By Jolee Jordan
Stonyford, California—On any given day, there aren’t a lot of people in the Northern California community of Stonyford. A sleepy little wide spot along rustic California Highway 306, Stonyford boasts a population of about 200 people and a total incorporated area of less than three miles.
But for 75 years, the Stony Creek Horsemen’s Association has hosted an annual rodeo, a happening that is said to bring more than 5,000 visitors to town. As there are no hotels within fifty miles, most choose to camp out for the weekend, either staying right at the rodeo grounds or choosing one of two nearby lakefront camping areas on the shores of East Park Reservoir.
Vicky Cook is one visitor who didn’t have to worry about her sleeping accommodations. While most barrel racers only venture down the twisting, turning road from Interstate 5 to Stonyford once a year, Cook actually heads that way more often, going to visit her in-laws. She lives just about fifty miles away in Willows.
“Kenny’s from Stonyford,” she notes of her husband of four years. “His parents still live there. They’re right down the street from the rodeo grounds. It’s a hometown rodeo for us.”
Like many WPRA cowgirls, Cook grew up with horses, competing in 4-H and “the high school rodeo situation.” Along with barrel racing, Cook competed in goat tying and pole bending. She also roped.
“It was a lot of fun,” says Cook. But her path into the pro ranks of barrel racing took a different turn than many of her fellow competitors. After graduating, she joined the US Navy, moving to San Diego.
“I was there for two years, working as an electrician on the 60 helicopter,” notes Cook. Her mother and step-father divorced not long after she left the service and Cook moved home to help out with her sister, ten years her junior.
“I took her to her high school rodeos,” says Cook, adding that she loaned sister Noel [Hannon] the horses she acquired while still in the military. “I bought a couple reiners and when I got back home, there wasn’t anywhere to take them close around so I took them around the barrels.”
After helping her sister through youth rodeo, Cook turned back to her passion for barrel racing and now trains horses. Her husband is also a trainer and they’ve been together for seven years.
“We own a garbage business that my nephew runs for us and a construction company that Kenny runs,” she says, adding with a laugh, “he’s my main sponsor.”
Riding five or six head a day, Cook takes many of the horses she trains to futurities before moving them into the ranks of pro rodeo. Her most recent success has come aboard Man of Fame, a six year old son of Dash ta Fame out of the Sun Frost daughter, PC Sun Chilena that she calls Manny.
“He’s a full brother to Bud,” Cook says, referencing Buds Famous Sun, the gelding who has carried her to the California Circuit Finals Rodeo in the past. “I bought them both from Susan Dupont; I got Bud when he was two and Manny when he was four.”
“Abby Davis Michalis had him started on the pattern,” notes Cook of Manny. Both she and Kenny took turns in the saddle with the gelding during his futurity campaign. He was a tougher horse to finish out and Cook admits she had moments when she wanted to sell him.
“No one would look at him,” she laughs. “So, I said, we need to make him a horse.”
A shift in attitude towards the talented gelding, along with some maturity, seemed to be the sparks that he needed to step up to the big leagues. Cook says he was soon passing the mare he hauled with as a futurity colt and running right alongside his brother.
“He is way more of a push style horse. I get to kick him and I like that,” she jokes. “You have to be careful how much you kick on Bud.”
Cook is building an A-team for the rodeos, noting that Manny seems to like the big outdoor arenas while Bud shines most brightly indoors. Her main goals for the 2018 rodeo season are simply to season her horses; Manny’s first big performance was at the Red Bluff Round-Up a few weeks ago.
“I’d love to make the circuit finals,” says Cook, who has qualified four times, competing three times after missing entries one year. “I cried on that one.”
Her season is off to a good start already—she claimed a rodeo victory in February aboard Manny at Buckeye, Arizona. The Helzapoppin’ Rodeo is a stop on the WPRA Tour as is Stonyford.
Competing in hometown rodeos can often be a double edge sword for competitors. It’s a running joke amongst cowboys that there is no tougher win, than to win your hometown rodeo.
Thankfully for Cook, that axiom did not play out during Stonyford’s 75th anniversary. Competing in the slack with her own cheering section, Cook and Manny laid down a smoking fast run of 17.26 seconds to take the win by almost two tenths.
“That’s a good rodeo,” says Cook, who is sponsored by Lame Away, Western Dove, Renew Gold and Staley Equine. “It was a very cool win for us because our family was there. They don’t get to go hardly at all.”
Adding to the fun, Cook entered the local team roping with her husband.
“I heeled for Kenny and I tied on . . . I had never heeled in public before,” she says, noting that they just missed out on winning some money. “It was really fun to rope with him.”
Cook picked up $910 for the win along with another 15 WPRA Tour points. The WPRA Tour standings are used for qualification for many of the WPRA’s biggest rodeos, including the Calgary Stampede and the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
“I honestly didn’t know about it,” laughed Cook of the WPRA Tour. She currently sits third in the standings. She also jumped to 15th in the California Circuit standings.
“I couldn’t do this without my husband, he tunes my horses and tunes me,” she says. “He watched my videos and helps me make a plan with my horses, makes sure I’m thinking it through.”
She also wanted to thank her veterinarian, Dr. Brad Jackman of Pioneer Vet Hospital.
Next up for Cook is the Mother Lode Stampede in Sonora, followed by the Redding Rodeo and Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Hayward, all stops in Northern California, close to home. As she contemplates rodeo plans, she has to notch out time during the Reno Rodeo in June to attend sister Noel’s wedding to steer wrestler Sterling Lambert.
“I just plan to keep working to season my horses and I’ve got two futurity horses for next year to keep getting ready,” says Cook.
For more information on the Stonyford Rodeo, please visit them on-line at www.stonycreekhorsemen.org.