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Jennifer Welch Nicholson performing in 2012. (PRCAfinalsrodeo.com photo)

Jennifer Welch Nicholson, who started at Riata ranch as a 9-year old and later navigated the organization through tumultuous times and to international renown, has been nomnominated for the Donita Barnes Lifetime Achievement Award.

She started as a young student and then became one of the four original trick-riding performers in the late 1970s before continuing on as an international team leader in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and an administrative staff for the last 10 years. Nicholson has been to almost every large rodeo and over 17 countries, including four performances at the National Finals Rodeo and a performance before the Queen of England. In her prime, she performed tail stands, tail drags, reverse croupers, double vaults and numerous other tricks.

When Riata Ranch founder Tommy Maier passed away in 2002, Nicholson stepped up to the challenge and took over. At the time, the organzation was in debt, with very few horses and girls, and with no ranch. Through the generosity of loyal Riata supporters, she was donated horses that didn’t work out for what they were purchased for and began training a whole new batch of Riata Girls.

With 20 girls all under the age of 14, she trained green horses and green girls together.

Over the next 10 years, the ranch moved several times — from Exeter, to Farmersville, to Woodlake, back to Exeter and, finally, to its beautiful current home in Three Rivers.

Riata, which has been nominated for Specialty Act of the Year four times, is today a thriving program with girls and horses. She continues living her life training the next generation and sharing her Western way of life.

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