EXSHAW – A life long dream of Lacey Caldas’ finally came true.
The Banff-born and Exshaw-raised cowgirl qualified to compete at the Calgary Stampede for the first time in women’s barrel racing after a short-notice competition gave way to the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
“People have asked me, ‘has it hit you yet?’ and you definitely get little moments like … you’re really going to run at Calgary, sort of thing,” said Caldas, a Canadian barrel-racing champion.
“At first, I didn’t 100 per cent believe it until you get the email from Calgary with your contract that’s like eight pages long and you sign your life away and you’re like, ‘OK, this is actually going to really happen.’”
On Friday (July 9), the start of the mega show that runs until July 18, Caldas and her horse Foxy will compete in Pool A of the first round of barrel racing, in which riders hastily guide their charging nags around three pre-set barrels in a shamrock leaf pattern as fast as possible.
Riders can hit and rattle barrels, but knocking one over adds five seconds to their final time, which is bad news because hundredths of a second can decide the winner.
“I’m going at it very similar to Innisfail – that it’s just a run,” said Caldas. “And the reason I think that way is because Foxy doesn’t know the difference of whether it’s a small one or a big one, to her it’s a run. Keeping with that mindset, it just helps me.”
In mid-June, a short notice call out to qualify to the Calgary Stampede was issued for Canadian women barrel racers to head to a competition in Innisfail on June 27-28.
When the announcement happened, Caldas had “no doubt” she’d make the trip north to central Alberta to vie for what might be her only shot at competing in Calgary – and she wasn’t the only one.
About 130 contenders showed up in steaming temperatures north of 35 Celsius to compete in three runs with the top five best overall times qualifying to the summer’s big show.
Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, spots at the stampede opened up for Canadians after some riders from south of the border decided not to attend. Of the 21 qualifiers this year, 14 are from the Great White North.
“It was kind of an opportunity of a lifetime,” Caldas said. “Whether Calgary will ever do it again, who knows? I really hope Calgary does it again. I think there is exceptional Canadian women barrel racers and horses that need to be able to showcase their talent at Calgary.”
In many ways, the Innisfail competition had more pressure than actually being in Calgary, said Caldas.
On top of the sweltering heat, Caldas was asking a lot of her 10-year-old mare and racing partner.
“I’ve never asked her to run twice in one day that close together so I didn’t 100 per cent know what to expect,” said Caldas. “They feel everything, they feel absolutely everything. And you kind to have to every once in a while put aside how you feel to make sure they feel the best."
But once out there in her element, Foxy helped power the duo into fifth and final spot to advance to the dream show.
“All the family was at the event, which made it even more exciting,” said Janet Brewster-Stanton, Caldas’ mother. “There isn’t a barrel racer in North America that doesn’t want to compete at Calgary. It’s a life time achievement, for sure.”
Caldas, a member of the well-known Stanton-Brewster family, is quite familiar with The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth.
Bill Brewster, Caldas’ great, great grandfather served as an associate director of the big show from 1926-43, and on top of growing up just down the highway from Calgary, the family has supplied horses for its parade for the past 25 years, which Caldas had rode in growing up.
In other words, the Calgary Stampede is a part of the family's history.
“Lacey, in particular, always, always caught the barrels every night [at the Calgary Stampede],” said Brewster-Stanton. “She knew the history of every single horse that ran – his breed, his speed index, where he came from. She knows her horses, she’s an exceptional horse woman, trainer, and she’s lived at the barn since she could walk. She rides six or seven horses a day, if she can. She eats, breathes, sleeps it, for sure.”
By qualifying for the Calgary Stampede, Caldas joins an elite, and very short list, of local rodeo competitors to do so.
Harry Knight, a famed bareback rider from Banff in the 1920s and ‘30s and former Brewster employee, won a trophy saddle at Calgary in 1926 that's still with the family.
“I can’t think of another Calgary Stampede rodeo competitor in the Bow Valley – other than the famous Harry Knight – that came from Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis, so that’s special in itself,” said Brewster-Stanton.
Due to COVID-19, the Calgary Stampede will look a little different with how its run. Family and friends aren't able to be on ground level with Caldas, but they'll be in the stands cheering her on.
Described as relentless and fearless of speed, by her mum Caldas said the mental aspect of being able to sleep at home, and the familiarity at the event, will help out come competition.
"Nothing’s as big as Calgary," said Caldas. "The energy and the show they put on. There are very few shows in the world as big as Calgary. Calgary is kind of like the Olympics … Yeah, you've been to a lot of other rodeos, but there’s nothing like Calgary."