By Jolee Jordan
Edmonton, Alberta Canada — Just two months ago, reigning Canadian champion barrel racer Nancy Csabay had no expectation of defending her title. In fact, she wasn’t even making plans to pack for Edmonton, the home of the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) since its inception 43 years ago.
The reason? Csabay was ranked 14th in the Canadian standings with just one event left on the schedule and only the top 12 earn a chance to compete at Northlands Coliseum during the CFR.
Csabay and her great mare Wicked had rocked through the 2015 campaign, entering CFR42 with a slim lead but extending it after winning more money in Edmonton than any other contestant, male or female. For earning more than $57,000 in six rounds, Csabay earned the Top Gun Award and Wicked was voted the Horse with the Most Heart.
“Last year was such a stellar year,” Csabay notes. “I told [2012 Canadian champion bull rider] Scott Schiffner that I better quit while I was ahead!”
Of course, Csabay didn’t quit, keeping basically the same schedule in 2016 which meant entering just about two dozen rodeos and keeping the schedule such that she rarely had to travel without her family—and partners in TNK Farms—husband Tony and daughter Kate.
“I think I entered 23 rodeos, just the ones I really enjoy, and we made one run further from home but we made it like a family holiday,” she says, adding that she had the addition of a run for the Calgary Stampede title in 2016. She finished fifth at the lauded rodeo, earning more than $16,000 over the course of her four runs.
But the Stampede doesn’t count for Canadian standings and as the season closed out in September, Csabay had less than $14,000 banked toward a seventh trip to the CFR.
Her last remaining hope was to have a good showing at the regular season ending Pro Rodeo Canada Series Finals held in Calgary on September 30-October 1. The Series Final is a new event on the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) schedule in 2016 and brought just the top 10 in each event from the series standings to compete.
In Calgary, Csabay and Wicked turned up the heat just when the pressure was at its highest point, scoring a pair of third place finishes in the go rounds to secure the average win and $3,750.
“She pulled through with the win there and it bumped us all the way to seventh; that’s how tight it was at the bottom,” notes Csabay, who made her fifth appearance at the CFR with Wicked, which represents every season she has competed with the mare in the CPRA.
Little Miss Wicked, as she is registered with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is by Terribly Wicked and out of the lone broodmare of TNK Farms, Like An Effort, aka Reba. Reba once carried Csabay along the competition trail and now produces a foal each year.
After thirty to sixty days with another trainer for breaking, Csabay takes the reins and heads for the barrel pattern.
“I used to break them too but since I had Kate, I’m nervous to have something happen,” says Csabay of her 11-year old daughter. Csabay has siblings to Wicked, whom she said was highly opinionated as a young horse in training. “They’re all different, like kids; they all have their own personality but they’ve all been fairly successful in the futurities and derbies.”
Now twelve years old, Wicked has settled nicely into her job.
“By the time she was five, she would walk up the alley so calm,” Csabay says. “Sometimes I would think, is she gonna run at all? I thought I was going for a trail ride.”
Today, Csabay, who battled and won against breast cancer back in 2013, appreciates Wicked’s calm demeanor.
“She helps me stay calm because she is so quiet. I think when they love what they do, there is no stress or anxiety for them.”
Coming into CFR43, Csabay had the same game plan as the previous year and the confidence of knowing that both she and her horse love the arena in Edmonton. But that’s not to say that a second Canadian title was on her mind.
“I came in seventh and Kirsty [White] had $30,000 won, so I was like $12,000 behind,” she says. With CFR go rounds paying just over $12,000, it actually was anybody’s ball game with just over $15,000 separating the entire field.
“Wicked loves that pen and I do too so I just let her roll without fear or expectation and just figured whatever happens, happens,” says Csabay who stays competitive thanks to sponsors Equiwinner, EquiPulmin, Equi Streamz, Sharp Edge and Econets.
The title race got wild right from the get-go on opening night, Wednesday, November 9 after second ranked cowgirl Callahan Crossley won the opening round with a run of 14.645 seconds, taking the lead from White who placed fourth.
The 2015 College National Finals Rodeo Champ and Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo champ rode her horse Brownie to the victory. At 18 years old, Brownie outdistance horses more than half his age.
Like she had in Calgary en route to clinching her CFR berth, Csabay finished third.
Thursday night brought a shake up when neither of the top two cowgirls picked up a check. Lynette Brodoway took the victory lap after posting a 14.694 effort aboard her horse Freeway. Again, Csabay and Wicked won third.
On Friday night, Csabay did something she had never done in her previous 38 runs at Northlands Coliseum . . . she won first.
“That was a cool deal, after seven years it was my first victory lap,” Csabay laughs of the 14.754 run.
By halftime of CFR43, Csabay had closed the gap on the leaders, ranked third and within $5,000 although White had picked up second in the go with Crossley third.
With rounds four and five on Saturday and the big finish on Sunday with performance six, the CFR gets fast and furious over the weekend.
Picking up the matinee win was former Wrangler NFR qualifier Katie Garthwaite, who got press during the week after a story aired about her “other job,” performing as a stunt woman in films like the Oscar winner, The Revenant. Garthwaite and her outstanding young mare Shufire stopped the clock at 14.629 seconds.
Csabay was back in familiar territory, winning third again as Crossley extended her lead in the season standings with a second place finish.
Just as a great championship bout should be, the back-and-forth continued a few hours later in the fifth go round on Saturday night as White earned the victory lap for her run of 14.773 seconds. White’s mare, Racey, was voted the Horse of the Year for the barrel racers in 2016.
Wicked and Csabay hung tight, winning third an incredible fourth time in five rounds.
As the sun set for the final time before the champions were crowned, Crossley held the season lead after another second place finish. Her lead was about $9,000 over White and $11,000 over Csabay.
In the average, Csabay held the lead but White and Crossley were ranked second and third respectively.
Csabay was still not thinking repeat, focusing instead on the average.
“It’s like free money without having to run,” she jokes. Csabay actually felt the title was in Crossley’s hands.
“I really felt Callahan had it in the bag,” says Csabay. “She had an awesome finals and her horse was so consistent.”
“The coolest thing is that he is 18 years old . . . you just don’t see them be that competitive [at that age] and I’m so impressed with him.”
Sadly, and unfairly as Csabay pointed out, Crossley was forced off Brownie for the final run at the CFR due to a health concern.
“She had to switch horses and it dropped her in the average,” says Csabay.
Meanwhile, White suffered a huge setback in her championship aspirations as well as Racey tipped the second barrel on the final round, also dropping down in the average and missing out on another go round check.
“She had a great season and won nearly $80,000 this year so that was just heartbreaking,” says Csabay. “I told her next year. She and Racey deserve a championship.”
For her part, Csabay did just what she’s been doing for years, posting another solid, money winning run.
WNFR bound Jackie Ganter and Recent Release picked up the round win; her time of 14.639 made her the sixth different cowgirl to take a victory lap during the CFR.
Fittingly, Csabay and Wicked were third again.
“My daughter even said, what about all the 3’s?” Csabay laughs. “It’s crazy, but I’ll take it. Someone—maybe Fallon Taylor—told me a long time ago that you don’t have to win first every time to win championships. If you can win third consistently, you can do it.”
As it turned out, that was exactly the truth of the 2016 CFR. Csabay and Wicked ran six runs within two tenths margin, winning a first and five thirds. After clinching her second straight average win, her six day haul totaled up to $42,662, an impressive $99,719 for her last 12 runs at Northlands Coliseum over the 2015-2016 campaigns.
Not surprisingly, Csabay was thrilled when, after months of uncertainty, the CPRA extended its relationship with Northlands earlier this fall, ensuring the CFR will stay put for at least two more years.
“I feel like it belongs in our capital,” Csabay said, pointing out the loyal fans—called six-pack holders because they own tickets for all six performances. She’s also excited about an announcement made on the eve of the CFR that Northlands will host a regular season event with the largest purse for a one-head event at $50,000 added per event.
With all the calculations made on the final afternoon on Sunday, Csabay was surprised to learn she had won her second straight Canadian Championship, earning $72,011 for the season. Crossley finished second by just under $1,200 while White ended the season third. Only three cowgirls—Csabay, Crossley and Sydney Daines—would make six clean runs to finish first, third and second in the average.
“It was really exciting because it was so unexpected,” says Csabay. “Wicked was so consistent but really it was through the bad luck the other girls had on the final day.”
“I was pretty content with being a one-time Canadian champ,” jokes the daughter of Canadian Hall of Fame cowboy Arnold Haraga and a former Miss Rodeo Canada who is quickly cementing her own spot in the family legacy. “I’m just really grateful.”
For more information on CFR43, visit www.rodeocanada.com.
1.Callahan Crossley, Brownie Bi Bogie, 14.645, $12,324
2.Katie Garthwaite, Shufire, 14.680, $9,164
3.Nancy Csabay, Little Miss Wicked, 14.887, $6,004
4.Kirsty White, Special Tack, 14.909, $2,844
5.Cayla Melby Small, Docs Frosty Blue Bar, 14.966, $1,264
1.Lynette Brodoway, SR Root Sixty Six, 14.694, $12,324
2.Carman Pozzobon, Ripn Lady, 14.758, $9,164
3.Csabay, 14.805, $6,004
4.Garthwaite, 14.875, $2,844
5.Sydney Daines, Honor Before Fame, 14.890, $1,264
1.Csabay, 14.754, $12,324
2.White, 14.782, $9,164
3.Crossley, 14.869, $6,004
4.Daines, 14.890, $2,844
5.Pozzobon, 15.103, $1,264
1.Garthwaite, 14.629, $12,324
2.Crossley, 14.676, $9,164
3.Csabay, 14.701, $6,004
4.Daines, 14.747, $2,844
5.White, 14.836, $1,264
1.White, 14.773, $12,324
2.Crossley, 14.878, $9,164
3.Csabay, 14.915, $6,004
4.Garthwaite, 14.997, $2,844
5.Brodoway, 15.056, $1,264
1.Jackie Ganter, Recent Release, 14.639, $12,324
2.Daines, 14.718, $9,164
3.Csabay, 14.828, $6,004
4.Brodoway, 14.834, $2,844
5.Toni Dixon, Jig French Truckle, 14.850, $1,264
1.Csabay, 88.890, $12,324
2.Daines, 89.327, $9,164
3.Crossley, 90.144, $6,004
4.White, 94.480, $2,844
Total CFR Earnings
Courtesy of WPRA