By Jolee Lautaret-Jordan
Grande Prairie, Alberta Canada—She's already the most decorated barrel racer in the history of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) but Deb Guelly is not about to rest on her laurels just yet.
Guelly just missed out on a trip to the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) in 2014, faltering late in the season when her good horse Scooter got hurt. Unable to find a suitable replacement, Guelly finished outside the top 12 in the Canadian standings, missing the CFR for just the second time since turning pro in 1992.
The Okotoks, Alberta native owns the record for barrel racing in the CPRA with 20 consecutive CFR's from 1992-2011. She added another qualification in 2013 to bring her total to 21.
With Scooter still on the injured list, Guelly set out early in the season with a new herd of horses, some bought and some borrowed, and placed in a go round at Fort Worth. However, things just weren't going the way the five time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo cowgirl needed.
With some measure of frustration, she came to La Fiesta de los Vaqueros rodeo in Tucson, Ariz., in late February and fate took a dramatic turn in her favor.
"I got on him there and then Ruth told me to just take him and run him for awhile," says Guelly of her new mount since then, Royal Star Commander, owned by three-time Wrangler NFR cowgirl Ruth Haislip and husband Jim. Guelly and Haislip ran at the Wrangler NFR together in the late 1990's.
Commander is an eight year old son of AR Star out of Haislip's Wrangler NFR mare, Go Royal Scarlett. A product of the Haislip's very successful breeding program, Commander set an arena record at the 2013 Barrel Futurities of America in Oklahoma City, winning the Derby that year with jockey Erin Ricotti. Ricotti campaigned the gelding at the rodeos in 2014, earning a berth at the Ram California Circuit Finals Rodeo where she again ran the fastest time of the rodeo to win a go round.
Guelly picked up checks on the gelding early on but has really begun to find her stride as the summer begins and the Canadian rodeo season kicks off.
In fact, after a huge weekend to close out the month of May north of the border, Guelly is well on her way not only to a record extending 22nd CFR but she may even be looking to add a sixth Canadian Championship as well, not that she is noticing.
"I don't even look at the standings," she laughs. "I hope to do well this next month and then maybe just sit in the Northwest and not put a lot of miles on."
The late May winning began with the Grande Prairie Stompede where Guelly and Commander gapped the field by several tenths, taking home $3,469. Surprisingly, it was the first time Guelly had won the rodeo.
"Buck hated that place," she laughs of her first pro horse who carried her to her first 20 CFR's and two Wrangler NFRs. "I think I won second on Reiner once but really, I was just glad that I finally did something there."
Guelly was quick to credit the committee for good conditions, noting they have switched the barrel pattern from one end to the other to help maintain better ground conditions.
"The barrels are now completely on the infield," notes Guelly, who adds that some of the challenges in the past came from balancing the needs of the rodeo riders with those of the chuckwagon racers, a problem solved with the change in the pattern for the barrel racers. "When I ran, it had rained on Wednesday and the ground was darn sure wet, but it was good."
Guelly continued the winning ways at the Leduc Black Gold Rodeo, where she won fourth, and the Hand Hills Lake Rodeo in Craigmyle. At the latter, she finished second behind Wrangler NFR qualifier Taylor Jacob.
In all, her checks were worth an event best in Canada of $5,790, landing her very close to the top of the CPRA standings just one month into the season.
"We are finally getting to the point where he is not stressing out about every run," says Guelly of the high strung Commander. "This weekend, we had three completely different pens and he handled it great. He is starting to get his confidence up."
"We all know how fast he is," says Guelly, adding that her challenge has been to foster confidence in the gelding who she says sometimes runs scared, and to help get him consistent.
"I call him Big Red because he reminds me of Secretariat . . . he runs so freakin' fast," she laughs. "He's a great horse."
The adjustments are beginning to show as Guelly had a great May on both sides of the border. In addition to her Canadian haul, she won big checks in Hayward, Ramona and Las Vegas.
It was an up-and-down month for the champion who grew up riding horses, the third of four daughters of a former local chariot racer. In mid-May, she received word that five of her trophy saddles, including two Wrangler NFR saddles and a pair of CPRA season leader saddles, had been stolen from her ex-husband's home. Though there has been no leads yet, Guelly is hopeful the saddles, which had extreme sentimental value to her, will turn up eventually.
Guelly is staying cautiously optimistic about her season which will include another month at home in Canada before returning to the States for the Fourth of July and other big July rodeos.
"I play it week-by-week with Commander. The rodeos in the next month are all within about four hours so I can let him rest," she says. Guelly is also legging up Scooter to hopefully return to action as well.
"I'm scared to run him," she admits with a laugh. "I've been riding him but I haven't run him yet."
Ideally, she would like to have enough in Canadian earnings to stay south of the border for awhile.
"You hope you can just win where you go and not wear your horse out."
Guelly also appreciates the opportunity to be in the position she is.
"Mostly, I.m very thankful to Jim and Ruth for letting me ride this horse."
For more information on the Grande Prairie Stompede, visit them on-line at www.gpstompede.com.