Calgary – Ask most cattle penning teams what they’re doing after they’ve scored their shiny belt buckles and hefty payout as champions at the Calgary Stampede Team Cattle Penning and they’ll reply “We’re going to Ranchman’s!” But on Sunday night, this year’s winning team of the 10 Class Team Penning Championships enthusiastically shouted, “We’re going for ice cream!”
That’s because two of the members can’t drive a car by themselves, let alone tip back a frosty beverage. Gabrielle Fouty, 13, Danielle Gamache, 15, and Graham Armstrong, an ancient 26, can buy as many banana splits as they can stomach with their payout of $39,926.
“They are both great at pulling cows, so I thought they would just pull cows and I would fill the holes,” Armstrong said of the decision to send the girls into the herd first in the final two runs. “We practiced it a bit on the weekend, and we changed the order of how we were riding in the qualifier. Initially, we had Gabby turning, then we had Danielle turning for a bit. But we made the decision at the last minute to run it this way with them in the herd.”
It’s not the only last-minute decision that paid off for the group. Armstrong, of Armstrong, B.C., called the girls’ mothers the night before entries were due to see if they wanted to team up for The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. They did. Gabrielle and Danielle are used to competing, but against each other. They barrel race in their hometown of Quesnel, B.C. Danielle is having quite the Stampede, seeing as she took top spot in the 7 Class finals on Friday with her father, Leonard, and teammate Christine Gray. Then there’s Gabrielle, who just entered her teens last month.
“I was a bit nervous. I took some deep breaths and did my best,” Gabrielle said of the first time she hit the floor in the Saddledome.
The trio posted an aggregate time of 145.290 with 12 head penned, just edging out the Reserve Champion team of Bob Bolin, Rene O’Rourke and Kelly Abels. Their aggregate time of 145.440 with 12 head penned earned them a $26,618 payday. In Team Cattle Penning, teams have one thin minute to separate three specifically identified cattle from a herd of 30 and direct them into a 16-foot-by-24-foot pen at the opposite end of the arena. It’s a fast-paced dance between the riders, their mounts and the cattle they’re aiming to pen.
Teamwork is paramount, with all three riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle and drive them to the pen. The four classes in Team Cattle Penning are based on relative skill and experience — in ascending order from 7 Class, to 10 Class, to 14 Class, to the trainers and travelling professionals of the Open Class. This year, 819 teams faced off over three days of qualifying in the Silver Slate Arena in Stavely for the 20 available spots in each class. The increase in entries, up from 650 in 2016, skyrocketed the overall prize money to $400,032.
One of the rules is that only cattle bearing the team’s designated number can cross the time line in the arena. During the winning team’s first run of the night, a cow they weren’t supposed to pen went rogue, and crossed the time line with two feet. Incredibly, the team brought it back before all four feet went over the line, which would have disqualified the run.
Perhaps it was startled by the shirts the riders were sporting. All three wore bright pink cowboy shirts, Armstrong included. It was Gabby’s idea, Danielle said.
“We made a bet with Graham that if we made it to the Saddledome he had to wear pink,” she said. “He was so excited to do it.”
Not so excited that he wouldn’t share posing pointers to make the most of those shiny belt buckles as friends and family members took photos of the trio with their horses following their win.
“Hold it up by your face. A bit higher. Now tip it down. Yeah, like that.”
For the full results of the Calgary Stampede Team Cattle Penning, please visit calgarystampede.com
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 promotes western heritage and values. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.
See more at calgarystampede.com