By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada — Winning championships in professional rodeo barrel racing requires an exceptional equine partner, one capable of winning in all conditions consistently throughout an entire season. Sometimes called their "stick," it's certain that barrel racers need a wicked stick to succeed at the highest level.
Nancy Csabay has that horse and her name is Wicked and she carried Csabay to the Canadian Championship in 2015.
Little Miss Wicked was born at TNK Farms, Csabay's home in Taber, Alberta, named for her family which includes husband Tony and 10-year old daughter Kate. Wicked's dam, Like An Effort, was a winner for Csabay before becoming a broodmare and her sire is Terribly Wicked.
"We raised and trained ourselves," notes Csabay, who comes from an esteemed rodeo family north of the border. Her father Arnold Haraga is a Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame cowboy who won steer wrestling and all around titles and her mother was a former Miss Rodeo Canada.
Csabay won numerous titles with Wicked at aged events including the 2011 Canadian High Point Derby Championship before hitting the professional rodeo trail. Already a veteran of two Canadian Finals Rodeos (2001, 2003), Csabay returned to Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta with Wicked in 2012. The duo hasn't missed one since then, giving Csabay six total qualifications on three different horses.
In 2015 Csabay qualified for CFR42 as the season leader, earning $27,658 at regular season Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) events. Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bound Taylor Jacob trailed by just $1,476 with Kendra Edey just over $2,000 back in third place. With go rounds paying $12,160, every CFR qualifier except 12th ranked Braidy Howes was close enough to be able to overtake Csabay with a single round win.
None of this concerned the veteran competitor, however. She has faced larger foes than those waiting in Edmonton.
"Around Halloween in 2013, my doctor found a lump under my armpit," says Csabay. With the CFR less than two weeks away, Csabay put the discovery in the back of her mind and tried to concentrate on her performance. Incredibly, she placed in three go rounds and won $15,290.
Right after the CFR, Csabay had a biopsy done and found that the tumor was malignant. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy.
"My mom passed away from breast cancer at the same age I was diagnosed," she says simply. "I took care of it; it's gone."
Incredibly, Csabay qualified for her fifth CFR in 2014 after battling the disease. The rodeo world knew the struggle by then, however, and she was spotlighted by the media at the 2014 CFR and honored in the opening ceremonies one night.
"There was lots of emotion," Csabay admits, noting that she worked to put it all behind her, mentally. "I cried every day and my head just wasn't in it." In fact, Csabay made it to the final Sunday with no earnings after hitting numerous barrels. "By the last go, I thought, "enough, I am not getting skunked!'" She won second.
That check seemed to launch her stellar, championship year in 2015. Csabay only entered 25 rodeos and she placed at 15 of them including in the top 10 at Strathmore, Ponoka and Wainwright, the three biggest regular season rodeos in Canada.
"I changed my lifestyle. I workout, I eat well. I keep my mind strong and I'm spiritually strong."
"My horse is healthy and happy too," she laughs, of her now 11 year old mare adding that many of the rodeos she did enter were close to her home, allowing her to be home with her family at night.
"I wouldn't go without them," says Csabay about having her family with her in Edmonton. "They are as much a part of our success as me and Wicked."
Her plan for the 2015 CFR was to be consistent and leave all the barrels standing.
In round one, she earned second place behind Julie Leggett and her mare Ice, aka FDI Cash to Burn. Round two looked nearly the same, another second for Csabay, this time behind rookie Cayla Melby.
PHOTO BY: Mike Copeman
Melby is a WPRA junior member, just 17 years old this season, but CPRA rules allow for younger competitors than the WPRA/PRCA rodeos. Melby and Eyema Rare Bug bounced back from a bad slip in round one to take the victory lap.
"She slipped pretty bad at the third barrel and I thought, "it's not going to pay me very good for the average running six tenths off in the round," Melby says. The Melbys purchased Ima from Fonda Galbreath last season and the mare carried Melby's mom, Wrangler NFR cowgirl Jane, to RFD-TV's The American.
"Mom ran her the first of the year and then the second part, I ran her," explains Melby. The Burneyville, Okla., cowgirl rode four different horses en route to her first CFR but chose Ima for the big dance.
"She's easy to ride; she's the same every time," says Melby of the nine year old daughter of One Rare Bug out of the Mr. Eye Opener mare, These Eyes. "My brother says she's like a machine."
Go three went to Canada's record setting cowgirl, Deb Guelly. Guelly owns five Canadian championships and set a record at 20 consecutive trips to the CFR; 2015 marked her 22nd time to compete in the CPRA's season ending championship.
Guelly will compete in her sixth Wrangler NFR next month and rode Bobbie Goodwin's Raise N Speedy in Edmonton. After taking a barrel penalty on opening night, Guelly found her form with her borrowed mount to win the round on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Csabay finished third in the go as the CFR hit the home stretch with three perfs in two days over the weekend. In round four, the only matinee of the rodeo, Csabay and Wicked took two tenths off their previous runs finishing just three one-thousandths behind Melby. (CPRA rodeos are timed to the thousandth of a second.)
Saturday night belonged to Guelly; the Okotoks, Alberta cowgirl posted the fastest time of the rodeo to win her second round of the 2015 CFR. Csabay clocked in her second fastest time of the week, winning fourth in the round.
With Championship Sunday set to determine the winners, Csabay was leading for both the average and the title but she still wasn't sweating it.
"I didn't think of anybody else. It's just me, my horse and three barrels," she notes. "All those horses are there for a reason . . . they are all good and any one could win it. I just try to focus on me and my horse."
"For the last go, I knew I just had to keep "em standing. I don't try to think too much; I just go make my run."
Her final run was good enough for another second as Melby won an incredible third go round, moving to second in the average. Melby also moved from 11th in the standings to second after winning $52,692 during the CFR. She set earnings records for a rookie in both season ($68,452) and CFR winnings.
"I didn't plan on that," Melby notes when asked about coming close to a Canadian title. "I just planned on getting into the top four so I could go to Calgary when I'm 18." For the past several years, the Calgary Stampede has accepted the top four from the final CPRA standings.
Incidentally, the young talent will be 18 and eligible to buy her WPRA card on December 15.
Csabay wrapped up the average title with superior consistency. Wicked had stopped the clock with runs of 14.834, 14.807, 14.839, 14.652, 14.696 and 14.722, earning $57,057 at the CFR to capture the Top Gun award, given to the high money winning competitor at the finals.
Csabay's season total of $84,715 was just under $4,000 shy of the record set by Lisa Lockhart in 2013. Wicked was also voted the Horse with the Most Heart by her fellow competitors.
"Maybe it was my turn; maybe God planned it," Csabay mused. "It's a neat feeling. I know my dad is smiling down on me for sure."
She noted that when she first started Wicked's training, the young mare had an opinion about her job.
"She thought she knew everything and we would argue for ten minutes or more every time we rode. This went on for a whole year," laughs Csabay. "Then it seemed so easy for her. But I often wondered, "what do I have here?'"
"I guess I have a superstar!"
1. Julie Leggett, FDI Cash to Burn, 14.81, $12,159.64
2. Nancy Csbay, Little Miss Wicked, 14.83, $9,041.79
3. Toni Dixon, Jig French Truckle, 14.84, $5,923.93
4. Gaylene Buff, Dat Blue Moon/Kendra Edey, 14.86, $2,026.61 each
1. Cayla Melby, Eyema Rare Bug, 14.713, $12,160
2. Csbay, 14.807, $9,041.79
3. Toni Dixon, 14.815, $5,923.93
4. Buff, 14.870, $2,806.07
5. Leggett, 14.878, $1,247.14
1. Deb Guelly, Raise N Speedy, 14.673, $12,159.64
2. Braidy Howes, HH A Famous Cherokee, 14.769, $9,041.79
3. Csabay, 14.839, $5,923.93
4. Katie Garthwaite, FC Guys Prime Time, 14.854, $2,806.07
5. Melby, 14.902, $1,247.14
1. Melby, 14.649, $12,159.64
2. Csabay, 14.652, $9,041.79
3. Leggett, 14.732, $5,923.93
4. Guelly, 14.810, $2,806.07
5. Buff, 14.861, $1,247.14
1. Guelly, 14.418, $12,159.64
2. Garthwaite, 14.450, $9,041.79
3. Melby, 14.483, $5,923.93
4. Csabay, 14.696, $2,806.07
5. Kirsty White, Special Tack, 14.721, $1,247.14
1. Melby, 14.564, $12,159.64
2. Csabay, 14.722, $9,041.79
3. Buff, 14.822, $5,923.93
4. Garthwaite, 14.937, $2,806.07
5. Howes, 14.979, $1,247.14