By Jolee Jordan
Oakdale, California—Put most simply . . . Katy loves Oakdale.
Katy is the little sorrel bombshell who is registered Tivitosatthegogobar with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). A washed out reining prospect who found her niche inside the rodeo arena, the now 12 year old mare has quite a history inside the famed Oakdale Saddle Club Arena. With her regular jockey, Rachel Dice, Katy has won more than $5,400 here including the championship in 2017 and another pair of top four finishes.
In 2019, Katy has been on the rodeo trail under the saddle of Megan Champion, a rookie who hails from Ukiah, California. The story on Saturday afternoon, April 13 was “different jockey, same result.”
Running for the very first time at Oakdale, Champion piloted the gritty little mare to even more Oakdale earnings as the 2019 champions. Their time of 17.20 seconds is the fastest run here in recent memory and helped Champion earn more than $3,000.
The central California community of Oakdale has long had an unofficial feud with Stephenville, Texas as both cities call themselves the “Cowboy Capital of the World.”
While that matter will never be settled, Oakdale was once called the Clover Capital of the World and the first rodeo held here was known as the Clover Roundup. Since that first rodeo in 1946, the Oakdale Saddle Club has annually hosted a rodeo in the spring as a celebration of the town’s ranching roots. Since 1954, the rodeo has been professionally sanctioned and the name changed to Oakdale Rodeo in 1957.
Regardless of name, the venue hasn’t changed which was of no help to Champion; the cowgirl was making her first appearance here—in fact, in any PRCA/WPRA rodeo inside the borders of California.
The mother of three grew up in the sport but put her aspirations on hold for a bit while raising her daughters. Twins Oceana and Sierra are now 16 while Alivia is 10; the twins rode and did gymkhanas as youngsters but moved on to other hobbies as they matured. Alivia is Champion’s “mini-me,” the one who craves riding and is mom’s No. 1 cheerleader in the stands.
“I rodeoed my whole life,” notes Champion. “But when I became a mom, rodeo went to the back burner. But then I got this awesome mare last year and everyone said I should hit the road.”
That mare is Smarty, aka Miss Dual Smartee, a horse she purchased from fellow Californian Katie McCaslan. Champion got started going to California Cowboys Rodeo Association (CCPRA) events. She earned the group’s Rookie of the Year title in 2018 and finished as Reserve Year End Champ.
“She’s my magical little unicorn.”
With the prompting of friends and fellow barrel racers, Champion bought her WPRA permit and hit the road in the fall of 2018. First stop? The Pendleton Round-Up, home of the WPRA’s largest and most challenging patterns, a 28-second romp across a football field.
“That was my first pro rodeo ever and Smarty’s too,” she laughs. “It was fun, I’d do it again.”
From that first trial-by-fire, Champion decided to hit the road in earnest, traveling to Texas to compete in the winter rodeos and run at RFD-TV’s The American. Before leaving home, though, she reached out to Dice about her great mare Katy.
“She had her for sale but didn’t really want to sell her but didn’t want to be on the road either,” she says. Dice finished 28th in the WPRA World standings in 2016 aboard Katy but injuries derailed their hopes of a trip to Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). Dice since has had a child, a baby boy, and taken time away from the sport.
“Life gets tough when you become a mom, trying to rodeo,” Champion says from experience. “I called and asked her if she’d consider leasing her to me for the year.”
With Katy added to the team, Champion had a pair of super, rugged, little cow-bred mares. Only problem? The girls are total opposites to ride.
“They’re both little and very honest but beyond that, they are totally different,” she laughs. “On Smarty, I have to stay quiet and sit straight in the saddle and try to stay out of her way as much as possible.”
“You have to really push Katy and lean forward in the saddle,” she says. “Rachel is always telling me, ‘you need to kick more!’”
“It’s been a challenge for me,” she admits.
Champion seemed to get the kinks worked out once home in the Golden State. She credits both McCaslan and Dice for their continuous advice and help.
“They’ve both been just awesome, answering my questions and helping me out,” she says. “It was lots different in Texas and I was happy to make it back to California. We were happy to be back outside.”
That being said, Champion was nervous in Oakdale, seeing the long run to the first barrel inside the huge Oakdale Saddle Club Arena. Another fellow barrel racer stepped in with some advice.
“I stayed in Ceres and saw Shelley Holman; she’d run in the slack,” notes Champion. “She said, ‘just wait and take your time to the first.’”
“I sometimes send too soon and don’t do that, so I just waited,” she says. Taking her time to set up her run and be sure not to run from too far back into the first seemed to be just the trick for Katy as the duo won the rodeo by .16 seconds over Carly Taylor, the WPRA’s leading rookie so far in 2019.
“My goal is to win Rookie of the Year,” says Champion. “I’m glad to be back home for the spring . . . I need to try to get caught up [in the Rookie race].”
Champion is planning a full spring at home in California and a big summer run with help of Ann Thompson, who does all her entering. She is considering a trip north of the border for lucrative Canadian rodeos.
“It’s definitely a challenge [the rookie race]. On any day, it’s anyone’s run. The horses are all so close and they’re all amazing.”
Taylor currently leads the standings. With Oakdale’s earnings added in, she went over $20,000 for the year. Champion was fourth before Oakdale but moved to third with $6,852 after the big win.
With plenty of rodeo left, Champion is excited for the possibilities and thankful to her help at home including nanny, Sandra, who watches over the kids while she’s on the road.
“It’s just me, I’m a single mom, but everyone’s gotta have another half!” she jokes, noting that she flies her kids in on weekends as much as possible to be on the road with her. “Without her (Sandra) I wouldn’t be able to be out here doing this. I’m so thankful for her and fortunate to have her.”
For her first season on the road, Champion notes that Oakdale has certainly become an early favorite along with Tucson, where she won third in the long go, advancing to the short go.
“Thank you for everyone’s hard work to put the rodeo on, the fans, the girls for showing up . . . ,” she says. “I’m just happy and grateful for the opportunity to be able to make these runs.”
For more information on the Oakdale Rodeo, visit them on-line at http www.oakdalerodeo.com.
- Megan Champion, Tivitosatthegogobar, 17.20, $3,093
- Carly Taylor, Diva Deniro, 17.36. $2,474
- Cheyenne Wimberley, Dash ta Suz, 17.40, $2,010
- Ivy Hurst, Top of the Roc, 17.73, $1,546
- Tanya Jones, Rockin A Lil, 17.77, $1,237
- Angie Hardin, Smartys Real Rock, 17.82, $928
- Stevi Hillman, Guys R A Mystery, 17.83, $734
- Kylar Terlip, French Rivierra, 17.83, $734
- Syd Wheeler, Hickorys Smart Holly, 17.84, $619
- Shelley Holman, Red Hot N Burnin, 17.89, $503
- Kelsey Hayden, Skippa Ice Breaker, 17.89, $503
- Deb Guelly, Money N Perks, 17.95, $387
- Leia Pluemer, Famous French Bug, 17.98, $309
- Teri Bangart, RCA Three Bugs Honor, 18.03, $193
- Callie Gray, 18.03, $193