Francisco, Calif.-There's no denying that Cathey Vallerga
embodies the saying, "been there, done that."
When the Lower Lake, Calif., cowgirl hung up the phone
after entering the Grand National Rodeo Horse and Stock
Show, it marked the 25th time the cowgirl had done so.
There is also no denying that veteran
experience can go a long way, particularly in a challenging
set up such as the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco
and home to the Grand National Rodeo. Barrel racers
must line up along a narrow moat next to the arena to
wait for their chance to compete. When the competitor
ahead of them in the draw begins her run, a barrel racer
must enter one of the two roping boxes and wait to make
her start from there. She must also run back into the
box and wait until the competitor following her begins
her run to exit the arena.
The veterans showed the newcomers
a thing or two at the 65th edition of the Grand National
held October 20-23 as Vallerga took the top spot with
her blistering run posted during the second slack Thursday
night, October 21. Vallerga stopped the clock with a
15.94, the only competitor amongst 80-plus to break
the 16 second barrier. The win was worth $2,079. Another
veteran, 2006 WPRA Reserve World Champ Linda Vick came
closest to Vallerga with a 16.05 for second.
"I am still excited,"
says Vallerga, a WPRA gold card member whose rookie
season was in 1972. "I have been running barrels
since I was nine, that's about 52 years."
The Grand National has been a must
stop for cowboys and cowgirls for years with the first
edition in 1941. For some time, it spanned two weeks
and had upwards of 10 performances. Up until a few years
ago, the Cow Palace was the final rodeo of the regular
season, creating a fantastic atmosphere for contestants;
cowboys and cowgirls came to compete, many with the
entire season on the line as they fought for the final
dollars that might send them to the National Finals
Rodeo or position themselves for world championships.
When the PRCA moved the end of the
regular season to September 30 from the end of October,
the Cow Palace lost its position as the final rodeo
of the season. Along with other issues, the event struggled
to fill the seats and break even on high production
costs. After a try at moving the event to April, the
show went on hiatus in 2009 in order to deal with reorganization
and financial issues.
It was greatly missed by the competitors,
particularly the WPRA barrel racers. "Cow Palace
has always been one of those rodeos that you waited
all year to come back to compete, year after year,"
Vallerga agrees. She remembers when the Cow Palace overlapped
the finals of the California Chapter of the then-GRA.
Members elected to give up the finals in favor of supporting
the rodeo and the Sierra (California) Circuit.
Vallerga has navigated about five
different horses down the moat at the Cow Palace and
her most recent ride is Smart Lil Wacker, a 12- year
old son of Smart Lil Highbrow and by Lynx Dolly Mama.
"I purchased him at the Red
Bluff (Calif.) Gelding sale," says Vallerga. "He
didn't make the sale because he is a bit pigeon toed.
Since he dodged the sale, his name became Dodger."
Dodger was just four when Vallerga
brought him home and green broke. The gelding still
bucks when she rides him. Dodger made one futurity as
a five year old and made his way through jackpots and
rodeos. Because Vallerga lives in northern California,
she seasoned the gelding mostly through California Cowboys
Pro Rodeo Association (CCPRA) events which were closer
At the Cow Palace, Dodger navigated
the course like a veteran as well.
"He can be tough sometimes
to get a good start," Vallerga says. "I was
third out and I run to the left barrel first. When they
asked me what side I just went the same side as the
girls in front of me because I didn't want to mess them
up coming in the other side.
"He ran hard to the first and
inhaled it. He never slipped a foot and I asked him
for his life after that and he gave me all he had."
Vallerga said she couldn't believe
the time that was posted for her run.
"What a high! And it paid great."
The rodeo committee helped ensure
consistent conditions for the barrel racers by hand
raking the pattern following each contestant. In addition
to the rodeo, the Grand National features horse show
events, mounted shooting, ranch horse versatility classes,
and a western ball on Saturday night. The rodeo kicks
off the 2011 season with a bang and is also a part of
the All American ProRodeo Series. For more information
visit them on-line at www.cowpalace.com.