By Jolee Jolee Lautaret
Billings, Montana — Kari Burns’ family set a goal some years ago, following the death of their beloved sister, wife, daughter and aunt, to keep her memory alive through a huge breakaway roping that would become the biggest in the world.
With the 10th anniversary edition, they may well have reached their goal. The Kari Burns Memorial—dubbed the World’s Richest Breakaway Roping’ was on May 8 in Billings, Mont., and attracted some of the best ropers in the country including most of the recent WPRA World Champion Breakaway Ropers. With an added purse of $5,000 and an impressive prize line, the roping drew 150 ladies to compete.
“I was only prepared for about half as many girls as we got!” says producer Jacey Fortier, Burns’ niece.
Fortier says the family actually decided to make the Burns Memorial a combined memorial for three people in the family in 2015. Burns was an avid roper and horsewoman who competed at the National High School Finals Rodeo in the breakaway roping twice. Betty Benson, Burns’ mother, was also a passionate roper and, along with her daughter, raised and trained horses. Gilean Newman was a close family friend, ‘Gil’ to those closest to her including Burns and her brothers.
“We decided to include two more memorials into one big breakaway roping,” says Fortier, noting that the family previously held a memorial in Benson’s name, a roping that Fortier herself actually won. “My grandma actually won third at Nationals [High School Rodeo Association Finals]. I think they said she won a pair of muck boots!”
The first go was done in memory of Benson, the second in memory of Newman and the short go dedicated to Burns. All the entrants got two full head while everyone who roped at least one of those two, got to come back for the short go. In 2015 over 100 ladies competed on the final calf.
As tribute to Burns’ cowgirl spirit, the producers of the roping have also worked to make her memorial a little different, including a longer score than most breakaway ropings and fresh cattle.
“Jim [Duvall, Burns’ common law husband] got with my grandpa originally with the idea to always use fresh cattle and make the girls score,” Fortier notes. “I think there has only been two or three years where we couldn’t get fresh cattle.”
In 2015, not only were the calves fresh, they weighed in between 600 and 650 pounds.
“They had never been roped so you had to make sure and score and then go after them,” says Fortier, who also competed in the roping, making the short go but running into some trouble. “The emotions took over and I messed up the short go. I was second once but that’s the best I’ve done.”
Washington cowgirl Jennifer Casey had never been to the Burns’ Memorial but she went head-to-head with some of the top ropers in the world and walked away with the title and better than $6,000 in earnings . . . but don’t expect her to quit her day job just yet.
Casey is a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) who started her own business in Kennewick, about 45 miles from her hometown of Mesa. Called KidSPOT, it’s a pediatric therapy clinic which treats kids with both physical and developmental issues.
“It’s very rewarding,” says Casey, giving some examples of the work her clinic is doing to help kids in the Tri-Cities. “We have kids who have issues with reading or with getting along with other kids. We help pre-kindergarten kids get ready to go to school.”
“The results are amazing,” says Casey, noting that she worked in the school district for 10 years before founding KidSPOT. “A lot of our kids have sensitivity to sound or to touch. And socialization issues. Just the other day, we had one of our kids greet someone who came in the room by name without being told . . . a year ago, he was unable to do that. So, yeah, it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Growing up in a family of ropers, Casey also loves to compete. Her parents, Mike and Mary Lou, were ropers and her brothers and sister-in-law compete too. Casey estimates that she started roping at about age seven.
“I started going to ropings at 12 and have done high school rodeo, college rodeo, the Pro West Rodeos up here,” she says. “I go to the Northwest Pro Rodeos and the Idaho association too. I just always wanted to rope.”
With her new business, roping had taken a back seat for Casey as she began barrel racing more.
“The last couple of years I have run barrels more, just because there is more opportunity close to home to do that than roping,” she states.
That’s a fact she has been working to change, helping WPRA Columbia River Circuit Director Jana Isaac promote the WPRA’s roping program in the Northwest. “I think we had three ropings last year and they got more than 30 ropers. The girls were excited, I think, to have more than just the [regional] rodeos to go to, to get to rope at some averages instead of always just one headers.”
With little time to keep two horses in shape, roping had been running second fiddle until Casey got the opportunity to buy Reno, a horse formerly owned by Brett Palmer and used by his kids for youth and high school rodeo.
“He is his own being,” she laughs. “He knows what he’s doing and we are getting along great. A lot of people in the Northwest know Reno!”
With her new stick, Casey has begun to focus more on roping once again and made two goals for the 2015 season. To compete in the Canadian Richest Breakaway Roping, held in April, and to compete in the Kari Burns’ Memorial, just 10-plus hours from her home in Washington.
“It was an awesome roping; it was run really well and the cattle were great,” she says.
“It was completely unexpected,” she adds of the huge win. Though she did not placed in any of the rounds, her three-head total of 8.00 seconds beat 2011 Burns Memorial Champ—and two-time WPRA World Champion—Erin Johnson by a scant eight one-hundredths of a second.
In fact, only .89 seconds separated first from eighth with two-time WPRA World Champion Breakaway Roper Lari Dee Guy earning fourth and reigning WPRA World Champion Breakaway Roper Jackie Crawford taking sixth. WPRA members Taylor Engesser, Carole Hollers, and Samantha Jorgenson picked up money in the rounds.
In addition to the big payoff, Casey picked up a new saddle courtesy of Billings Livestock Commission and Horse Sale and Northern Livestock Video Auction. Tres Rios Silver donated a buckle as well.
Justene Hirsig won the opening round with a 2.02 second run, winning $1,279 while Shelby Boisjoli won round two with her 1.83 second run. Cee Cee Kolka posted the fastest time of the roping to win the short go with her 1.82. All three ladies received buckles courtesy of Copper Spring Ranch and the Wrangler Team Roping Championships. Cruel Girl donated gift certificates to all the ladies who placed in the rounds.
Johnson picked up a new rope bag thanks to Big Dry Saddlery, third placed Coralee Spratt got a breastcollar thanks to WW Beadwork, Guy was awarded a horse blanket from Western Ranch Supply and fifth ranked Tracey Bolich received a Portagrazer from Leslie Kruger Green.
“Jenny Gilbert with Go Rope Clothing Company donated product to the top 10 coming into our short go which was cool because Jenny was our champion here back in 2007, I believe,” says Fortier, also giving credit to local retailer Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters for offering all competitors discounted merchandise.
“We have amazing sponsors, without them we couldn’t do what we do,” Fortier continues. “Thompson Cattle Company and Hooker Ranch, who supply our cattle, are one of our added money sponsors.”
Fortier wanted to thank Town & Country Supply, Cody Cox, Ellis Livestock, Bob Cat of Big Sky, Automatic Transmission Company, Lloyd and Ashlee Ketchum, Fred and Marlene Rule, and Billy Brown, who donated in memory of Judy Kirkland the huge purse for the roping. The Newman family (Howard, Johnna and Wallace) also contributed to the nearly $39,000 total payoff. The event paid five holes in each round and 14 in the average.
Because the event was co-sanctioned with the WPRA, it made a big impact on the WPRA World standings. Johnson moved to first with $7,050 won on the season. Casey is just $297 behind with both Guy and Crawford moving into the top six.
“I have no idea,” laughs Casey when asked if she plans to run at the WPRA World title and compete in the WPRA World Finals in Waco, Texas in October. “I just planned to go to the Canadian Richest Breakaway Roping and this one . . . I took these days off. It depends completely on work.”
WPRA Members only listed below
Billings, MT 05/08/2015 – 05/08/2015 (Jackpot)
2. Taylor Engesser 1.95 $1,008.00
3. Carole Hollers 2.01 $775.00
3. Samantha Jorgenson 1.91 $775.00
5. Carole Hollers 2.20 $310.00
1. Jennifer Casey 8.00 $6,239.00
2. Erin Johnson 8.08 $4,611.00
4. Lari Dee Guy 8.43 $2,713.00
6. Jackie Crawford 8.63 $1,492.00
Courtesy of WPRA