Calgary Stampede Cutting Finals

Russ Westfall, of Los Olivos, Calif., and Lil Bit Reckless won the Open class of the Calgary Stampede’s 39th annual Cutting Horse Competition, scoring a 226 in Thursday’s final and collecting $12,753. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

He’s the politest cowboy you’ll ever meet, but Russ Westfall could sure use some mealtime manners. Thursday evening, he set the table . . . and then wouldn’t let anyone else eat.

Westfall, 46, of Los Olivos, Calif., was the first rider to saddle up during the Open class final at the Calgary Stampede’s 39th annual Cutting Horse Competition under the Big Top. The former Pacific Coast Futurity champion and his trusty seven-year-old mare Lil Bit Reckless laid down a 226-point ride – the highest score of the entire week, as it turned out, and one that none of the seven other teams in the Open final were able to touch.

As a result, Westfall – who owns Lil Bit Reckless himself – stuffs $12,753 in his Wranglers, picks up a handtooled Stampede champion belt buckle, and pushes his lifetime National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) earnings ever closer to the $2-million mark.

“I like being early in the draw. You go lay a run down, and give ’em something to shoot at,” said Westfall, a former reserve champion at the NCHA Super Stakes. “And I knew I’d had a good run when we were through. I was pretty confident.

“The mare was just dynamic tonight, really on target – stoppin’ hard, getting’ on both sides of the cow. It was wild and fast, and I just hung on.”

Dustin Gonnet of Cayley, Alta., meanwhile, took another step toward Stampede cutting-horse supremacy. He and Christinas Blue, a seven-year-old mare owned by Calgary’s Ron Patton, posted a 220 to finish as reserve champions in the Open class, and collect $6,801.60 for their runner-up efforts. During the 2010 Stampede, Gonnet and Christinas Blue had teamed up for a third-place finish in the Open.

“Ron bought her as a two-year-old, and I’ve trained and shown her ever since. We went to the Western Nationals this spring on her, and won the $10,000 Novice class,” said Gonnet, 28. “She’s just been a great mare, probably one of the best I’ve ever been fortunate enough to ride and train. I’m real happy. I feel pretty fortunate. If it weren’t for Ron Patton and my wife, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

This is the third year that the Stampede’s Cutting Horse Competition has been a part of the Mercuria/NCHA World Series of Cutting. Because of the World Series’ involvement, the Stampede cutting – which began Monday at the Okotoks Agricultural Society – featured $25,000 in added money in each of the Open and Non-Pro divisions. In all, 22 teams began the week chasing the cash in Open, and 42 in Non-Pro. The Open division featured a purse of $35,340, while $44,740 was up for grabs in Non-Pro.

The sport of cutting highlights the pure athleticism, instinct, agility and intelligence of the cutting horse. With horse-and-rider teams attempting to cut at least three individual cows out of a herd within 150 seconds, cutting has evolved into one of the most exciting equine events in North America.

Carol Ward of Rancho Murieta, Calif., and Lil Dulce Lu won the Non-Pro class of the Calgary Stampede’s 39th annual Cutting Horse Competition, scoring a 221 in Thursday’s final and collecting $12,509. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

Later Thursday evening, Carol Ward of Rancho Murieta, Calif., and her seven-year-old mare Lil Dulce Lu posted a 221 – winning the 12-team Non-Pro final, earning $12,509, and surprising the heck out of Ward.

After all, Ward and Lil Dulce Lu needed to outmanoeuvre defending event champion and current NCHA Non-Pro world points leader Dan Hansen of Nampa, Ida., aboard Woody Be Lucky, as well as seven-time NCHA Non-Pro world champion Mary Jo Milner of Southlake, Texas, aboard Twist N Smart, to claim the Calgary crown.

“All we were trying to do was get to the top 15 (in NCHA Non-Pro world points, which would get Ward into this year’s World Finals), and I think we’re well into the top 15 now. I bought a living-quarters trailer, so I guess I’m on the road,” chuckled Ward, daughter of Fred Anderson, who owned the former Sacramento Gold Miners and the San Antonio Texans of the Canadian Football League.

“I’m riding the same mare that my trainer (Jason Taylor of Rancho Murieta) shows in the Open. Originally, we started the year just to get her over $100,000, but she’s been doing so well that we’ve just kept going. I’ve been trying to find a backup horse, and I haven’t found one,” added Ward.

“But she’s holding up fine, so we just keep going. She got hurt as a four-year-old, so she’s low-mileage, really. She’s been an amazing mare. We’ve just had a ball with her.”

Ward nudged out Kelsey Conn of Hempstead, Texas, who scored a 220.5 aboard Red Money Merada, by a slender half-point for the Non-Pro title. Reserve champion Conn earns $6,790.60 for her troubles.

Brandon Westfall, 11, of Los Olivos, Calif., and Lil Dusty Lola, won the Youth class of the Calgary Stampede’s 39th annual Cutting Horse Competition, scoring a 220 in Thursday’s final to win the three-round aggregate. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

In the Youth class, Russ’s son, 11-year-old Brandon Westfall, won the Bill Collins Youth Excellence Award and a $1,500 scholarship with a 220-point ride Thursday on Lil Dusty Lola that sealed a three-round aggregate title. Emma Reinhardt of Irricana, Alta., was runner-up, earning a $1,000 scholarship, with a 215.5-point ride Thursday on Smart Dixie Kit. “My mom (Janet) didn’t do very well (in Non-Pro) and didn’t make it back (to the final), so she let me show this mare, and I’m very thankful,” said Brandon.

The NCHA counts more than 20,000 members from a wide range of backgrounds, and sanctions more than 2,200 events across North America each year, with tens of millions of dollars in prize money awarded. This year, the World Series will live up to its name by moving outside of North America for the first time, winding up from Oct. 28 to 30 at Lyon, France.

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