthy horse,” she said. “You have to be consistent and have some luck.”
When it all goes right, championships follow. Year-end champions and winners from the circuit finals earn qualifications to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which takes place next spring in Oklahoma City.
“I like representing the circuit in Oklahoma City,” Anderson said. “I would like to win it again and go back to Oklahoma City. I didn’t get to run Firebug this last year because he was hurt, but he runs really good in Oklahoma city. I was really hoping to win the circuit again and give us a chance to run at that deal again together.”