By: Julia Dondero
It’s early Fall in the world-famous Blue Mountain foothills of North Carolina. Leaves are transitioning to shades of deep auburn, and there is a distinct buzz of excitement surrounding the acclaimed Tryon International Equestrian Center and Resort in Mill Spring, NC. In the first week of October, all eyes will turn to the World Champion’s Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) Rodeo Carolina major event, with high-caliber entries headlining each performance and event.
Athletes from across the nation will make their way to the foothills of the Blue Mountains for their shot at taking home a piece of the $400,000+ payout. For many, additional bonuses will also be at stake, making Rodeo Carolina the richest rodeo east of the Mississippi River. Bonuses, including the Reliance Ranches VRQ Bonus Champions, will be awarded, concluding many athletes’ 2023 season in a victorious tone. The VRQ Bonus race wrapped up in September; however, the points champions (highest points earner) in each event will be officially awarded the $25,000 bonus in North Carolina.
Most notably, saddle bronc rider Isaac Diaz will compete for an extraordinary additional opportunity- to the tune of $1 million- hanging in the balance. Riding for his third consecutive WCRA Triple Crown of Rodeo victory, Diaz has put himself in historic contention to become WCRA’s second million-dollar cowboy.
Also making headlines in the roughstock world is none other than Leighton Berry from Weatherford, Texas. The second-generation bareback rider entered Rodeo Carolina atop the competitive leaderboard, allowing him the unique opportunity to have his pick of the stock through WCRA’s seeded stock draw. Albeit, the talent will not be alone in the competition. With young-gun standout Kashton Ford and professional bareback rider Mason Clements also entering, the competition will leave contestants and rodeo fans alike on the edge of their seats.
Looking towards the timed-events side of the competition, the steer wrestling leaderboard is headlined by collegiate athlete Trisyn Kalawaia. Kalawaia will enter the competition with one WCRA major win (Rodeo Corpus Christi) under his belt, as he pursues his second victory.
Also entering the competition with the hopes of keeping their Triple Crown of Rodeo dreams alive are team ropers Riley Kittle and Jace Helton. Kittle and Helton took home the victory in May at Rodeo Corpus Christi and will back into the box with their eyes set on another major win. After utilizing the momentum from several major nomination wins, Texans Billy Bob Brown and Kirby Blankenship will also travel to North Carolina with hopes of taking home their piece of the record-setting rodeo’s payout.
Breakaway roping will also be a hotly contested competition, sure to go the wire. Not many stages present the opportunity for legends like Kelsie Domer to compete alongside their prodigies like 14-year-old twins Kelsie and Kylie Reininger– however, they will go head-to-head in North Carolina. The prestigious Tryon International Equestrian Center will serve as the perfect backdrop for three days of exhilarating roping.
As athletes from across the nation make their way to North Carolina, Benson, North Carolina native Kristin Yde will feel right at home. The home-state barrel horse trainer and futurity racer will look to add this prestigious event to her expansive resume of accomplishments and barrel racing accolades. Ryann Pedone and young gun Annika Ruth will also headline the event, creating a fierce pack of competitive barrel racers running on the North Carolina ground.
As Rodeo Carolina quickly approaches, rodeo fans and athletes alike will be prepared for edge-of-your-seat action as the storylines begin to take shape at the first-class equestrian facility and resort. Tickets for Rodeo Carolina are on sale now and can be purchased online at tryon.com or etix.com, or via the phone to PBR Customer Service at (800) 732-1727.