Mary Burger and Mo of Pauls Valley, Ok., won the barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede rodeo Sunday July 17, 2016. Mike Drew/Postmedia
Published on: July 17, 2016 | Last Updated: July 17, 2016 7:16 PM MDT
Mary Burger and Mo of Pauls Valley, Ok., won the barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede rodeo Sunday July 17, 2016. Mike Drew/PostmediaMIKE DREW / CALGARY HERALD
The grandstand loved the granny.
Nobody scored more support at the latest instalment of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth than barrel-racing senior citizen Mary Burger.
Nobody collected more cash, either.
At 67 years young, Burger completed a remarkable sweep on Championship Sunday, making yet another trip to the stage and enjoying one more standing ovation from a drenched-but-deafening crowd.
“When I come up through that alley-way and they started cheering, it was just like ‘Oh my gosh, here we go again. I hope it all turns out as good as the other four runs.’ It was amazing,” Burger said. “I mean, this is just unheard of. To get a standing ovation? C’mon, this is unreal. This is great.”
Sunday’s soaked and shivering spectators could have booed their hearts out, and Burger likely still would have been grinning ear-to-ear as she and husband, Kerry, pulled their trailer out of Stampede Park.
The speedy senior from Pauls Valley, Okla., cleaned up in Pool A action, storming to four straight day-money runs for an early-week haul of $22,000.
In sloppy and splashy conditions for Sunday’s short go, she and her star ride, Mo, zipped around the barrels in 17.99 seconds to swipe the six-digit grand-prize and seal a storybook ending.
“I just always thought this horse was special and that he would run with the cream of the crop,” Burger said of Mo, a seven-year-old she has trained since he was two. “But here, under these conditions, with this crowd and all this money … He’s just amazing.
“I’d only run him in the mud a couple of times, and basically I did it because I knew I was coming here and I just knew it would rain. And he really did handle it pretty good.”
Hey, wait a tick … The grinning granny jinxed the forecast?!?
Just wait until her fan club finds out.
Then again, even Mother Nature could put a damper on this heart-warming story.
“I’ve had so many people, we’d go back to the food tent and they would come up to me and say, ‘You know, you really are an inspiration to me,’ ” Burger said. “I’d say, ‘Well, thank-you, but it’s just something I’ve gotta do … I’ve done it all my life. I just don’t wanna quit.’ ”
So next summer, at 68?
You bet, she’ll be back to defend her Calgary Stampede crown.
“Oh yeah, I’ll be there with bells on,” Burger said.
BIG HONOUR FOR BARREL-RACER
Lisa Lockhart tipped a barrel in Sunday’s big-money showdown, but she still left Stampede Park with a shiny bronze.
The 50-year-old barrel-racer from Oelrichs, S.D., was summoned to the stage to accept the Guy Weadick Award, presented annually to a rodeo star or chuckwagon driver “who best embodies what the cowboy stands for, and who best typifies the spirit of the Calgary Stampede.”
Lockhart is the first female winner since Cardston’s Monica Wilson in 1996.
With an umbrella over head, Lockhart wiped tears from her eyes as she accepted the honour during Sunday’s rodeo intermission.
“I love my job, and this is just very special,” Lockhart said. “Thank you so much.”
Zeke Thurston no longer a rookie, defends 2015 Calgary Stampede title
Published on: July 17, 2016 | Last Updated: July 17, 2016 9:20 PM MDTD
You’re 20 years old and you’ve just won $100,000.
What do you do?
What do you spend it on first?
Zeke Thurston, last year, resisted temptation to splurge.
“I tried to save it the best I could,” the Big Valley native promised with a smile. “Or tried to do something smart with it, anyways. I bought some cows and rented pasture.
“I recently just bought a house, or materials for it, so we’re building that this summer.”
Life, in other words, is good for Thurston who is considered still a bit of a rookie in the saddle bronc who has barely scratched the surface in his young career.
But after Sunday’s performance — an 89.5 meeting with Spring Planting to win the 2016 championship and defend his title — you’d be hard-pressed to find a cowboy who doesn’t consider Thurston a serious threat.
This time around, a year older and wiser (he celebrated his 22nd birthday on Friday), Thurston once again drew Spring Planting.
The same horse he drew in last year’s final-four (and rode to a 90.5 point ride).
The same horse he drew on Day 1 of the 2016 Calgary Stampede’s Pool B competition.
“That horse has been around forever,” Thurston said. “My travel partner, Taos Muncy, he said he’s been on her, like, six times. He said she’s one of the buckingest horses out there. (Muncy) was bragging about how many times he’s been on her and done good on her.
“I’m slowly catching up to him. That’s the third time I’ve been on her and it’s all been in Calgary.”
So, he had an idea what Spring Planting would do.
“Especially with the mud,” Thurston said. “I know she’s going to buck really hard and probably circle around and stay really close. She ain’t going to fall down or nothing, like some of them do, the younger ones that might not have as good footing.
“That ol’ girl is going to do her thing.”
Instead of circling right, however, Spring Planting circled left. Thurston, meanwhile, did his part and spurred his way to his second consecutive Calgary Stampede championship.
He bested 2007 Stampede champion Cody DeMoss and Rusty Wright who had 88 and 87-point rides, respectively. Wade Sundell, the 2010 and 2012 champ, was bucked off Wild Cherry.
If he hadn’t already, Thurston solidified his place in the saddle bronc riding world — which should come as no surprise.
Thurston, whose father Skeeter also competed at the Stampede as a saddle bronc rider, has been finding success since the 2015 season, winning $50,000 at RodeoHouston. Then, at the Stampede, he made a statement by winning the $100,000 final.
There’s no denying his dominance now.
“It’s truly a great opportunity,” said Thurston, whose dad has been in the chutes helping him all week while his mother, grandma, aunt, sister, girlfriend, and girlfriend’s mother were in the stands cheering on Sunday. “I’ve been very blessed to have some success at the biggest rodeo in the world.
“It really helps out.”
Calgary Stampede roping champion Shane Hanchey pays tribute to slain law-enforcement officers in Louisiana
Published on: July 17, 2016 | Last Updated: July 17, 2016 9:30 PM MDT
If it’s a big do, you’ll probably spot tie-down roping tactician Shane Hanchey in a purple shirt.
On Championship Sunday at the Calgary Stampede, his wardrobe decision ran a little deeper than just continuing a good-luck streak.
“Three Baton Rouge police officers were shot and killed this morning, and I told my Mom and my Dad that I’m wearing purple for Baton Rouge and for their law enforcement,” said Hanchey, whose home-base of Sulphur, La., is about 225 km west of Baton Rouge, where purple and gold are the colours of the beloved Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers.
“That’s not supposed to happen in my state, especially that city, or in my country. It’s just a bad deal.
“But with that being said, the purple dang sure paid off for that $100,000.”
Hanchey provided at least a sliver of positive news on a tragic day back home, adding a Calgary Stampede tie-down roping crown to his already impressive resume.
The 26-year-old cowboy finished his business in 7.9 seconds in Sunday’s championship round, a full tick faster than runner-up Fred Whitfield of Hockley, Texas. That’s wonderful work from a guy who was competing with a heavy heart and in miserable conditions.
“I woke up this morning to some text messages from my buddies that play football in Baton Rouge for LSU and they just said, ‘Pray for us, man. We need it now more than ever,’ ” Hanchey said. “Good thing I had two clean purple shirts.”
Good thing, too, that his four-legged sidekick doesn’t mind messing around in the mud.
About a year ago, Hanchey figured his longtime ride Reata might be ready for retirement, but his barrel-racing girlfriend Taylor Jacob later convinced him that the 15-year-old colt seemed bored on a ranch in Florida and the dynamic duo has been on a roping roll ever since he was saddled up again.
During preliminary-round action, Hanchey revealed that he’d earned more than US$70,000 on Reata since March. With a winning run on this soggy Sunday, they added another $100,000 to that tally.
“I’m from the Bayou. We’ve roped in mud my whole life and I’ve roped on him in high-school rodeos in the mud and I knew he wasn’t going to fail me now,” Hanchey said. “It’s so funny, we had a brief intermission and then a lightning break, and I was right there with him and I just looked him in the eye and he’s got that look like, ‘It’s not a big deal, we got this.’ I sure had to trust him in this stuff.”
Reata certainly didn’t disappoint, although you can’t blame Hanchey’s horse if he was thinking it sure seemed like a good day to be frolicking in the Florida sun.
“They started motioning me in and me and Reata started trotting from the covered walkway there and we didn’t slow down until I threw my hands up,” Hanchey said.
In the family seating section, some of Hanchey’s biggest supporters — his parents, sister and Jacob — also had their hands in the air.
“They’re up there in the rain — no rain jackets, no nothing,” Hanchey said after accepting his grand-prize. “And just loving every minute.”
Teel takes home Stampede bull riding championship
Published on: July 17, 2016 | Last Updated: July 17, 2016 9:39 PM MD
And then, there was one.
It’s not often that the Calgary Stampede’s final four bull riding turns into a last-man standing competition.
But Cody Teel happened to be the only rider that was able to hang on on this particularly slippery Sunday.
“All those guys in the four-man … they’re all top-calibre bull riders,” said the 24-year-old with a smile. “You don’t expect any of them to get bucked off. When that happens, it’s almost surprising. But I was able to pull through and get the win. It means a lot.”
Teel had barely snuck into the final four, pulling off an 84.5 ride on Diamond Eyes, but it was good enough to join Ryan Dirteater, Nathan Schaper, and Fabiano Vieira in Sunday’s showdown.
He happily drew Liquid Fire and was set to go fourth in the round.
“You can’t back off the throttle with him,” Teel said of the bull. “You just have to be aggressive.”
Watching as Dirteater, Schaper, and Vieira all were bucked off, he got the job done by process of elimination.
Still, Teel put in the legwork to get there. After earning $6,500 in the Pool B aggregate, the Kountze, Texas, native was forced to qualify through Saturday’s Wild Card round. He did so, in the pouring rain (again), with an 88-point ride.
As one of 10 riders in Sunday’s final, he produced an 84.5 point performance on Diamond Eyes.
Now, Teel is $100,000 richer — money that he plans to put towards land and cattle.
“The weather conditions and everything, to be here on the final day on the Calgary Stampede,” Teel said. “I had two great bulls today.
“For it all to work out, this means a lot.”
Scott Cruickshank: Utah rider smiles and shakes off soggy second place at Stampede
Published on: July 17, 2016 | Last Updated: July 17, 2016 8:21 PM MDT
Caleb Bennett from Trementon, Ut., takes a flop in the mud after his bareback ride at the Calgary Stampede rodeo Sunday July 17, 2016. Mike Drew/Postmedia MIKE DREW / CALGARY HERALD
On top of being thoroughly soiled, the man has just lost a ride-off.
Which makes for a considerable difference in fortune.
Because there’s the $100,000 cheque that Steven Peebles gets.
And the $25,000 he pockets.
And here comes Caleb Bennett now, stomping into the Calgary Stampede cowboys’ dressing room, which is crammed with leather couches and mucky gear and beverage containers and begrimed peers.
No one pays him much mind.
Bennett winds up in the middle of the room, not far from the big-screen television, and gawks around.
He takes one deep breath.
Barks out a single cuss word.
Then smiles broadly and starts chattering amiably about his eventful day — surviving the early afternoon’s long-round, advancing to the four-man showdown, deadlocking Peebles for top marks, suffering a 78-point ride with the bareback sweepstakes on the line.
He flings no garb.
Snaps at no one.
Just tells his tale to whoever cares to listen. Some do. Some don’t.
He makes a genuine plea for a pair of clean socks. Crickets.
Before he can even think about barrelling towards the trail’s next destination — Nampa, Idaho — Bennett visits the sports medicine room.
Coming off his right arm is a large plastic brace, plus a pile of white tape. Off his right leg, another mile or two of tape.
One thing is plain — the man harbours no hard feelings.
Second place or not.
Sodden conditions or not.
Standing there in only his underwear, jeans around his left ankle, brace in his left hand, boots in his right, Bennett patiently explains his sunny outlook on a shabby afternoon.
“Shoot, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” says the Tremonton, Utah, cowboy. “The world of rodeo is a little different, in my opinion. We’re all buddies. We’re all kind of family. Very close. We understand that things happen. Every dog has his day. We’re not robots. Everyone’s human.
“The biggest thing about rodeo, the ones that can shrug it off — or can smile and nod it off — are the ones that will progress and go further in rodeo. That’s the hardest thing … being able to brush things off, because it’s such a roller-coaster.”
Of course, Peebles — having twice broken his back, having survived a life-threatening encounter with an artery-slicing splintered rib — is quite a story himself.
Which is not lost on Bennett.
“Seeing a guy like Steven — who’s been out all year, not being able to rodeo, still got to pay bills — come here and win $100,000? That’s awesome,” says Bennett. “Shoot, there’s always next year. I’d love to come here and battle it out with him again. We’re all rooting for each other. We’re all here for whoever wins. We have their back.”
Personal space be darned.
Bennett’s messy mudpile of gear is stacked a couple of feet away from a laid-out pair of red chaps, R.C. Landingham’s.
When Landingham came back to change out of his dirty duds — after settling for third in bareback — he sat down. Then, much like Bennett, he got a laugh with a Captain Obvious comment about the foul weather.
By contrast, the entrance of Wade Sundell, who’d been bucked off in the saddlebronc’s final four, was low-key.
No jokes, incoming or outgoing.
For Sundell, there were only shoulder punches and quiet attaboys — and a rather wide berth.
Stowing his gear quickly, Sundell did go out of his way to hand a youngster his Stampede bib, which he signed. Then he scooted out of Dodge.
“We’ve all been there, we all understand it,” Bennett says of Sundell’s stony-faced dejection. “Some guys take it harder, some guys don’t. The best thing in rodeo, we give each other a pat on the back, ‘Go get ’em next time.’ You give someone their space, let them think about it, fix it, forget about it, move on.”
The vibe, of course, isn’t always positive.
Not with inevitable tough days, tough horses, tough judges.
“Guys can get real pissed off if something goes wrong,” Landingham says. “But (Sunday) we all rode the best we could have rode, so I don’t think any of us are too mad.”
Bennett, after all, does truck away with more $40,000.
But he knows exactly how it feels on the other greener side of the Stampede ring — beaming on stage, being crowned champion, giving a speech in front of a sold-out grandstand, enjoying that tremendous windfall.
“Kind of leaves a guy speechless,” says Bennett, the 2013 kingpin. “One of them big paydays that you only dream about. All of a sudden, reality hits and you do it. You’re left sitting there in awe. Kind of mind-blowing for a minute — $100,000 in one day. That’s more than people make in a year.
“You hold that big cheque over your head and you’re happy.”
Steer-wrestler Seth Brockman pockets $100,000 for Calgary Stampede dirty work
Published on: July 17, 2016 | Last Updated: July 17, 2016 7:24 PM MDT
Seth Brockman from Wyoming during his win in the steer wrestling championship at the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alta., on Sunday July 17, 2016. Leah Hennel/Postmedia LEAH HENNEL / LEAH HENNEL/POSTMEDIA
It’s a dirty job.
But the pay is pretty darn good, especially if you can finish your business as fast as Seth Brockman.
During the latest downpour of what has been a wet week, the bespectacled bulldogger from Wheatland, Wyo., emerged from the muddy infield with the Calgary Stampede steer-wrestling crown and the six-figure paycheque that comes with it.
“Heck, it could do this every day if we could win $100,000,” Brockman said with a grin.
Every steer-wrestler who advances to Sunday’s short-go in Cowtown can afford to have their duds dry-cleaned, but Brockman was the big winner this time.
The 33-year-old flipped his steer in 4.7 seconds in the showdown round, wrasslin’ top spot away from Tyler Waguespack of Gonzales, La., who had stopped the clock in 4.8.
Alberta’s own Cody Cassidy, of Donalda, briefly had the grandstand in a tizzy with a 3.9-second run, but the four-time Canadian champ had busted the barrier. With the 10-second no-no tacked on, Cassidy finished third in 13.9.
“The guys here are the best and they’re here for a reason,” Brockman said. “When you pull in here, it’s no layup.
“To come out and be fortunate enough to win it … It’s pretty dang good just to be here.”
It was pretty dang good to be Brockman on this day.
Even if he was caked in mud from head to toe.
Was his white cowboy hat, wondered one reporter after the grand-prize presentation, even salvageable?
“I’ll probably keep wearing it,” Brockman said. “Not so much luck, just tired of buying a new one.”
Against all odds, Peebles captures the Calgary Stampede bareback championship
Steven Peebles sighed, thinking about the lost income, the bills, and the stress.
But, politely, the 27-year-old tried to put things in perspective what six months off bareback riding meant to the Redmond, Ore., cowboy.
“It was a lot,” Peebles said, shaking his head. “You have a lot of money and bills to pay every month. Lots of hospital bills coming from the past few months with all of my wrecks and stuff. Things kind of pile up on you over six months.”
A year ago, Peebles had to pull out of the Calgary Stampede after a wreck at a rodeo in Livingston, Mt., nearly killed him.
His lungs and chest had filled with blood but, amazingly, doctors were able to save him.
Peebles battled back, qualifying for his seventh National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and captured the bareback world championship.
Truth be told, the thought of a world title kept him going when the hospital days seemed to drain the life out of him.
“I’ve been really close a few years past but I really wanted one,” Peebles explained. “That’s what really pushed me to get out of that bed and to train and get back. I pulled through and only had 30-some rodeos I went to but I pulled it off, went to the NFR and won a world championship.
“It’s changed my life.”
And it changed again on the Calgary Stampede’s championship Sunday.
But his path to the richest day in outdoor rodeo, of course, stalled.
In February, Peebles was in a passenger vehicle that flipped and broke his back (for the second time in two years, if you can believe it).
Against all odds, he recovered.
Six months later, he was at the Stampede — his first rodeo since the injury.
“I wanted to get back on the road so bad,” Peebles said. “I haven’t gone six months without riding a bucking horse since I was probably 14 years old.
“It was the longest break I’ve ever had and I was going crazy at home.”
Qualifying for Sunday’s finals, Peebles gutted out a performance worthy of the top-four with an 89-point ride in the first round on a horse named Wild and Blue.
Then, in the final round, he celebrated in the mud after a 87.5 ride on Shadow Warrior.
The only problem?
Caleb Benett had posted an identical score aboard Virgil.
So, the two were forced to board their third horse of the day and compete in a ride-off.
“I was really, really, really hoping that we wouldn’t do a third one,” Peebles said with a grin. “I was tired and soaking wet. Every inch of my body was covered in mud.”
The eight-second trip was well-worth it.
On a Vold horse called Wildwood Flower, he managed to best Bennett with an 83-point performance in the two-rider showdown. And talk about a much-needed
Peebles added $100,000 to his earnings after winning $11,500 in the Pool B aggregate.
“I was fortunate to have a good NFR but between that and taxes and having to keep money aside … it was a relief to get $100,000 here,” Peebles said. “I wasn’t really counting my chickens before I won it. I haven’t had six months of income, so this cheque was very well needed.”
The title meant even more, given what he’s had to endure to get there.
“It’s so awesome,” Peebles said. “Sitting in a hospital bed watching this rodeo a year ago, it was very hard on me. I’ve always wanted to win this rodeo pretty bad and wanted to make sure I got back here this year. Then I sat out another six months with another injury. My first rodeo in 2016, to be standing here feels pretty awesome.
“Calgary’s the last one on the bucket list that I’ve wanted to win. And now I’m standing here … this is an honour. This is pretty dang cool.”
Barrel-racer Mary Walker wins wildcard round in tribute to late son
BY WES GILBERTSON, CALGARY SUN
Mary Walker from Ennis, Texas during barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede on Saturday July 16, 2016.
She was tearing around the barrels at Stampede Park.
And then she was tearing up.
Just moments after her winning run in the wildcard round at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, Mary Walker revealed to the jam-packed grandstand that she was racing with a heavy heart and an angel on her shoulder.
Her son Reagon, killed in a car accident in 2011, would have turned 27 on Saturday.
“Today is his birthday,” Walker said. “I flew home to Texas and yesterday put flowers on his grave and wished him a happy birthday. So today is for him.”
Just minutes after the 57-year-old cowgirl shared the emotional story, the skies opened up over Stampede Park.
“It’s very emotional, but it is a feeling of confidence,” Walker said of Reagon’s continued impact. “I feel like he’s with me all the time and encouraging me to keep going and ‘You can do it’ and just, ‘C’mon Mom, you’re OK.’ ”
Walker and her star ride, Latte, completed their spin in 17.94 seconds on Wildcard Saturday, the only combo to break the 18-second barrier in sloppy and potentially slippery conditions.
Utah’s Kimmie Wall and Foxy stopped the clock in 18.37 to claim the other last-chance invite to saddle up on the richest day in rodeo.
“Tough horses today,” Walker said. “A lot of these horses have already been running in the mud for three or four days and mine didn’t, but it didn’t bother him.”
It’s not uncommon to see Walker on the stage at Stampede Park — in four trips to Cowtown, she has advanced to Sunday each time — but she was one of the nine barrel-racers seemingly running for second as Mary Burger and her four-legged ride, Mo, rolled to four straight victories in Pool A.
At 67 years young, Burger emerged as the undisputed fan favourite in rodeo action, with the grandstand going bonkers every time that the announcers mention she is a grandmother.
The soft-spoken senior citizen from Pauls Valley, Okla., will try to complete the sweep on Championship Sunday, an opportunity to add another $100,000 to the $22,000 that she pocketed in the preliminary runs.
“When we go over to the food tent, I get a lot of congrats and compliments,” Burger said. “To win four of ’em was really something. I expected my horse to perform pretty well, but being young and a little bit less experienced than a lot of them, he has just come through very well.
“This has just been really awesome.”
There’s no doubt Burger and Mo were riding a wave of momentum earlier this week, but the barrel-racing granny figures the five-day breather was good for her star steed, a seven-year-old that she has trained since he was two.
“I’m just me. I just go through that alley-way,” Burger said. “But four runs in a row, trying his heart out and winning it four days … He deserved a few days off.”
Alberta’s own Nancy Csabay, who collects her mail south of Taber in the hamlet of Skiff, will be the only Canadian on Sunday’s barrel-racing roster.
The final field also includes Ivy Conrado, Jackie Ganter, Lisa Lockhart, Michele McLeod, Kelley Schnaufer and Taylor Jacob.