For the first time in more than a dozen years a Canadian claimed the bronze trophy in barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede.
The combination to accomplish the feat was rider Bertina Olafson and her horse Duke from Hudson Bay, SK.
Olafson posted a time of 17.247 seconds in the finals July 18. Brittney Barnett of Stevenville, Texas finished in second place with a time of 17.552 seconds, and Lindsay Kruse of Fromberg, Montana in third place with a time of 17.79 seconds.
“It’s still a surreal moment. I’m not sure it quite sunk in yet,” she said in an interview three days after her championship ride.” . . . It’s one of the biggest accomplishments I’ll ever achieve.”
But Olafson still takes a calm approach to things.
“It’s not about the win, it’s about the experience,” she said, adding yes she wants to win “But, I don’t put the pressure on myself to win.”
Olafson said in that way if the results are not a cheque at an event she can focus on the positives of the experience rather than dwelling on the loss.
For Olafson the win was like a monster big cherry on top of an already favourite ice cream sundae.
From the time she returned to competition after her children had grown, Olafson had a dream, that was to one day compete at the Calgary Stampede.
“This was the first time I competed,” she said.
So it was a dream fulfilled to simply be in Calgary.
Winning the $50,000 prize on the final day was a huge bonus, although Olafson had a feeling that it was a setting well-suited to Duke.
“Certain horses run better under certain types of conditions. I knew my horse rounds best in big arenas with long run-ins,” she said, adding that is what it was at the Stampede.
The bigger space and especially the long run-in allow Duke to get up to speed.
“He really enjoys being able to open up,” said Olafson. “He likes big spaces.”
Of course Olafson knows her barrel racing partner well, as they have been together for years.
“I purchased him as a baby after he was weaned off his Dam (mother),” she said, adding initially she purchased Duke with an eye to him becoming a stallion for her breeding program to raise barrel horses.
As a two-year-old he was actually mated to a half dozen mares, but then Olafson came to realize she wanted him as a riding horse, so Duke was gelded and a decade long road to the Stampede win began in earnest.
The 46-year-old Olafson said at the time she wasn’t competing, although she had been in gymkhana as a youth.
As a mother Olafson said she was too busy with her kids being what she terms “a hockey mom” doing whatever she could to help out. “We were very hockey-oriented.”
And then the children grew up.
“It was the empty nest. I was a little lost,” she said, adding she turned to Duke and began barrel racing again. “It gave me something to do.”
And the duo did it well.
“The higher I kept going with him, I realized what he was capable of,” said Olafson. “I knew he had things to accomplish.”
If it sounds like Olafson tips the Stetson hat to Duke for most of their success, that is because she does credit Duke with most of it.
“I definitely give him most of the credit,” she said. “. . . If I didn’t have Duke I definitely wouldn’t have been at the Calgary Stampede.”
Olafson said her job is to make sure Duke is well-cared for so he can perform at his best, and then it’s up to him to cut the barrels close and to run hard.
So what makes a good barrel horse?
“It’s the heart of the horse that makes the difference,” said Olafson adding she has seen every breed used in the sport and it still comes down to the heart the horse has.
Now that Olafson and Duke have won at the Stampede what comes next?
That is a good question, as Olafson said the Stampede basically completed her list of goals, including Rookie of the Year honours in the sport in 2018, adding she needs to come up with a new list.
As the list is formulated, she will head out to rodeo some more, meaning a lot more miles for her and Duke.
“Hudson Bay’s not exactly on the beaten path,” said Olafson, adding most events are in Alberta or B.C.