EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written for Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It appears in the February edition of the magazine.
When Sarah Griffin looks down at her No. 1 barrel horse, she sees more than the beautiful black mane.
“He’s such an amazing horse,” Griffin said of Dash N Sparks, a 19-year-old black gelding out of Savanah Hit Song by Dash For Perks. “People know him everywhere. It’s unreal that he’s in my barn. I still wake up and can’t believe I own Dash N Sparks.”
It’s a good thing she does. Even though she rodeos only part time – “I went to the minimum number of rodeos you could go to in order to qualify for the (Ram First Frontier) Circuit Finals,” she said – she took advantage of the opportunity Jan. 15-17 in Harrisburg, Pa., by winning the average championship and earning the automatic qualification to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo.
“I went in third in the standings, a little over $3,000 behind Alicia Pottmeyer,” said Griffin, of Buffalo, N.Y. “I knew if I wanted to go to Kissimmee (Fla.), I had to win the average. I knew trying to win the year-end title would be very hard. I just focused on making three solid runs, and I did.”
She and Sparky rounded the cloverleaf pattern in a three-run cumulative time of 43.01 seconds, 35-100ths of a second ahead of runner-up Jennifer Oberg. Griffin also won the first two go-rounds and finished second in the final, pocketing nearly $5,300 in the process.
“To be able to qualify for the RNCFR is a great opportunity,” she said. “We don’t have those types of events up here. It’s very gratifying to know that I have an opportunity to compete against the best in the country.
She also will showcase her great gelding, which she acquired three years ago.
“He was trained by Bo Hill,” Griffin said, referring to the well-known trainer. “He’s very quirky. He’s very high maintenance. He has to get to know you, and he doesn’t like a lot of change.
“We hit it off immediately. I placed at one of the very best barrel racings I went to. It’s almost like he knows who he is. I just think he throws out that kind of attitude. He’s one of the greats.”
A strong ego seems to work in Sparky’s favor.
“He loves the attention in a way; it’s very bizarre,” she said. “Everybody that’s ridden says it’s like a crazy ride. He runs so hard and uses his whole body. It’s wild, but it’s so fast. It’s not smooth. He’s like a sports car.”
Griffin grew up in New York, and she annually attended the rodeo in Attica, N.Y., with her father. That’s where she first noticed affection for barrel racing. She was in the sixth grade when she started running but didn’t start rodeoing until she got to college at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo.
This past September, she married Tom Griffin. Now she leans on her husband for that support.
“It’s not easy, because I do work full time,” she said. “When anybody does something really good, they make it look so easy. I think it’s so amazing to be able to communicate with a horse. It’s a constant challenge for me, and it gives me the drive to do it well.
“My husband is an amazing support to me. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without him. I owe a lot of my success to him.”
While Griffin had the lion’s share of success in Harrisburg, Pottmeyer had enough gusto to hold on to the year-end championship. Pottmeyer and her horse, Nick Of Shine, placed in two of three go-rounds and finished third in the average. She earned $2,800 maintain her spot atop the standings and join Griffin in Kissimmee in March.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Pottmeyer, a 2014 rookie who leaned heavily on her horse, Nick, a 7-year-old sorrel gelding. “I had no idea it was even possible a year ago. I’d never been to a ProRodeo, so I was pretty intimidated.”
Once she got to work in the arena, the cowgirl didn’t show any worry. She placed a lot throughout the year, all while traveling to the First Frontier Circuit events from her. She travels with her fiancé, Zach Kilgus, a team roping header who won the circuit finals average title with Justin Yost.
“I’ve been riding horses as long as I can remember,” Pottmeyer said. “I grew up team roping. I’ve been on rope horses my whole life. I didn’t take barrels real serious until later.”
It’s a good thing she did, because she has something special in the little red gelding. which stands just 14.1 hands tall.
“He’s really little, but he has a huge attitude,” she said of Nick. “He makes the exact same run every time. I can count on one hand the number of barrels I’ve hit on him. He handles any kind of ground. He runs harder the madder he is. If he’s in a good mood and being lazy, I know he’s not going to run very fast.”
Nick ran fast to earn the trip to Florida, and she’ll make the trek with her fiancé.
“That was my biggest goal,” said Pottmeyer, who works full time as an oil and gas abstractor. “It was my fiancé’s goal, too. It’s a big deal to both of us. We might not get to do this very often.
“We live out of the circuit, and it takes eight hours for us to get to Cowtown (in Pilesgrove, N.J.), so it’s 16 hours round trip.”
Still, she finds the time to make the trips worth it.
“It’s an addiction; it’s a way of life,” she said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Nor should she.