Calgary – They say trust is earned, not given. Strathmore’s Cody Casebeer has been living that adage for the past three years while rehabilitating his Belgian mare, Babe.
But all that hard work paid off Sunday when the horse that people told Casebeer was “no good . . . (and) would never amount to anything” made her debut in the heavy weight division of the Heavy Horse Pull at the Calgary Stampede.
“It’s unreal. It was already a shock when I had the opportunity to have my other pair in the Stampede last year,” said Casebeer, who has been involved in the sport for a scant three years. “I’ve trained her myself, though, so this year it’s my own sweat and blood.”
Babe and her pulling partner Sox went out in the fourth round with a line infraction during the event held at the Agrium Western Event Centre. Over three days at the Stampede, teams in three weight classes pull weighted sleds — up to more than five times the horse’s body weight — a distance of up to 14 feet. The Grand Champion in each class was awarded $3,000; the Reserve Champion $2,500, with a sliding scale of payouts for the rest of the field.
Veteran competitor Ron Sebastian of Lumsden, Sask. took the top spot in the heavy weight class for a pull of 103 inches with a 12,000-pound sled. His team of Doc and Mark, weighing in at 4,706 lb., is a new pairing. Doc is a returning player from 2015, when Sebastian placed second in the weight division. The Stampede is Mark’s third venture pulling at an event. Reserve Champion went to Airdrie, Alta.’s Randy Dodge, whose team owned by Dodge, Stan Grad and Soderglen Ranches Ltd. pulled the sled 34 inches in the ninth round.
Having his 11-year-old grandson Clay on hand to witness the victory made it that much sweeter, said the 70-year-old Sebastian.
“Oh my, it’s the best. I’ve got 19 banners now and I’ve been coming for about 30 years,” a visibly moved Sebastian said. “I just wanted to do it for him.”
After seeing his grandfather in action, Clay is determined to be a puller. It was a similar situation for Casebeer. He got hooked on pulling after seeing the event at the Stampede in 2009. His parents helped buy his first draft horse as a high-school graduation present. Sadly, that horse passed away due to cancer. Knowing how much he loved the big animals, Casebeer’s family and friends pulled together to buy Babe for the U of C grad. Then came that fateful day three years ago, when he and Babe were out with the local pulling club.
“Another guy was trying to help out and I gave him the lines. . . He ended up smacking her with the lines, which is totally the furthest thing away from any training I do,” the 27-year-old recalled. “It really freaked Babe out. She was traumatized.”
From that moment on, the towering Belgian refused to wear a harness. Blinders would send her into a fit. So Casebeer put her out to pasture. For a year and a half, he waited. Then, baby steps.
“We had to start almost from scratch. We had to run without blinders. She didn’t really trust anybody but me. It’s counterintuitive to what we are trying to do, but without blinders, she could see who was behind her and know it was okay.”
The slow progress continued and this spring, it was like Babe was a new horse. Competing at the Stampede justified all that time and effort Casebeer poured into an animal that others had written off. Her partner, Sox, has been looking out Babe as she acclimatized to the sights and sounds of Stampede Park.
“I didn’t want to believe this horse was done. It just makes me happy, the connection that I have with her. It shows the kind of trust I can build with her, and all my horses. That is the biggest thing: if I can’t trust them, they can’t trust me and without that, we’re nothing.”
In the light weight finals on Friday, Dodge was named Grand Champion after his team completed a full pull at 9,500 pounds in the eighth round. Idaho’s Nick Barney took the Reserve Champion spot with his own team after delivering a 31.5-inch pull at the same weight.
Saturday saw Dodge and his middle weight team, owned by the same trio, named Reserve Champion for a 36-inch pull at 12,000 pounds. Smithers, B.C.’s Curtis Adamson, driving his own team, took the Grand Champion title for a 63-inch pull at the same sled weight.
For full results from the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull, please visit http://ag.calgarystampede.com/results
About the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west. The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned 10-day Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and celebrates our western heritage, cultures and community spirit. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.
See more at calgarystampede.com