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Saskatchewan barrel racer wins in Calgary Stampede debut

Bertina Olafson, of Hudson Bay, Sask., won the ladies barrel racing event during rodeo finals action at the Calgary Stampede this past weekend. Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

For one Saskatchewan rancher, it was her first time competing at the Calgary Stampede and she didn’t come back empty-handed.

Bertina Olafson, 46, placed first in the ladies barrel racing with a time of 17.247 seconds on July 18.

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The Hudson Bay, Sask., area native said she was excited to receive her invite in early June for the Stampede, which also marked her first time back in competition with her horse, Duke, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.

“We haven’t had any rodeos for a year and a half. There were smaller races but I didn’t run that horse very often. He stayed at home mostly all last summer and coming over the winter,” she said.

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“So these were his first runs really back were at the Calgary Stampede. And I believe he was excited as I was to get back running too.

“It was so great to actually be able to see people’s faces and the smiles and just seeing all the excitement after it just seemed like a lot of gloom and doom over the last year and a half. And it just, it felt really good to feel normal again.”

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Olafson said Duke even felt the roar of the crowd on their championship run.

“For the final, it’s your sixth run with your horse and it can go either way. They can have a stronger run or they can be tired,” she said.

“Going in, I knew I felt like my horse was going to have his strongest run at that time. The crowd was electric and he feeds off the crowd. He runs for me, but he also runs for the cheers of the crowd and it was loud and it was good.

“It had him pumped up and he ran, well, the fastest run for the whole time was our final run so it worked good for us.”

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Along with the grand prize of, $50,000, Olafson returned to her farm by Hudson Bay with over $62,000 in winnings from the Stampede rodeo event.

The 2021 barrel racing champion had some advice to other women looking to get into the sport.

“You have to have fun, there’s a lot of people that put so much pressure on themselves to win, to do well. And at the end of the day, you still have to have fun no matter what,” Olafson said.

“Whether we left (Calgary) champions or not, we had fun there and it was the time of my life. And I just think that has to be the number one thing above money or winning is that you’re enjoying your time with your horse and you’re enjoying the sport itself.

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“I love horses, obviously, and it’s getting to know people, you meet so many new people and it’s just seeing with rodeo, I’m at different towns every week and you just get to see different communities, different places and I just enjoy the thrill of the sport.”

Olafson and her trusty steed, Duke, now intend on hitting the professional rodeo circuit across Western Canada in hopes of making the Canadian finals in November.

Hudson Bay is approximately 315 km east of Saskatoon.

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