EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the August issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is reproduced with the approval of the WPRA.
Paige Willis considered selling Good Frenchman Friday, a horse she had spent much of the winter and spring seasoning.
It’s a good thing she didn’t.
The 8-year-old sorrel gelding became the firepower she needed for one of the top money-winners through the WPRA’s Fourth of July run. Willis and Friday raced through six rodeos over the course of the lucrative series of rodeos, earning money in five.
“It’s pretty awesome considering it was all on my backup horse,” said Willis, the No. 1 rookie in the WPRA from Goshen, Ala. “We definitely were not expecting that.
Her good horse, Miss Gay Bar Abby, was sore, so Willis opted for Friday over the Fourth. It paid great dividends, moving her to No. 16 in the WPRA ProRodeo world standings. As of June 10, she had pocketed $35,594.
“We had talked about selling him before we came out on the road, but I’m glad we didn’t at this point,” she said, pointing to discussions she had with her boyfriend, Darren Scholl. “We knew we had the horsepower with her and with him coming along to be able to accomplish some things.”
So far, they are. Not bad for a young lady that was a kindergarten teacher for six months before deciding to chase her rodeo dreams.
The goal for the ProRodeo newcomer was to finish the 2015 campaign among the top 30 in the world standings so she would be eligible to compete at the big-money rodeos through the winter of the 2016 season. She’s making that happen in a big way, thanks to the gelding.
“My good mare was sore and wasn’t clocking, so we decided to give him a shot and see what would happen,” Willis said. “I never dreamed he would come out and work like he did.”
Her biggest paycheck came in Livingston, where she and Friday posted a 17.45-second run to finish second to Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Taylor Jacob; Willis pocketed $4,288. She finished third in Belle Fourche to earn $2,528, then had solid finishes at the other three rodeos: sixth in Killdeer for $921, seventh in Oakley City for $1,257 and sixth in Cody for $2,855.
Knowing she has something special in Abby, Willis kicked off her 2015 campaign with Friday on the road, allowing him the opportunity to learn the rodeo trail and gain confidence. In fact, through the Fourth of July run, she had competed in more than 60 WPRA-sanctioned events
“The reason we have such a high rodeo count is because we took him out to get him seasoned, and he was not clocking like he is now,” she said.
With Friday having solid goes, he has officially moved out of his role as backup.
“He’s officially the A team until Abby decides she feels good and is ready to get back to work,” Willis said. “Winning that much money over the Fourth still doesn’t seem real.”
It’s almost like a dream come true for the Alabama cowgirl, who received her college education in Florida. She grew up riding horses and is carrying on a tradition that began before she entered elementary school.
“I’ve ridden horses since I was 4 years old,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed to come out on the road. It’s a hard thing to accomplish. My boyfriend is the support and the backbone behind it all. Without him, there’s no way I’d be out here right now.”
She began running barrels at an early age, too, and competed through all the levels of youth and junior rodeo, including testing her mettle at amateur rodeos in the Southeast.
Now, though, she is trying to test her own skills and those of her powerful horses against some of the greatest to have ever ridden in the WPRA. With Friday playing a key role in her success, she knows she has something special.
“He’s really a big baby,” she said of the sorrel speedster. “Sometimes he just lopes through, and sometimes he runs. His personally has changed drastically over the last two months.”
Maybe the young gelding has learned just how good he can be.
“I think he enjoys being on the road,” Willis said. “He eats better on the road than he does at home. I think he likes thinking he’s on the A team.”
Though a qualification to the Wrangler NFR is within reach, Willis and her team plan to keep their approach to ProRodeo quite simple.
“I’m not going to chase any of it,” she said. “We’re just going to see how it goes. We’ve accomplished our goals and exceeded what we thought we could accomplish. It’s been great so far.”