Cowgirls and cowboys love their horses. A tribute to some of the top barrelracing horses that have been lost to the sport was staged Sunday at the Diamond N Ranch, south of Stettler, with a strong showing of participants.
Just one shy of 400 contestants entered in the first Honour Spirit Horse barrelracing competition. Acres of land were covered by a sea of more than 200 stock trailers.
The event was the inspiration of Dawn Link of LaGlace. She lost five horses in a highway accident last fall.
“I have always thought the rodeo industry lacked a place to honour the horses,” Link said. “Many horses have come and gone.”
The loss of Link’s five horses — Checkers, Jessie, Downey, Keymints and Halo — confirmed the need to “celebrate the lives of great horses and what they do for us.”
Link wasn’t alone in her desire to honour some of the greatest horses of all-time. Others soon decided to get on board and honour their horses as well by donating trophy buckles, in memory of their horses, for the prizewinning barrel racers.
One such horse honoured was “Chick,” owned by Neil and Ginger Besplug. Before her untimely death, Chick won $50,000 at the Calgary Stampede for Besplug.
Link chose Stettler for the event because of its central location and the quality of the facilities at Diamond N Ranch, operated by Reg and Sharon Nitschke.
“Nitschkes have the best barrel-racing ground to be found anywhere — it is second to none,” said Hanna contestant Tammy Burns.
The event drew competitors from the three western Canadian provinces, as well as NFR contestants from the U.S., as far as Texas.
In the end, it was a rider from the U.S. who took the top prize. Lyndsey Ewing, on Rosie, came from the 395th hole with an impressive 17.053 second run.
In the 2D event, Stettler’s Traci MacDonald, on Doc, won with an 18.067 run.
The only casualty of the day occurred when Stephie Romo got bucked off and suffered a broken collarbone.
Shauna Cole rode Romo’s horse Jake to win the 3D event, with a 19.057 run.
John Hummel’s 20.067 run aboard Judy was good enough to win the 4D event.
“The barrel-racing family is amazing,” said Link, clearly impressed with the success of the event.
“Horses are athletes, too,” said Sharon Nitschke, who was pleased to see the horses being honoured.
“This really honours all horses — past, present and future,” Link said. “Hopefully, Honour Spirit Horse will become an annual event.”