By Jolee Jordan
Redding, California — Something was wrong with Lucky.
Mary Jo Camera knew her sorrel gelding was sick but numerous trips to different veterinarians had not brought the answers she was seeking, nor did it provide any solutions.
“We didn’t know what was wrong; the vets had no idea,” states Camera. “He was working—he always works good, but he wasn’t clocking.”
A veteran of several Ram California Circuit Finals Rodeos (RCCFR), Camera had struck out on the road in 2017, taking her gelding who is registered Fairlea Lucky Gun to rodeos across the West including Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days. She even went to the Northwest, claiming a victory at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho ahead of a field stacked with Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) cowgirls. All told, she spent three months on the road.
But as the trip winded down, Camera was sure that her horse wasn’t right. Her fears deepened when the gelding tied up. Her frustration was palpable as no one could pinpoint what was making the gelding sick.
“They thought he could be in kidney failure,” she says. “Then it was something else. The list goes on and on.”
Dissatisfied with the lack of answers, Camera turned to social media, asking for help from the vast community of horse folks on-line.
“I just kept searching and asking questions,” notes Camera. “We finally figured out he is an I.R. horse.”
I.R. is insulin resistance, a condition in which a horse’s glucose transport function becomes impaired. In a nutshell, glucose in the bloodstream from the horse’s diet is unable to transfer into the cells for the needed energy to keep a horse’s systems working. The pancreas attempts to rectify the lack of glucose in the cells by secreting even more insulin and thus creating a situation where the bloodstream is overloaded with both glucose and insulin.
“It’s really interesting and has gotten way bigger in horses now,” Camera says. “We feed all these high powered grains and that’s fine for most, but it was killing mine.”
Camera grew up in Santa Cruz, California, not exactly the heart of horse country nor did she come from a horse or rodeo background.
“My dad was actually a VW mechanic and a sailor,” she laughs. “Growing up in Santa Cruz, I should have been a hippie instead of a cowgirl.”
But Camera had an interest in horses and was able to ride some as a kid.
“I’m old school, I did gymkhanas and then a little team penning,” she says of her pre-barrel racing equine adventures. “It was a desire because I didn’t have a rodeo family.”
Camera soon turned to barrel racing and training and bought her WPRA card when she started winning with a horse she trained called Bartender Nics.
“Gina Graham was the director at the time and they talked me into it,” she laughs. “I’ve been dinking with it ever since.”
Now making her living training horses, Camera bought Lucky as a three year old, training him and competing in futurities in Arizona. The now-ten year old son of Silver Gun, by Playgun, out of Jills Solitaire has led Camera to the CCFR and even took her to Kissimmee, Florida for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) in 2016.
“He’s a nice horse,” Camera says of Lucky. “I’m blessed to own him.”
With several months off and a major change in his diet, Lucky came back to competition in mid-April at the Oakdale (Calif.) Saddle Club Rodeo. His outing there left Camera a little unsure of the comeback prospects.
“He was OK,” she says.
But it would be in the following weeks that Lucky would begin to regain his form. It started with a check at Springville, then a little better placing second in Stonyford and third at Riverdale the next weekend. Then, on Mother’s Day, she won Sonora’s Mother Lode Round-Up.
“It was a family adventure,” she says. “My daughter, Krystal Angel, and her husband came along with a good friend of ours who is getting into photography. She got some great shots.”
Camera celebrated her birthday on the Monday after Mother’s Day and then ventured north to the Redding Rodeo, one of the larger events in California with a committee added purse of $11,000 and 87 entries. She competed on the opening night, during the Xtreme Bulls competition, on Wednesday, May 16.
Running second out, Camera stopped the clock in a lightning quick 17.36 seconds to take the lead. She would be pushed in the next section by current top 15 cowgirl Jessie Telford and again the next night by Katie Drosihn, but no one could catch her for the title. She won by two one-hundredths of a second.
“What can I say . . . love me some Lucky,” Camera says, using her favorite hashtag for social media.
Noting that she’s placed in Redding before, Camera says she believes the long alleyway suits Lucky’s style. He always comes running for the first turn.
“It’s a good pen for him,” she says. “He likes that alley. He can run to the first barrel.”
Camera earned $4,124 for the win, pushing her total within the California Circuit to $8,665, currently second behind reigning WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller. She’s also fourth in the WPRA Tour standings, thanks to her efforts in Stonyford and Sonora.
“It’s been awesome, so much fun,” Camera notes of the two pro rodeo wins, along with a couple of regional rodeo wins, sandwiched around her birthday and Mother’s Day. “I knew he had the talent. He’s just been fighting a disease.”
After her ordeal, Camera has advice for others who may be in a similar situation.
“I tell them to get a hair sample if they think something’s wrong with their horse,” she says, noting that was what helped finally diagnose Lucky. “And for your feeding program, try to keep it simple.”
Camera has made a return trip to the RCCFR her main goal for 2018 giving the issues she faced with Lucky’s health. With that qualification basically in the bag, she is contemplating another road trip.
“We’re just looking at the plans now, last night and today,” she jokes. “My daughter is my rock, if not for her, I couldn’t do this. She and her husband take care of everything for me so I can be gone to the rodeos.” She also thanked Katie Weaver of Western Dove, one of her sponsors. “She’s my rock on the phone.”
“We may go out and hit some of the good ones but I will definitely get back for Salinas this year. I’m still kicking myself over that one,” Camera admits, saying she skipped the California Rodeo last season while out of state for other rodeos. She missed the RCCFR by just a smidge.
As for her first rodeo trip, Camera is definitely taking the good over the bad in her outlook.
“Life’s gotta challenge you,” she says. “The girls were so nice and I’m grateful for the experience and the great stories I got out of it.”
For more information on the Redding Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.reddingrodeo.com.
A note from the rodeo committee: The WPRA Barrel Racers were awesome this year! Everyone was so respectful. It was the best barrel race we have ever had. I had a new tractor driver this year and he provided the most equal footing for four days that I have ever had. Thank you for allowing us to host the WPRA at the Redding Rodeo! Bennett Gooch
Courtesy of WPRA