Wanda Harper Bush2017 Inductee
Wanda Bush a True Leader
By Jolee Jordan
If a fiction writer had invented the character of Wanda Harper Bush the critics may have condemned the figure as unbelievable.
Thankfully, for thousands of professional barrel racers, Bush was no figment of a writer’s imagination but a tough-as-nails competitor who dedicated much of her life to helping others learn her sport and to leaving that sport better than she found it.
In August 2017, Bush will be posthumously inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. Fittingly, she is breaking new ground one more time; Bush is part of the very first class of inductees from the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) to be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame under a new agreement between the WPRA and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) which manages the Hall.
When the WPRA Hall of Fame selection committee went looking for their inaugural class, they surely had to look to Mason, Texas first.
Wanda Harper was born October 6, 1931 in Mason and grew up on her family’s Harper Ranch. She was practically on a horse from birth, helping with ranch chores, punching cows and sheep, and learning a foundation in horsemanship early from her father Alvin. Horses played a big role in the young girl’s education.
“Mom rode her horse 3 miles each way to catch the school bus as our little ranch road was still dirt,” Bush’s daughter Shanna relays. “My granddad built her a pen for her horse and hauled water and feed down for him. She would put her pants on under her dress and then pull them off at school. She had to open and close 8 gates everyday! If the weather was bad Papa would ride to meet her.”
Times were tough in the late 1940’s for the ranchers but the Bushes competed with their horses in rodeos, ropings, match races... anything that helped them earn some extra money. Winning was not by luck but by necessity.
By 1948 the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) was formed down the road from Mason in San Angelo and Bush quickly joined up, receiving card number 14.
Soon Bush was terrorizing the ranks of the GRA, earning her first GRA World Championships in 1951 in the calf roping and ribbon roping at the age of 20.
Fort Smith, Arkansas
“We roped a lot of calves,” Wanda Bush said of her father Alvin and herself in an interview with the Women’s Pro Rodeo News in 2010. “I remember Daddy saying he would turn calves out for me until I missed one. So we roped and roped and roped. Finally he said, ‘I’m going to the house!’ I just liked to rope.”
That energy and work ethic were trademarks that would come to define Bush to her peers and students in the years to come.
In the rodeo arena, Bush gobbled up championships. She won the first of two barrel racing titles in 1952 aboard the great mare Dee Gee, whom she and her dad found at a youth rodeo. She repeated that championship the following year, the first GRA barrel racer to win back-to-back titles.
Bush collected her first All Around World title in 1952 after winning her second calf roping title and first in the barrels and missed a repeat for the All Around by just $39 the next year. Bush was as versatile a competitor as the GRA had in its midst, winning titles in the many GRA events offered in the early years including cutting, flag race, ribbon roping, and of course the calf roping.
San Angelo, 1980
“She was never in it for publicity,” notes Shanna. “She just wanted to do her job well but she wasn’t about having people talk about her.”
Despite Bush’s desire for a quiet existence, she was a popular figure, appearing in the television game show, “To Tell the Truth,” in 1958 and in Rolling Stone magazine alongside rocker Bruce Springsteen.
“He had his foot up on his motorcycle and she had her foot up on her saddle! She didn't want to do it,” laughs Shanna.
Though much of her career encompassed the pre-National Finals Rodeo years for the GRA barrel racing, Bush qualified for the GRA’s own NFR six times and qualified once more in 1974 after the GRA had joined the other PRCA events at the NFR in Oklahoma City.
Bush married husband Stanley, also an accomplished horseman and eventual National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame rider, in 1957 and daughter Shanna was born in 1959. Bush managed to collect championships even in the years when she was pregnant and caring for her infant daughter in 1959 and 1960.
In fact, in the 18 years from 1951 to 1969, there was only one year (1961) that Bush failed to win at least one GRA World title. She finished her career with 32, far more than any other competitor in the Association’s history.
From the local match race, to every major Stock Show, to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Bush won across every association in which she tried her hand often beating both male and female competitors.
Bush’s competitive legend was cemented in 1992 at the Old Fort Days Futurity. Though she hadn’t competed in years, Bush stepped aboard daughter Shanna’s horse Flaming Patrick and rode to a Reserve title and $28,000 at the age of 62.
“She wasn’t very far gone from a major back surgery but I had a torn up shoulder and couldn’t ride,” Shanna remembers, calling it one of her mother’s favorite accomplishments in the arena.
While raising her family, running the ranch and beating the competition, Bush also found time to serve on the GRA Board of Directors in various positions. Noting that she was inspired by fellow GRA Charter members Margaret Owens—the GRA’s first president— and Blanche Smith, its first secretary, Bush used her own reputation for honesty and integrity to benefit the Association as it struggled off its feet and into the world of professional rodeo.
Bush is credited with securing a GRA-sanctioned barrel race at the famous Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, an event she won in 1969 and often noted as one of her favorites along with the West of the Pecos Rodeo and San Angelo.
“I did what I did for the Association,” she said in 2010. “It was good to me and I wanted to see it grow and get better. It wasn’t easy and toward the end, I just didn’t have the time to give. You have to be sincere and dedicated to do a good job as director.”
Though she had left the Board many years before, Bush was called back into service in the 1980’s by then-President Jimmie Munroe to help the Association in its battle to earn equal money at the PRCA rodeos. Added purse money at the time was often only half what PRCA events were receiving. Bush came back on the Board as Texas Director, using her lifetime of relationships with rodeo committees to convince every rodeo in Texas to stay with the WPRA and comply fully with the new purse requirements.
“She was very proud when they got equal money; it was something she always wanted,” notes Shanna. “She worked very hard for the WPRA and got along so good with the producers. Many of them were family friends in our area.”
Every cowgirl who runs down the alley at a professional rodeo today owes a debt to Bush for her hours spent on the phone and in person, building the foundation for what the WPRA is today.
“She worked tirelessly for the GRA/WPRA,” notes Shanna of the 20 years her mother spent on the Board over the years.
That endless energy wasn’t reserved just for the Association but everything which mattered to Bush.
“Her work ethic was amazing,” says Shanna. “She would ride horses all day, help me with my schoolwork and cook dinner—she was an amazing cook. If she needed to, she would turn the lights on and go back out and ride until 2 or 3 in the morning and then come in and clean house.”
“Then, she’d start all over again in the morning. She was unbelievable.”
In 1968 Bush taught her first clinic in Austin, Texas. As the full time competitive portion of her career began to close, she opened her next chapter with a new passion in teaching others the secrets of top level barrel racing and horsemanship. Her students are many and very accomplished, and a source of great pride for the cowgirl.
“She was not a promoter of herself,” Shanna describes. Bush was known to ride every horse at the clinic so that she would have a better understanding of how to help its rider. “She just wanted to help others and make the horses good.”
In fact, when Bush passed in December 2015, the outpouring from former students was enormous. Many top cowgirls gave credit to Bush’s teachings, noting that her hallmark was a positive spin and a personal touch. Even from the road, competitors would call back to the Harper Ranch for advice. Bush’s famous admonition, “trust your training,” echoed throughout the industry.
“It was amazing how much she could help over the phone,” Shanna remembers. Bush also helped Shanna in her own NFR run in 1984. “She always helped me; she would ride my horse while I was in school. She would tune them up and I would never even know it until we got to the rodeo!”
“She was a true friend, my best friend.”
Though Bush belongs to several other halls of fame, induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame is one that her daughter feels would be even more special to her.
“It’s a really special deal,” Shanna says. “Being in the [ProRodeo Hall of Fame] would mean a lot to her. The WPRA and PRCA working together was always important to her . . . she would be very proud that they’ve done this.”
The younger Bush will be part of a large group attending induction ceremonies in Colorado Springs on August 5.
“I didn’t know so many friends wanted to come—it’s like 30 or 40 people. Mom’s like Elvis, she’s got an entourage!”
In summing up her mother’s impact, Shanna relies on the words of family friend, NFR qualifier Nancy Mayes.
“Nancy said Wanda was ‘quietly famous’ and I always thought that summed her up,” notes Shanna. “Granddad raised her that way. He said, ‘we were who we were, just be yourself. We’re not above anyone else or below anyone else.’”
“All you have to do is be Wanda.”
Wanda Bush and Jimmie Munroe
Award Ceremony, 1985
GRA World Titles
All Around (9)—1952, 1957-57, 1962-65, 1968-69
Barrel Racing (2)—1952-53
Cutting (2)—1966, 1969
Flag Race (1)—1969
Calf Roping (11)—1951-56, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966-67
Ribbon Roping (7)—1951, 1953-54, 1956-59
National Finals Rodeo barrel racing qualifier (7)—1959-60, 1962-65, 1974
Reserve World Champion Barrel Racer 3 times
Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee
Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee
National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee
National Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee
1989 Coca-Cola WPRA Woman of the Year (1st recipient)
2014 WPRA Lifetime Family Heritage Award, Harper Bush Family
2014 Lenora Reimers Heritage Award winner
1998 WPRA Pioneer Woman of the Year
Rodeo World Says Goodbye to Rodeo Legend Wanda Harper Bush
By Ann Bleiker
The Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) lost an icon, Dec. 29, 2015, with the passing of Wanda Harper Bush of Mason, Texas. Bush, 84, passed away at the hospital in Brady, Texas, after having been admitted on Sunday night, Dec. 27, after suffering a heart attack at home.
"She was the greatest horsewoman of all time," said Jimmie Munroe, Past WPRA President and long-time friend of Bush. "She did it all - cutting, reining, roping, barrels, and she even jockeyed some Quarter Horse race horses. She was the greatest because she was the most versatile."
She was multitalented, becoming the most decorated cowgirl in the history of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (formerly the Girls Rodeo Association). When the GRA first formed in 1948, Bush was one of the first to sign-up. In fact, she carried card number 14. All total she won 32 world titles - nine all-around (1952, 1957-58, 1962-65, 1968 and 1969), two barrel racing titles (1952-53), two cutting world titles (1966, 1969), one flag race world title (1969), 11 calf roping titles (1951-56, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966-67) and seven ribbon roping titles (1951, 1953-54, 1956-59). She finished as reserve world champion in the barrel racing three different times.
When Munroe was just 10 years old she got to spend a week with Wanda and Stanley at their ranch. She recalls that before going down there she had always looked up to Bush and would have her mom announce her as Wanda Bush as she rode her stick horse around the coffee cans at home. After spending a week at the ranch they formed a lifelong friendship.
"You never heard anyone say something negative about Wanda. Wanda was well respected not only for her championships and the success she had in the arena but she was respected as a woman because of the way she conducted herself," Munroe said. "She would always tell the story about what her dad told her. She said 'My dad said you are going to travel and go out in the world and meet a lot of people. You will meet a lot of good people but you will then meet people that aren't. He said if you will always be Wanda and just be yourself you will be just fine.' That is what she did and she was true to herself for her entire life."
Wanda was the daughter of Alvin and Gussie Harper, a woman who had grown up roping and tying goats to help out her father on their ranch. She graduated from goats to calves and was the talk of the arena even to the point of matching men. While in the sports world Billie Jean King is credited with being the first to match the men, it was in fact a Texas Cowgirl and her horse, Eagle, that entered a match roping on six head against a man and Wanda won. It was not a story known far and wide because the humble cowgirl just went in there, took care of business and then moved on, not making a big deal out of it.
The one thing throughout her career and life, Wanda had a love for horses. A story that appeared in the Arena News in September 1981 noted that the Harper horses were saddled at daybreak and unsaddled at dusk, and they were used for everything. Wanda literally grew up on a horse. When her brother, A.C., was born, the 9-year-old Wanda's first comment on the newborn was that she didn't want him riding her horse. A.C. later became one of her biggest helpers and fans and always insisted that Wanda have the best horse. Her father, Alvin, made sure that they both had good horses.
Bush found her first two equine champions within just a couple of years of each other and while she was still in school. Dee Gee was a blood bay registered Quarter Horse mare standing 14.3 hands and weighing 1,100 pounds. The Harpers ended up paying $2,500, a considerable sum back then and considering the tough economic times.
Dee Gee joined a registered palomino gelding, Flying Eagle, in the barn at the Harper Ranch. Eagle was 3 when he came to Bush and Dee Gee was 6. Both would play pivotal roles in Bush’s success.
Both were versatile, competing in many different events. Dee Gee was Bush’s GRA barrel racing horse and they showed the mare at the AQHA shows in halter, reining, and roping. In between competitions in the arena, the Harpers match raced the mare.
The mare was retired in 1955 and joined the broodmare ranks in 1958. They raised seven colts out of her and top competitors are still riding some of her lineage today. Another top mare from the Harper Bush Ranch was Phoebe Chess. Wanda's husband, Stanley Bush, was a master at starting young cutting horses and the best one he ever rode was Royal Chess, which was inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame in 1970. Royal Chess was out of Phoebe Chess. Together Dee Gee and Phoebe Chess provide much of the family's foundation stock at the ranch.
"Wanda is probably most proud of the great legacy they left in the Quarter Horse industry," said Munroe. "They bred, raised and trained their horses and would not only use them in the arena but would bring them home to work on the ranch. Wanda's brother, A.C., still trains horses to this day."
Not only was Wanda a great horse trainer but she was also a great teacher putting on clinics across the country. It was said she would get on every horse at the clinics and make them all look like world champions.
"She was a great teacher," Munroe recalled. "She not only had a gift with horses but with people. She was able to convey her knowledge to others and had a way of connecting with each one of them. She touched so many through her clinics and she just really enjoyed people."
During Munroe's time as the WPRA President from 1978-1993, she called on Bush to return to the WPRA Board to serve as the Texas Circuit director in the 80s. This was a crucial time, especially in 1984, when the WPRA was requiring committees to have equal purse money in the barrel race before the WPRA would approve them. The top rodeos were in Texas and so those committees were the ones that would have to come up with the most money because at the time, the barrel racing purse was half of what it was in other events.
"Wanda was a huge asset to the board at that time because she was so respected by all," said Munroe. "We went to meet with Houston and San Antonio and I was so impressed with how the people that ran those rodeos respected Wanda, and when she told them what was happening they agreed to raise the money and keep the barrel racing event. We didn't lose one rodeo from Texas that year, and I credit Wanda with making that possible."
Bush's barrel racing world titles came before the NFR began, but she did qualify seven times (1959-60, '62-65, and '74) for the NFR during her career. Her daughter, Shanna, carried on the family legacy, qualifying for the NFR in 1984.
While the rodeo world has lost an icon, Wanda’s legacy is a permanent stamp on the history of the rodeo and western industry. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to her. Rest in peace, Wanda.
Remembering Wanda Bush
The barrel racing world lost a legend with the passing of Wanda Harper Bush. Wanda's unbelievable gift with a horse, her honesty, and her patience with her students made her the greatest cowgirl and teacher ever. She will be greatly missed by all whose lives she touched, but will live in our hearts and minds forever. - Carolynn Vietor - WPRA President
Wanda was one of the first members of the GRA, formed in 1948. She was not only a top barrel racer, if my memory is correct, she won the barrel racing ,cutting, roping and all around the same year. First met her at Post, Texas, AJRA rodeo. We were both 16 and have been good friends ever since. She got the barrel race in Houston for us. Did many great things to really get the GRA going, served as director for years. I could go on and on about our friendship and great times we had. She will be truly missed. - Florence Price Youree
One of my biggest hero's. Rest in Peace Wanda. - Mary Walker
There was a time that you could get your WPRA card with special approval from a director. Wanda Bush approved mine. She was absolutely a cowgirl. She was absolutely a legend. I don't know anyone who didn't admire her. Thank you, Wanda for everything. Rest in peace. The horses in Heaven just got a little better. - Jymmy Kay Cox
When I think of cowgirls that have paved the way for the rest of us, at the top of the list is Wanda Bush. Whether it was roping or riding in an all women's rodeo or taking tenths of a second off a barrel horse's run, Wanda was a pioneer.
I had the privilege to serve with her on the WPRA Board of Directors, and she was always forward thinking and fair. She was like the energizer bunny, and I think sometimes we took for granted her age because she never showed it.
Every woman who competes today owes Wanda Bush a debt of gratitude for moving the role of women in rodeo forward. - Pam Minick
Truly one of a kind. Admired her so much as a horsewoman. When I was around 14 yrs old Daddy took me out there to ride a horse. Wanda said, "when you get to the barrel say whoa and then schuck it back to him." I barely whispered out a whoa (I was scared to death). So the next time I went she hollered out, "Whoa!" That horse set its butt down at a dead run and I nearly flew over its head. Wanda said, "little girl, you need to learn what those pockets on the back of your jeans are for. They are meant to be sitting on the seat of that saddle!" - Jo Padgett Thomas
So sorry to hear of Wanda's passing. My mother and grandmother made many rodeo outfits for her when I was a young girl. I see posts here (WPRA Facebook page) from several of my mother and grandmother's customers from years gone by. So privileged to have grown up around rodeo and these powerful ladies. - Pam West
At one of Wanda Bush's youth clinics she said to parents - "do you think there's a single child that goes into an arena to make a run with the purpose of screwing up?" I've used it numerous times in child rearing - grandparenting. - Marinan Keeling
How do you describe a legend like Wanda Harper-Bush in a few words? You can't. Most of Wanda's World titles were earned early in her career. I had read of her many championships by reading a monthly column carried in the Quarter Horse Journal called GRA Highlights written by another legend, Florence Youree. It was like seeing a movie star in person when I first saw Wanda riding a bay stallion named Dee Gees King at a Quarter Horse Show in Alvarado, Texas long before I even owned a camera. I thought it was her but had it confirmed when they called her name to run. I had never seen anyone sit so perfectly in the saddle, yet use both hands and both feet in one smooth motion, to get the most out of her horse. It would be years later before I would have the honor and opportunity to meet Wanda and get to know her. Wanda was always Wanda, win or lose, she was always a lady and she always knew you wherever you saw her. She could tell stories about past horses and experiences in such an interesting way that you never forgot them. In her ranch woman way, Wanda was a great communicator, which made her one of the greatest clinicians of all time. The list of her successful students bears that fact out.
Wanda sacrificed so much to help other people, not the least of which was the WPRA. At a time when she was riding and training futurity horses and conducting many clinics and had no spare time, she made time to serve as the Texas Director to help the WPRA Board pull off their goal of Equal Money. Never doubt that when Wanda "came a callin" the likes of Houston and San Antonio were more than glad to hear what she had to say. And you can bet she made absolutely certain that the same people were recognized in print again and again when they agreed to her request.
There will never-ever be another cowgirl like Wanda Harper-Bush. The horse world in general and the barrel racing world in particular is better because of her. Small in stature, she was bigger than life on a horse. - Kenneth Springer
Two World Champion Horses, One Amazing Rider By the Name of Wanda Harper Bush
By Jolee Lautaret
Winning a professional rodeo world championship requires tremendous horsepower.
No one knows that fact better than Wanda Harper Bush. The most decorated cowgirl in the history of the Girls Rodeo Association/Women’s Pro Rodeo Association, Bush has trained and ridden many great horses. But two that came along in the first years of her career (as well as the life of the budding association to which she belonged) helped her put her name above all others on the list of WPRA World Championships.
When the GRA first formed in 1948, Bush was one of the first to sign-up. In fact, to this day, she carries card number 14. Bush wouldn’t take long to find her way to the top of the new association, winning, she says, because she had to.
The Harper Ranch in the late 1940’s was undergoing a severe drought. Times were tough. If the family went to a rodeo and entered up, they had to win.
Bush found her first two equine champions within just a couple of years of each other and while she was still in school.
“We saw Dee Gee at a kids’ rodeo up in Post, Texas,” Bush remembers. “I told my daddy that was the best horse I had ever seen in my life. Daddy said that I was always seeing good horses.”
That is a trait that Bush has to this day. Dee Gee was a blood bay registered Quarter Horse mare standing 14.3 hands and weighing 1,100 pounds. The Harpers ended up paying $2,500, a considerable sum back then and considering the tough economic times.
Dee Gee joined a registered palomino gelding, Flying Eagle, in the barn at the Harper Ranch. Eagle was three when he came to Bush and Dee Gee was six. Both would play pivotal roles in Bush’s success.
Both were versatile, competing in many different events.
“We did everything on Dee Gee,” Bush says. “I was just a kid starting out when we got her but she managed your hand so well. She would just go where I put her and we just went and ran the (barrel) pattern.”
Dee Gee was Bush’s GRA barrel racing horse and they showed the mare at the AQHA shows in halter, reining, and roping. In between competitions in the arena, the Harpers match raced the mare.
“She was a great mare, and she sure could run,” says Bush. The mare laid down times on the track equivalent to a AAA rating today. “She broke stout from a barrel and was hard to ride out of one. She would sure send you back if you weren’t with her.”
If needed, Dee Gee punched cows and sheep on the Harper Ranch as well.
“We darn sure used her,” Bush laughs. “She was a very good investment. One of the best I ever had.”
THE WORLD TITLES
Before Dee Gee’s turn in the professional rodeo spotlight, Eagle was earning his reputation. Of course, Eagle ran barrels, but his real talent was in the roping pen. The tough gelding loved his job as much as his owner did.
“We roped a lot of calves,” Bush says of her father Alvin and herself. “I remember Daddy saying he would turn calves out for me until I missed one. So we roped and roped and roped. Finally he said, I’m going to the house! I just liked to rope,” she laughs.
In 1951, just two years into the brand new GRA, Bush captured her first World championships in the calf roping and ribbon roping. Both came aboard the great palomino.
“He was a great little horse. If you missed one on him, it was your own darn fault because you can be sure he was in the right place.”
As the competition soon learned, she was just getting started.
Bush had a break-out year in 1952, claiming three titles – calf roping, barrel racing, and the all around. Dee Gee raced to her first world championship.
The mare had claimed her first AQHA points the year before in halter. But the next season proved to be a great one. Dee Gee won on the track, in the show arena, and on the professional rodeo trail.
“I was 18 when I got her, and she taught me how to win,” Bush speaks highly of the mare out of the sire Bartender.
Stanley, Wanda and Shanna, with Bartender, 1984
Apart from a yearly trip to Colorado Springs, Burwell, Neb., and Sidney, Mont., Bush stayed home. But she and Dee Gee cleaned up, taking wins across Texas and on the short road trip at Colorado Springs.
“We always slipped at Sidney because their ground was usually slick, but we normally won something there despite that.”
Dee Gee was just what you would expect a WPRA world champion barrel horse to be – she ran tough under all conditions and on all pattern sizes. Of course, things were a lot different back then.
“There was no standard pattern; in fact, they usually just threw ‘em over the fence and set ‘em up,” Bush recalls the earliest days of pro barrel racing. “We might run thirty minutes out there.”
Slick ground (“and there was lots of it back then”) was Dee Gee’s only downfall. The mare dug out of a turn so hard, she often lost her backend but Bush says she always just broke again and made up time.
“She was just broke. She ate good, stalled good. Hauled good,” Bush says. Maintenance wasn’t easy for Bush. In the drought stricken land, good hay was tough to come by. “We had a devil of a time getting hay.” But Bush had a routine for caring for her horses back then that rings as true today as it did then.
“We fed on time, made sure they always had clean water and drank enough, gave them proper exercise, and paid attention to their shoeing.” When Wanda married Stanley, a race horse rider, she learned about using bandages on the horses’ legs. “I think we were the first to put a set of bandages on our rodeo horses.”
Dee Gee won a second GRA World barrel racing championship a year later. Bush set another GRA record as the first barrel racer to repeat as world champ. She and Eagle added two more world titles that year in the ribbon roping and calf roping.
Dee Gee continued her success in the show arena as well. Twice named Grand Champion Mare at the Fort Worth Stock Show, Dee Gee won about every stock show in Texas, accumulating a lifetime total of 166 halter points, 52 reining points, and 8 roping points. In 1955, Dee Gee received the rare honor of claiming two AQHA Honor Rolls in one year, earning them in halter and reining. She was the first to do so.
Bush retired her great mare in 1955. They raised seven colts and are still riding some of her lineage today. The mare passed away in 1966 and is buried on the Harper Ranch.
Bush and Eagle continued their winning ways for many years and Bush gathered up the championships by the handful. In addition to roping and barrels, Eagle proved himself in the flag race, one of the GRA’s events at the time, before the cloverleaf barrel pattern began to overtake the others in popularity with rodeo committees.
Bush was winning two and three world championships a year and serving on the GRA Board of Directors in various positions. A sometimes frustrating endeavor, Bush felt inspired by fellow GRA Charter members like Margaret Owens and the GRA’s first secretary, Blanche Smith, to fight for the future of the Association. She stayed on the Board for an astounding 20 years.
“I did what I did for the Association,” she says. “It was good to me and I wanted to see it grow and get better. It wasn’t easy and toward the end, I just didn’t have the time to give. You have to be sincere and dedicated to do a good job as director.”
In 1959 Wanda and Stanley welcomed a daughter, Shanna, to the family. Despite a pregnancy and a newborn, Bush still claimed world championships in ribbon roping in 1959 and tie down roping in 1960. Only in 1961 did Bush not win a GRA title. It was the only year in 18 from 1951-1969 that Bush did not claim at least one GRA World Championship.
Shanna was soon riding Eagle, who still carried Wanda to most of her titles. By the time Eagle was 20-years old, Wanda was only using the gelding a little and the GRA rodeo in Duncan, Okla., was about the only place to go.
Tragedy struck for Eagle and Wanda at Duncan in 1962. In the ribbon roping, she roped her calf and stepped off. Faye Ann Horton was Bush’s mugger and after Bush took the ribbon and ran for the finish line, Horton took Eagle back toward the roping chutes. The huge hearted gelding took one deep breath and collapsed. He had a heart attack.
“Jackie Worthington had Eagle’s shoes silver plated and mounted for me,” Bush says, still choked with emotion despite the many decades that have passed. “I donated them to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame because that was the hardest thing that ever happened to me in the rodeo arena.”
Bush also donated the all around buckle won that year. After taking Eagle back to Mason to be buried at the Ranch, Bush returned to Duncan, borrowing fellow competitor Betty Dusek’s horse to rope her last calf of the season.
“I didn’t really want to go back and rope but I thought, I needed to do that for ole Eagle,” she says. “He died doing what he loved.”
Before she was done, Bush collected 32 World Championships: 9 all around titles, 11 in calf roping, 7 ribbon roping, 2 cutting, 1 flag race, and 2 barrel racing. She finished as reserve world champion in the barrel racing three different times.
Though she quit competing full time by the mid-sixties, Bush continued to train tremendous barrel horses. She won most of her titles in the pre-NFR years of the WPRA but Bush couldn’t keep her name out of the history books on that score either. She qualified for the big event in 1974.
“I accidentally made it that year,” she laughs. “I didn’t intend to go but had a green horse that came on good.” She finished 15th that year. Daughter Shanna carried on the family legacy well, qualifying to the NFR herself in 1984.
At the heart of all the wins are the horses, at least in Bush’s mind.
“We have had some mighty good horses, they have been good to me, and I have been good to them,” she says.