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Tad Lucas Award
Awarded in 2023
Jennifer Welch Nicholson

Jennifer Welch Nicholson


Born near Redding, California, Jennifer Welch Nicholson was 9 when she first attended Riata Ranch International, an equine school founded in Exeter, California. Though Nicholson initially gravitated toward reining horse competition, in 1976 Riata Ranch owner Tommy Maier established the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls, a trick-riding troupe that initially consisted of Nicholson and three other 13-year-olds. The Cowboy Girls soon appeared at major rodeos throughout the U.S., and by the early ‘80s were touring Europe. In the Cowboy Girls’ nearly five decades of performing, the troupe has visited 22 countries and performed for Queen Elizabeth. When Maier died in 2002, Riata Ranch was facing financial ruin. Nicholson knew she had to act, so she became Executive Director of Riata Ranch, moved operations to Three Rivers, California, and got the ranch back on firm financial footing. Things were good until 2019, when Nicholson’s husband Chad, a much-loved rodeo announcer, died; a year later, Nicholson lost her father and COVID-19 struck. Yet Nicholson persevered through it all. Today, Riata Ranch International is still teaching kids the Western lifestyle, and the Cowboy Girls are still amazing audiences.

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