By Jolee Jordan
Pueblo, Colorado—The temperatures in North Texas have been typically hot this summer but that doesn’t worry 2012 WPRA World Champion Mary Walker one bit.
That’s because Walker hasn’t spent much time in her hometown of Ennis this summer, instead making Montana her summer residence as she and her amazing equine partner Latte have kept cool while burning up the standings.
Walker made the change to the Montana Circuit in 2016 and has spent time going around the state, rising to third in the standings both nationally and in the circuit. In fact, she’s only left the boundaries of Montana for a few select events such as stops along the Wrangler Champions Challenge presented by Justin Boots and for such prestigious events as the Calgary Stampede and Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“It’s been crazy,” Walker laughs, noting that temperatures in Montana have been sinking steadily. “It is so cold up here. I’m about to freeze to death!”
In fact, Walker hadn’t been south of Cheyenne in weeks when she made the trek from the Wrangler Champions Challenge event in Kennewick, Wash., to the Colorado State Fair in late August.
The Colorado State Fair traces its history back to before Colorado was admitted to the union in 1876. Held annually in Pueblo, the State Fair added professional rodeo to its lineup of livestock exhibitions, carnivals, concerts and parades more than half a century ago.
Always an attractive option for the best of the PRCA and WPRA, when the rodeo joined the Champions Challenge tour two years ago, even more of the sports’ best put Southern Colorado on their schedule.
Walker was one of those competitors.
“I hadn’t been to Pueblo, oh my gosh, since probably the 80s,” laughs Walker, noting that she went last year for both the rodeo and the Champions Challenge.
Already enjoying a tremendous season, Walker made history earlier this summer when she became just the seventh WPRA barrel racer to cross $1 million in career earnings. With just over a month left in the 2016 regular season, Walker was assured a position in her fifth straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
But that didn’t mean the champ was ready to call it a season just yet.
“I’ve got the finals made, it’s not that big of a deal, but I would like to win a little bit more before heading home.”
To that end, Walker entered both the rodeo and Champions Challenge events in Pueblo again, running as the final WPRA barrel racer in the fourth perf on a Monday night. She and the now 12-year old son of Dash for Perks stole the show with a blazing fast run of 17.26 seconds.
“He just really did awesome,” says Walker of the gelding who is registered Perculatin with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA).
“The ground was great,” adds Walker. “The committee really did a good job and our hats off to the judges for making sure it was good. I watched the slack and I just thought it was good for everybody.”
“Pueblo’s a really neat place to go.”
None of the remaining ladies in Tuesday night’s final performance were able to touch the time, leaving Walker as the champion of the 2016 edition of the Colorado State Fair. She added $2,942 to her impressive season total.
With one night off, Walker was one of 11 ladies to return on Wednesday for the eighth stop of the Wrangler Champions Challenge.
“At the Champions Challenge, I was so mad at myself. I reached down with the outside hand to kind of straighten him up at the third and he set up,” Walker says. “There was no kicking him back up out of it. I thought, ‘he is committed, it’s over.’”
Walker took a barrel penalty, keeping her from winning any more Pueblo money. Stevi Hillman took the win, the only cowgirl in either event to post a faster time than Walker in Pueblo.
Though she was nearly back to Texas, Walker turned the truck back north after Pueblo.
“I had to get my All American count in . . . I’ve been making a mad dash this weekend, trying to get them all in.” Contestants must compete in at least 30 All American rodeos in order to qualify for the All American Pro Rodeo Series Finals held annually in Waco, Texas in October. Walker is a past champion of the All American Finals but missed a trip last year when she failed to compete in the required 30 rodeos.
“I’m so ready for home,” Walker noted, adding “I could almost smell home [from Pueblo]. I was like, I think I smell Texas!”
Over the Labor Day weekend, Walker placed at Cody (WY), Plains (MT) and won the rodeo in Dillon (MT), picking up enough rodeos and money to assure her spot in Waco. She added $3,116 to her haul for the final week of the summer.
Walker will now decide whether to go on to Puyallup, Wash., for the Justin Boots Playoffs and to the Pendleton Round-up or to head home.
“I really would love to go to Pendleton again. It’s such a fun rodeo. Byron really enjoys that rodeo so much,” she notes of her husband, the 1981 PRCA World Champion Steer Wrestler. “But we may head south in the morning, we’re just going to kind of wait and see.”
Though Walker went home last year after the Colorado State Fair and gave Latte time off before the WNFR, her plan for 2016 is different.
“I think I’ve got the All American made, and I’m going to go to the [WPRA] World Finals for the Cardholder Race,” she says. Both events are held in October in Waco. “Last year, I just ran him a couple of times after we came home from Pueblo, but I don’t think I’m going to do that this year. I’m going to keep him moving.”
“He always runs better the more you go,” she adds. Walker plans to hit early 2017 rodeos to work on her All American standings. “I’m going to try to get my count in early this year instead of having to scramble at the end again.”
As always, Walker was quick to give praise to Latte, who overcame a torn groin over the course of the summer, just missing a few weeks of competition while still getting the team back to Vegas.
“He’s just such a road warrior and he just amazes me. This is his fifth year of going down the road hard and he just keeps doing it and doing it and doing it. There’s not enough words to say how wonderful I think he is. He’s always there for me.”
For more information on the Colorado State Fair, please visit them on-line at www.coloradostatefair.com.