Once again, the final Sunday of Stampede turned into a Swales Spectacular.
John Swales has virtually owned the Open Bridle division of the Calgary Stampede’s Working Cow Horse Classic, presented by Tesla Ltd., since the competition was unveiled back in 2001 – and the seasoned trainer from Millarville, Alta., kept both hands on the title once again Sunday afternoon under the Big Top.
Locked in a dead heat atop standings with fellow Alberta foothills rider Vance Kaglea after Friday’s first round of competition, Swales and Maximum Echo ripped off a score of 148 – 73 in the reined work, and 75 on the fence – for a two-day aggregate score of 296.5, shading Kaglea by two points and allowing Swales to tuck $2,850 into his Wranglers.
For Swales, a multi-time finalist at the World’s Greatest Horseman competition, it was his fourth straight title – and seventh overall – in Open Bridle, the Stampede’s premier class for both horse and rider.
“This competition has been really good to me,” said Swales, who finished fourth overall with Maximum Echo in Open Bridle at the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) world championship at San Angelo, Texas, in February.
Maximum Echo, which is owned by Flo Houlton of Caroline, Alta., and carried Swales to the 2010 Open Bridle title at Calgary, “is a very talented horse. I just kind of try and stay out of his way,” chucked Swales, 35. “Today, we needed a good cow, and we needed things to go right – and he was able to take advantage.”
Kaglea, the last rider to dethrone Swales for the Stampede’s Open Bridle crown back in 2007, was forced to settle for reserve champion status and a cheque for $2,375 after posting an aggregate score of 294.5 on Smoke N Pep, owned by Monica Willie of Victoria, B.C.
“John really did shape his cow up really good. His cow came down the fence a lot farther and harder,” shrugged Kaglea, of High River, Alta. “It was a picture-perfect run that he put together . . . my cow was probably a touch softer.”
The Stampede’s Working Cow Horse Classic honours the tradition and heritage of the early 18th-century Spanish vaqueros in California; horse-and-rider teams are judged on their authority, discipline and precision in two distinct areas – reined work, or dry work, and cow work, otherwise known as fence work. Reined work is based on a predetermined pattern of manoeuvres, including figure-eights, straight runs, sliding stops and 360-degree spins. Cow work, the portion of the show that gets the blood pumping, sees the horse-and-rider team first box a steer, then send it at full tilt along the fence, heading it off and turning it both ways, before finally circling it once in each direction in the centre of the arena.
The Stampede’s Working Cow Horse Classic hosts bridle and hackamore divisions for fully-trained horses and four- and five-year-olds, respectively, with open, non-pro and novice designations for various levels of rider experience.
Elsewhere, Zane Davis of Whitehall, Mont., made a triumphant return to Calgary for the first time in two decades. The novice bareback champ at the Stampede rodeo during his last trip here back in 1990, Davis teamed up with Reymanator, owned by John Semanik of Idaho Falls, Ida., to win the Open Hackamore class with a two-day aggregate of 297. The duo had scored an eye-popping 150 in Friday’s first round, and followed that up with a 147 Sunday to take home a cheque for $3,165.
“I’ve always wanted to come back to Calgary. It was one of the most enjoyable weeks I had, when I rode here,” said Davis, who’s been a reined cow horse trainer for about eight years and teamed up with Reymanator, who’s now five, for an Open Futurity title at the NRCHA’s Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nev.
“Reymanator is unbelievably intelligent. He doesn’t try to fight you, but he tries to figure out ways to do it himself,” added Davis. “Like all the great ones, he’s been unbelievable difficult to train. And in spite of all that, he wins everywhere we take him.”
In the Novice Non-Pro division, Suzon Schaal of Millarville, Alta., and her mount Genuine Brown Gal continued to leave their mark on the Stampede – as they also have 3,000 kilometres away in the Lone Star State. Schaal and Genuine Brown Gal, an eight-year-old quarter-horse mare, scored a 147.5 on Sunday for a two-day aggregate of 287, clinching victory and earning a cheque for $1,875.
Together, Schaal and Genuine Brown Gal were 2009 Stampede champs – and are back-to-back reigning titleists in the Novice Non-Pro Bridle division at the NRCHA world finals.
“Friday’s score was some serious rider error, so she pretty much bailed me out today. She’s a pretty special horse,” said Schaal, who marked a 74.5 down the fence Sunday. “She’s always pretty good on the cow, and as long as we get something that challenges her a little bit, I know that she’ll come through.”
Clay Webster of Regina, riding Whiz N Starlight, claimed the Limited Open Bridle category with a two-day aggregate of 286.5. Geoff Hoar of Innisfail, Alta., aboard Ike Ant Be High, was Limited Open Hackamore champ with a 287.5. Meanwhile, Erin Baumung of Duchess, Alta., and Big Boots to Fill claimed the Stampede’s Novice Non-Pro Bridle title with a 286.