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Popko third at Challenge of the Champions, wins performance


Last updated 4/12/2007 at Noon

Kerry Popko won the first Pole Bending performance at the California High School Rodeo Association’s Challenge of the Champions March 23-25 in Plymouth and finished third in the average.

Popko, who also finished third in the short go, had an average (aggregate) of 42.058 seconds on two runs. “I had a good weekend,” she said.

The Fallbrook High School junior is currently in second place in the CHSRA District 8 Pole Bending standings. The cowboys and cowgirls who are in the top three in their district standings for an event at the February deadline qualify for that event at the Challenge of the Champions which features competitors from all nine CHSRA districts. Popko qualified for the 2006 Challenge of the Champions but knocked down a pole last year, incurring a five-second penalty and not placing high enough to earn a trip to the short go.

Popko had a time of 21.095 seconds in the first performance March 23. That was the fastest Pole Bending time of the night, and she took a victory lap for her win.

The Challenge of the Champions consists of one go-round for all 27 competitors and a short go for those who place in the top ten after the first go. The riders were split into March 23 and March 24 go-round performances, and District 1 pole bender Kendra Hemphill had a time of 20.804 seconds in the March 24 performance to take the lead into the short go.

“Every day I got faster, the ground got faster,” Popko said. “The more water they put on it, the faster it is.”

Popko believes that she could have equalled or bettered Hemphill’s time if she had competed in the Saturday performance. “If I had run the second day I could have beat her,” she said.

In the short go March 25 Popko had a time of 20.963 seconds. “The ground got better and better every day,” she said.

Hemphill won the short go with a time of 20.414 seconds, also giving her first place in the average. District 8 rider Melanie Miller had a time of 20.854 seconds in the short go and placed second in the average as well as in the short go.

The 2007 rodeo was the first Challenge of the Champions in which Popko reached the short go as well as the first one in which she placed in the average. “That was really cool,” she said.

This year’s Challenge of the Champions was also the first one in recent memory not run in the mud. “It wasn’t rainy; that was a first in years,” Popko said.

Popko was not disappointed with third in the average, especially after winning her performance. “It’s really cool that I can get that,” she said.

The Challenge of the Champions also gave Popko an opportunity to observe her likely competitors at the CHSRA state finals. “You find out who your competition is at Challenge,” she said.

Popko’s success occurred despite the subsequent discovery of a medical condition in her horse, Banjo. “My horse is hurt; I figured that out after I ran him,” Popko said. “That slowed him down a lot.”

When Popko made the transition from running Banjo steadily to running him hard, the horse’s blood vessels were exposed and Banjo was bleeding internally while running. “By the end of the run he’s choking on it, so he can’t breathe,” Popko said.

The discovery of that problem will allow for its correction. “We’ve got him on medication for it, and we’ll see what the outcome is at our next rodeo,” Popko said.

Popko’s next scheduled rodeo is the California Junior Rodeo Association competition April 7 in Riverside. The next CHSRA District 8 rodeo is scheduled for April 15 in Hemet.


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