Cancer behind her, champion barrel racer aims to add Stampede title

Taber barrel racer Nancy Csabay looks to add a Stampede title to her 2015 Canadian championship. MIKE DREW/POSTMEDIA

Everyday, she races the same flat pattern on the ground — a welcome diversion from the roller-coaster ride she’s been on these past few years.

Alberta barrel racer Nancy Csabay has experienced both a deep personal low and a career high in the span of two years and she is focused now on doing what makes her happy.

“I’ve changed my outlook on life,” she says. “It’s more about the journey, not the result that matters. I love to rodeo, I love to be around my friends there. It’s not really about the money, and if it was, I would have quit a long time ago.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer just after the 2013 Canadian Finals Rodeo, she pastured her horse and focused on the disease. With the cancer found in its early stages, Csabay responded well to treatment and was back on the rodeo circuit by June of the following year. 

Csabay doesn’t consider herself a “survivor” who fought a battle. “For me, I see it as I had cancer; I got rid of it and I’m good to go.”

Barrel racer Nancy Csabay with husband Tony and daughter Kate. (Mike Drew/Postmedia) 

When she returned to competing, she felt less pressure to win. She put together a solid year and qualified for the 2014 Canadian Finals Rodeo. In 2015, she won the title. She hopes to add a Stampede championship this year. But she’s got her work cut out for her. She’s eighth in the Rodeo Canada standings and 140th on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association list. The top six women in the world will all be competing at the Stampede, including No. 1 racer Mary Burger of Oklahoma, whose earnings of $88,300 are $20,000 more than the next in line.

“When it comes to the big names, it’s not a big deal to me. Maybe because I’m older. It’s not about me and them; it’s about me and my horse and the three barrels out there. I’m going to do the best job I can on her back and basically stay out of her way.

“I honestly do not think about the competition at all.”

Being at the top in rodeo does provide some public cachet, but numbers and standings don’t mean much come event day. Competitors know anything can happen once you’re in the chute or behind the gate. Csabay didn’t win a single event last year before capturing the 2015 Canadian crown in Edmonton in November. She was consistently good, with a raft of second- and third-place finishings earning her top spot in the standings before the big event.

Barrel racer Nancy Csabay and Wicked at the Airdrie Pro Rodeo on July 1, 2016. (Mike Drew/Postmedia)

She hopes to slip under the radar again this year.

“I believe this season is very similar to 2015. Some rodeos I didn’t do as well as last year, but others I did better in. My horse is running well and I’m feeling good and the miles aren’t taking a toll on us.”

Csabay doesn’t compete as much as some of her fellow barrel racers. With a 10-year-old daughter, Csabay and her husband Tony focus on events close to home, which is a ranch near Taber. At TNK Farms, they breed and train top barrel horses such as Little Miss Wicked, deemed the 2015 Pro Rodeo Canada Horse With the Most Heart. 

“I kind of enjoy the smaller hometown rodeos run by ranchers and farmers. They’re more like the olden days,” she says.

“In my 20s and 30s, I went to all the rodeos. Last year I went to 25 and I could have gone to 45. As I get older, I only go to the rodeos I really enjoy or ones I can make a holiday out of, with my family.”

Csabay understands well how all-encompassing the rodeo life can be. Her father, Arnold Haraga, was the 1970 Canadian All-Around champion while her mom, Kaye (nee Thierman), was a Miss Rodeo Canada. She grew up on the road and says she learned to ride before she walked. She’s not sure her daughter Kate has the interest to carry on the tradition, but she can ride and is learning to train a horse to run barrels that they will eventually sell.

“For her, it’s about earning money so she can get a hot tub. But I’m hoping it teaches her a little bit of responsibility.”

mjarvie@postmedia.com