Pemberton has always been proud to be a little bit country-western, and even today the hitching posts outside the local shops get used by residents on horseback.
Now, one of Pemberton’s own is heading to the Calgary Stampede, which is arguably the biggest rodeo in the world.
A few weeks ago Elaina Black, who now lives in the Kamloops area, got the call when one of the other top-20 qualifiers for the Ladies Barrel Racing event had to withdraw from the event. In 2005 Black was not qualified in the top-five in Canada and was passed over, but since then she and her horse Mita have come on strong to be ranked as high as the top-three, which made her the top choice to fill the vacant spot.
"It hasn’t really set in yet, and I have to leave (for Calgary) tomorrow," said Black in an interview on Tuesday. "It’s just exciting for me. I’ve never been to the States and rodeo’ed with the top girls in barrel racing. But I know my horse is at the same pace. It’s just wonderful, I didn’t expect this to happen – at least not this year."
Now that she’s in, Black’s goal is to win some money. There’s $100,000 on the line for the top rider, and smaller cash prizes for girls in the top-10. More importantly she’s looking for an opportunity to move up the ranks in professional rodeo – not bad for a girl who graduated Pemberton Secondary in 2000, and used to guide horse tours out of Whistler’s Edgewater Outdoor Centre.
She’s also following the footsteps of her great grandfather, who performed in the first Calgary Stampede back in 1912.
Barrel racing is the only women’s event in the Stampede, and takes place in an arena with three barrels placed in a triangle. She enters the arena at full gallop and makes a clover leaf pattern around the barrels, then goes out the same way she came in. A run can take anywhere between 13 and 20 seconds depending on the venue, but the riders are usually so close that sensors are used to time the riders down to a hundredth of a second.
There are time penalties if a barrel is knocked over, or if the horse and rider cut the wrong way around a barrel.
This is only Black’s second year in pro rodeo, although she’s been competing all her life in different events. She says barrel racing is extremely specialized, to the point where you need a distinct type of horse.
"I’ve had my horse the last eight years, and it wasn’t easy at the beginning. A barrel horse is worth $50,000 to $100,000, so it’s best to buy a horse young and train him yourself," she said. "It’s hard to come by really good barrel horses, they really are kind of unique."
Mita also had a run in with the business end of a pitchfork about six years ago and has a blind spot in one eye. It makes it harder to spot the first barrel, but otherwise Black says Mita has learned to get by.
Black also has a few younger horses she’s currently training, as Mita is getting on in years.
There are crashes in her event, but she says it’s safer than most rodeo events for the rider. Black has had a few injuries as well, but nothing major.
"I got most of my spills out of my system in Whistler and Pemberton mostly, but I know in barrel racing you can wipe out on bad ground."
Black is currently sponsored and competes regularly in Canada, but a solid result at the Stampede could help her get to events in the U.S. as well. That means more travelling, which she says is her biggest expense.
"Most rodeos you get just one run, which is kind of crazy. You travel how many thousand miles just to make one 17 second run," she said.
"The Stampede is different. You get four runs each, and then the top-four move into the showdown, and the bottom six go into a wild card showdown. I’ll probably be nervous between runs, but this way you know the best rider and horse are going to move on."
The Ladies Barrel Racing event is on Friday, July 7. You can follow Black and Mita online at