EXSHAW – Cowgirl Lacey Caldas summed up the experience of competing at her first ever Calgary Stampede.
"I can't wait to do it again," she said.
The Exshaw-based barrel racer wrapped up a four-day (July 9-12) stint at The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth this week, taking home $2,500 in cash and finishing eighth overall in Pool A among a competitive field and familiar faces.
Although Caldas and her mare Foxy weren't able to qualify for Sunday's (July 18) finale, being at the competition of competition's was an accomplishment she won't soon forget.
"We didn't do as good as we would have liked, but, you know, you have to take what you learn from it and hopefully you get to go back to it again in the future," said Caldas. "It's sure pretty cool to be somewhere where it's so loud – the crowd, the fireworks and other stuff – you get that at other places, but not that loud."
In barrel racing, there's a close relationship between cowgirl and horse as riders guide dashing nags around three pre-set barrels in a cloverleaf pattern as quickly as possible.
When races are decided by hundredths of a second, every little detail counts.
During the first day of the speed racing, Caldas and Foxy sprinted to fourth in Pool A with a time of 18.080 – the duo's fastest time and result of the competition.
It produced a fat $2,500 payday in Caldas' pocket, but the veteran barrel racer knew to take the Stampede one step at a time.
"What happened the day before, you try not to let that roll into the next day," she said. "I looked at it as four different days that would bring four different races."
In day two, Caldas' slight drop in time at 18.230 pushed her back to 10th spot. During the third day, she and Foxy raced to a time of 18.320 for ninth and she finished eighth overall in Pool A on the fourth day with her final run at 18.280.
The top four riders overall in Pool A and B advance to the Sunday Showdown (July 18).
Despite the unusual schedule for Foxy, Caldas said she did great, and was ready to go five days in a row.
"The fact that our best run came on the first day, to me, she's a rodeo horse and that's what she's supposed to do so I'm super happy and proud of her for doing that ... I think she thought we were going go back to Calgary and run again," Caldas said with a laugh about the morning after their fourth and final run.
A lifelong fan of the Calgary Stampede, Caldas did her homework on the course before taking it on, but was surprised at its level of difficulty once hustling through it.
"The first barrel had a downhill grade to it and third barrel was close to the fence," said Caldas. "It's harder than you even think it is, there are challenges to it and it's not easy. That pattern is not easy at all, so I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn't know it was going to be that hard."
Pool A was a Canada-heavy bracket with lots of familiar faces to Caldas competing. Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, spots at the mega show opened up for Canadians after some riders from the States decided not to attend.
A short-notice qualifier at the end of June in Innisfail saw Caldas punching a ticket to the show she's dreamed about competing at for a lifetime.
To Caldas, and many others, the 2021 Calgary Stampede turned out to be quite special in that sense.
"In the past, there were so many Americans and very few Canadians [competing]," she said. "This year, everyone just loved it because there were so many [local] people to cheer for. It was nice having so many local girls to run with, too. Hopefully that encourages Calgary to do it again in the next few years.
"It would be awesome to get back there and do it again."