When the word “rodeo” comes to mind, most people would think champions of the sport would come from Texas, Oklahoma, or even Alberta.
But in 2009 the champions are from Hillsburgh.
At the start of the 2008 Ontario Rodeo Association and Rawhide Rodeo Extreme Tour seasons, two local cowgirls competed in front of their hometown crowd at the 2008 Erin Agricultural Society and Rotary Club Rodeo.
For them, two cowgirls, it definitely was not their first rodeo. Tamaran Gray, 22, and Callie Gray, 15, have been to the largest rodeo in the world – the National High School Rodeo Association Finals – and on numerous occasions.
Tamaran Gray was the 2006 Ontario High School Rodeo Association (OHSRA) year-end and finals champion and 2007 Ontario Rodeo Association (ORA) year-end champion breakaway roper.
Callie Gray was the 2007 OHSRA finals all-around champion cowgirl and 2007 OHSRA rookie of the year, in addition to all of her accomplishments in OHSRA junior high rodeo competition.
Tamaran Grah placed second at the 2008 Erin Rodeo in cowgirls’ barrel racing and Callie Gray won the junior barrel racing, which kick-started their season. All season, the pair traveled across Ontario and Quebec to attempt to qualify for the 2008 Ontario finals rodeo and 2008 Rawhide Rodeo Extreme Tour finals. They placed in the top five at several events, and Callie won the largest on the two tours in Leamington, as well.
In the end, both qualified for the finals.
First was the 2008 OFR in Stratford on Sept. 19 and 20 where three-round and aggregate championship, the contestants would run three times, and the OFR champion would be the contestant with the lowest accumulated time over all of the rounds.
Tamaran Gray opened her OFR appearance in barrel racing with a 14.879, a time that trumped the 2004 arena record of 15.553, but would wind up third in the first go round, a mere eight-thousandths of a second behind the winning time.
Callie Gray won her first round with a 15.121, beating the 2003 junior barrel racing arena record of 15.792.
Into the second round, Tamaran ran a faster time than her first of 14.744, yet placed second behind the round winning time of 14.710. However, she lead the aggregate by three-thousandths of a second going into the championship round against the province’s elite barrel racers.
Callie bested her first round time with an even newer arena record of 14.949, even faster than her first round time, to win the second round of junior barrel racing, and to lead the aggregate by almost two seconds.
Into the championship round, Tamaran was last to compete in barrel bacing and needed to post a high 15-second time to win the OFR. Instead of playing it safe, she won the round with a 14.397, to walk away with the OFR Championship and the arena record. Her combined earnings from the OFR were solid enough to take her from sixth place going in to finish the season as the 2008 ORA Reserve Champion Barrel Racer.
In junior barrel racing, Callie would win her third of three rounds, with a time of 14.635 to win the OFR by over 2.5 seconds. The OFR would help her championship quests as well – her winnings in Stratford were ample enough to send her from fifth to first to win the 2008 ORA Year-end Champion Junior Barrel Racing title.
Next up was the 2008 Rawhide Rodeo Extreme Tour Finals on Dec. 30 and 31 in London, Ontario.
The event used a similar format, but with only two rounds, there would be no room for error between the runs to win the championship.
In cowgirls barrel racing, Tamaran placed close to the top in the opening round, posting a 13.694, good enough for second place.
As in Stratford, Callie won the first round of junior barrel racing with a new arena record of 13.781 – half a second faster than the second place time.
Tamaran’s second round appearance was even stronger, as she ran a 13.362 to win the round, set a new arena record, and win the 2008 Rawhide Rodeo Extreme Tour Finals.
This in itself was an amazing accomplishment as instead of just the province’s best barrel racers, like at the OFR, these were the best racers from across North-East North America, including an international champion from Michigan, a number of recers from Quebec, and the Ontario cowgirl that leads the world standings in the International Professional Rodeo Association.
Again in the junior barrel racing, Callie would won all the rounds, with an even newer arena record of 13.758. And like the the OFR, Callie’s win in the finals was enough to also give her the win for the year.
These two champions had a sensational 2008. But, as most rodeo fans and competitors know, there is a support system to help them in their winning ways.
One of their many “coaches” is their mother, Lisa Gray, and their father Scott Gray keeps the trucks, trailers, and horsesp at their best and also lends a hand to all of the barrel racers. In addition, Scott’s company, Nuco Inc. of Guelph, is the leading sponsor of rodeos of all levels in eastern Canada.
As 2009 starts, the Gray racing team has already started competing in the United States during eastern Canada’s “off season” in an effort to qualify for the International Finals Rodeo.
But look for them to attempt to repeat their accolades in 2009. They’ll be at the 2009 Erin Agricultural Society Rodeo to start the path to greatness again.
For more information on this opening event visit www.erinrodeo.com.
Joe Scully is a professional rodeo announcer from Erin. His online home is www.joescully.com.