Some of the best barrel-racing competitors will be here this weekend, as the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair kicks off May 20-23.
One of the most successful barrel racers is back in the saddle after a short hiatus.
In 2009, Lindsay Sears of Nanton, Alberta was one of the hottest racers on the circuit, winning just about every competition she entered, including that year’s event in Cloverdale.
Late that year however, she was diagnosed with cancer and had to have a tumour removed. Surgery went well, but just before the 2010 Cloverdale Rodeo, Sears had to have her gallbladder removed.
She had to bow out of last year’s event, and began to debate whether she would continue her love of riding.
“I was kind of thinking it was time to do something else with my life,” Sears said in a telephone interview from Alberta.
She then got a call from a man whose bull-riding friend was fighting cancer and had the life-long goal of winning the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) – sometimes referred to as the Super Bowl of rodeos – in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“It was just one of those phone calls that makes you appreciate what you have and you realize things maybe aren’t so bad.”
Sears knew the man was extremely sick and would never compete in the NFR, so she went down with the goal of winning him a buckle.
The result was bittersweet. Sears was knocked off the world title by a mere 500th of a second, but she took second place and won the bull rider the buckle.
She brought it to him and he died the day after she left.
“It was hard. I knew when I was delivering the buckle to him that it was the only piece of the NFR he was ever going to get,” Sears said. “That was the closest, best thing I could do for him. He was speechless and so was I – it was the hardest, best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
She’s coming back to Cloverdale this weekend to reclaim her title.
Aldergrove’s Janet Cunningham has other plans.
She’s barrel raced here before and won, several times. But she hasn’t competed in the Cloverdale Rodeo since it turned into an invitational event in 2008.
“It’s top-loaded with those really good people,” she said. “I’ve always done really well at Cloverdale, I’ve won a ton of money out of there, but I didn’t have my name in the top five, so I didn’t get invited until this year.”
Someone backed out and when Cunningham got the call to come, she didn’t give it a second thought.
She said with the level of talent coming to Cloverdale, it’s important to have the right mindset.
“When you get to this level, it’s pretty well all psychological,” she said. “You approach it the same way as you do any other rodeo, you don’t change the game plan – what’s been successful in the past – you don’t change the game plan just because there’s more money added.”
Raised on a cattle ranch in Kamloops, Cunningham was two years old when she first rode a horse.
“I had a rodeo father and an absolutely horse-crazy mother,” she said.
She knew rodeos were her future at age eight, when she was bought her own horse.
“I’ve had many, many horses since, but I sure remember that first one,” she said.
Those are distant memories, and for both Cunningham and Sears, this weekend is all about Cloverdale.
Both of them are grateful for being able to ride here again.
The Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair takes place May 20-23 at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, 60 Avenue and 176 Street. A complete list of events and activities can be found at cloverdalerodeo.com and in The Leader’s special section, starting on page 15 of this edition.