Wendy Larsen Memorial Barrel Race enters new venue
The name Wendy Larsen is synonymous with barrel racing across Wyoming, and far beyond. Cowgirl to the core, Wendy grew up on her family’s Colorado ranch involved with cattle and horses, gymkhanas and rodeos before she could remember. Rodeo busied her through high school, college, and into the pro ranks. Her shocking premature departure from this world through a horse accident in October of 2014 seemed naturally the only way she’d go . . . in spite of everyone knowing she never made a mistake around a horse….
Douglas, Wyoming’s huge high school gymnasium failed to contain the multitudes of Wendy’s friends who flooded there for her Memorial service – testament to her goodness, kindness, popularity, and the esteem in which the horse world held her. Her obituary noted, “Wendy was an accomplished horsewoman, winning many barrel racing and goat tying championships. She was affiliated with a number of state and national rodeo and ranch associations. She shared her knowledge generously with those who wished to become better riders and competitors, including the handicap riding program in Douglas. She loved helping the neighboring ranches and friends work cattle. One reputable cowboy stated that ‘Wendy was the best cowgirl I’ve ever seen on a horse.’”
Her Memorial Fund was dedicated to the perpetuation of youth rodeo, and contributions were huge. Tears were still streaming when two of Wendy’s closest friends started planning an annual Memorial Barrel Race in her name. This year marks the 5th Annual Wendy Larsen Memorial Barrel Race founded by Jane Christian McGinley and Eva Edwards — and the premiere year of connection with Gillette, Wyoming’s famous Fizz Bomb Classic, produced by Stacy Thar and Thar Ranch Productions since 1982. Thar Ranch Productions is dedicated to giving owners, breeders and riders a place to showcase Futurity and Derby horses. This year’s September 5-8 event is touted to, “bring the next generation of winning horses to Wyoming”, with huge purses attracting some 350 horses and 500 spectators/contestants from across the United States to the Cam-Plex event center arenas on the south side of Gillette. The Wendy Larsen Memorial will be the first-ever Senior Division barrel race connected with the Fizz Bomb.
Wyoming horsewoman and rancher Jane Christian McGinley, now living in Texas, grew up on the Jack Plane Ranch established by her German grandfather on Crazy Woman Creek, and can’t remember not being horseback or not wanting to barrel race. “The first time I remember competing was at the Johnson County Fair when I was about 5, riding Dad’s black steer roping horse. The first day he kind’a set for the first barrel and I went flyin’ off him . . . he held a foot up and didn’t step on me,” Jane giggles. “Linda Irvine was always on Ginger and I was on Tommy, and the folks had to take two horses to town for each of us, as we ran one down riding together before the barrel race even came along.”
Jane was on the Casper College rodeo team her first year there, the fall of 1970. A typically shy ranch girl, she was truly impressed with the natural friendliness of Southern Colorado State College cowgirl Wendy Ohlman who was “first to come up and introduce herself and be friendly, at the first rodeo of the season. We just struck up a friendship right off,” Jane says. “When I transferred down there to Pueblo we started rooming together and became great friends.”
“Wendy could start up a conversation with anyone, a little kid, or an older person . . . they’d always be taken with her and fall in love,” Jane says. “I really don’t remember her ever speaking ill of anyone. She always looked for good in a person, was ever positive and had lots of great energy.”
“Wendy rode really well, and had such light hands,” Eva and Jane remember. “She rode cutting horses with her dad and developed that, and she definitely loved to help and instruct. She gave a lot of help to many girls in goat tying, too.
From college rodeo at Pueblo, Wendy moved into amateur rodeo and filling her PRCA permit, continuing to be an avid encourager to everyone she encountered. Fred Larsen had a wide circle of friends too, and when he met her through college rodeo and they later married it seemed everyone knew them, and was friends with them.
Jane and Wendy continued as rodeoing companions after college. “I traveled with her to a lot of prorodeos in Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota . . . even to Calgary at the time they dropped the PRCA and had the team-style event. We went with the Northwest Ranch Cowboy’s Association team, and I am really bles’t to have been there,” Jane says.
The mid to late 1980’s saw tradition challenged in rodeo, with the North American Rodeo Commission stepping up to hold events like the week-long COORS WORLD FINALS in El Paso, incorporating both amateur and professional rodeo associations. Eva Edwards was there to experience that event with Wendy and Fred. Always deeply blest by Wendy’s friendship and mentoring, Eva’s been instrumental in developing the idea of honoring Wendy in today’s major barrel racing events.
Constantly “flying under the radar” Eva just won’t talk about herself, so the small part of her talent ever known must be learned from others, like her daughter Ginger Edwards LaDuke, wife of Gillette College rodeo coach Will LaDuke. While being interviewed about her ranch cowgirl prowess Ginger told writer Tiffany Schwenke, “Since I was a little girl I would always take the big circle when gathering pastures . . . expected to know the country, the cattle, and make decisions on my own.” Ginger spoke of the sense of confidence that gave her and said, “My mom Eva and my Aunts Linda and Laura Edwards would ride as well . . . work beside the men, then turn around and have a huge meal on the table, all while raising their kids . . . They were superwomen and great examples of the kind of woman I wanted to be.”
Like Eva, Ginger trains good barrel horses with lots of wet saddleblankets in big country and strives to develop “a love and appreciation for Wyoming and the land and livestock that give us this lifestyle, finding pride in working alongside their grandparents and parents . . . a valued part of getting the job done.” Ginger’s husband Will LaDuke actually slipped a jackpot barrel race in with Gillette College’s rodeo practice on August 28th, just to give oldsters like Eva and Jane and their horses a little arena time before the Wendy Larsen Memorial Senior Barrel Race comes to town!
“We couldn’t do this at all if it wasn’t for Thars putting it on,” Jane and Eva expain. “Friends of Wendys and Freds and ours have given and given. We’d like to see as many Senior Barrel racers, 50 and over, as possible there to enjoy the camaraderie and competition! The Fizz Bomb was absolutely Wendy’s favorite event, connecting with friends from all over the country, and their awesome horses. She loved knowing the bloodlines and watching the riders! We feel so bles’t by the way everyone has been willing with donations and prizes, it’s just overwhelming. People have called and said, ‘You didn’t contact me, I want to donate.’”
“Wendy and Fred have such a wide circle of friends, I look for it to get even bigger and better, but this year we have more than $10,000 in prizes and purses,” Eva says. The first round of the Wendy Larsen Memorial Senior 4-D will be Saturday September 7, and the second at 9 am on Sunday, September 8. Don’t miss that action, it’s the newest thing at the Fizz Bomb!
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