Gretchen Benbenek has a lot of reasons for being excited about her first trip to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, Okla.
One is that every event winner receives a $20,000 voucher toward the purchase of a new Dodge truck.
“I need a new truck, so I’m really looking forward to that,” said the 2000 graduate of Missoula Loyola High School.
Benbenek is one of four barrel racers with strong Montana ties who will be competing this week at the RNCFR at the famous Lazy-E Arena.
The event, which begins Thursday and concludes Saturday, features the year-end and finals champions from 12 circuits from around the United States.
Each competitor will go two full rounds, with the average winners advancing to the semifinals. The top four advance to the finals with the previous scores wiped clean.
Benbenek qualified by winning the 2013 Prairie Circuit year-end championship. The Prairie Circuit covers Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. The Oklahoma State graduate is a real estate appraiser who lives in Aubrey, Texas.
“My house is about 40 miles south of the (Oklahoma border) and plus I went to OSU for five years,” said Benbenek, who competed for OSU’s national championship teams in 2001 and 2004. “I know a lot of those rodeos and I know a lot of the people up there. I love the people and my horse gets along with the ground real well. I guess if he liked deep, sandy ground we’d probably run more in the Texas Circuit.”
Benbenek made her circuit title push last Labor Day weekend, winning the barrel racing at Vinita, Okla., Hastings, Neb., and Dayton, Iowa. She earned more than $22,000 for 2013 and finished 45th in the final WPRA world standings. Benbenek also placed second at the All-American ProRodeo Finals last October in Waco, Texas, pocketing another $8,284.
“I’m an independent contractor so I can leave when I want but I’m not making money as an appraiser when I’m gone,” Benbenek said. “I’ve got to be making money somewhere.”
Benbenek is riding Maverick, a 10-year-old bay gelding and a second-generation horse for the Montana cowgirl.
Benbenek also rode Miss Willie Ada, Maverick’s mother.
“It means everything to have a second generation horse like this,” she said. “I guess I would keep going if I had to buy something and start over, but this means a lot. His mother meant the world to me, so to be able to keep going on her baby is just special to me.
“He’s so fun to ride.”
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Benbenek is one of four barrel racers with strong Montana roots
She will be joined by Montana Circuit representatives Shelly Anzick and Lindsay Kruse, along with Lisa Lockhart, the Badlands Circuit champion.
Lockhart, originally from Circle, leads the WPRA world standings with almost $60,000. Her money won does not include the $100,000 win at The American and another $29,000 earned at RodeoHouston.
Anzick, of Livingston, is third in the world standings. She vaulted into the top 10 with a $15,000 victory at Fort Worth, Texas.
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Other Montana competitors are: Jessy Davis, bareback; Chase Erickson, bareback; Shawn Downing, steer wrestling; Ross Mosher, steer wrestling; Dustin Bird, team roping; John Robertson, team roping; Ike Folsom, team roping; Jade Stoddard, team roping; Chad Johnson, tie-down roping; Kevin Peterson, tie-down roping; Shane Moran, saddle bronc; Josh Reynolds, saddle bronc; Parker Breding, bull riding; Kody DeShon, bull riding.
Bird, a two-time National Finals Rodeo competitor from Cut Bank, currently leads the world team roping heading standings. He will rope with Robertson, who qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo last year.
Sidney’s Beau Franzen and Jason Schaffer of Broadus qualified out of the Badlands Circuit. Franzen, a former NFR competitor, will be competing in steer wrestling, while Schaffer is entered in tie-down roping.
Franzen has also qualified from the Montana and Prairie Circuits during his career.