A year after squeaking into her first Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) last year, Lacombe barrel racer Justine Elliott is heading back for a second time.
Only this time, she’s entering as the season leader.
The 17-year-old has banked $38,421.17 this year in the CPRA circuit to capture top spot – $6,835.62 ahead of second-placed Mary Walker.
“Last year, I made it in scraping the barrel – it took a lot of work to get there,” she said. “This year, coming in season leader gives me more of a boost. I know I can compete with these girls.”
Elliott is the daughter of local area cow horse trainer Jody Elliott, and grew up watching his involvement with rodeo. When she was about 10 years old, she saw barrel racing and knew it was something she wanted to do, and asked if she could try and turn one of her dad’s old horses into barrel horse, and she’s been rounding the barrels ever since.
She’s a three-time provincial champion in the Alberta High School Rodeo Association, and was also the season leader in both the Wildrose Rodeo Association and Lakeland Rodeo Association in 2016 and 2017. When she was in Grade 9 and Grade 10, she finished third at the National High School Finals Rodeo.
Last year, she won the Dawson Creek and Jasper Pro Rodeos and placed second at Armstrong, and qualified for her first CFR where she finished 10th, tipping three of her six runs after entering 11th.
This year, she finished seventh at Armstrong and sixth at Merritt Valley Pro Rodeos, and captured the Finning Pro Tour Final title. She also placed first at Kennedy, and had second place finishes at Teepee Creek Stampede and finished fourth at the Coronation Pro Rodeo.
The difference in her success has been her mental game.
“I didn’t let my wins get to my head, but I also didn’t let my losses get to my head. I just kind of tried to have the best run I could every time,” she said.
This week, she’ll look to continue that trend, and hopefully improve on her result last year.
“I just want to have six clean runs. I don’t have to win any rounds, just stay clean and stay in the average,” she said.
Preparation has mostly been about keeping her partner in the ring, a bay mare that goes by the name of Blondie, in shape with light, daily exercise.
Blondie was originally intended to be working cow horse, but Elliott says she got “too hot for it” and didn’t like it, which was when she began barrel racing her.
As for her bond with Blondie?
“It’s a love-hate relationship. She hates me, I love her,” she said. “She doesn’t like people very much, so you give her her own space and when she wants something from you, you pretty much have to give it to her. It’s her world and I’m just living in it.”
On Tuesday, Day 1 of CFR, Elliott captured her first go round with a time of 14.51 seconds.
Results can be viewed online at www.cfrreddeer.ca/rodeo/results.