CALGARY — Keeping it all in the family paid off big time for Joel and Collette Lesh in the Open Class of the Calgary Stampede Team Cattle Penning competition Friday night.

The couple from Stillwater, Okla. competed alongside their 11-year-old son, Jackson Ammerman, the first time they’ve entered the Open Class with one of their children. But it won’t likely be the last: the trio rode to victory and an $18,971 payday with an aggregate time of 119.15 seconds with 12 cattle penned.  

“Jackson is a bit more aggressive on the line while our daughter McKenzie is really good at getting cattle out. Everything we do when we put teams together is very strategic, even in the numbered classes,” Collette said. “We knew if we put Jackson on our best horse, which we did all through qualifying, and told him to hold the line, he was our best pick for that.”

And holding the line — keeping undesired cattle in one section of the arena — was a crucial part of the win, seeing as nine of the top 20 teams were disqualified for failing to do just that in the first of two runs in the Nutrien Western Event Centre. In the final go, the trio laid down a blistering time of 24.39 seconds, nearly 10 seconds faster than their nearest competitors. That was more than enough to earn them the champion title and accompanying belt buckles.

“We had zeroes and eights left (to be assigned). We were ninth on the herd and there was an eight on front and two zeroes on the left, and when I got to the herd, there were all three zeroes there,” Joel said, a wide smile breaking across his face. “There were good teams out there tonight. The cows were a little tough, but better than qualifying cows. Those were really tough cows.”

He was smiling through the pain, though, as his right leg was injured when his horse fell on him at an event in Colorado last week. Despite his injury — and teams riding conservatively due to the large number of disqualifications — Joel rode aggressively in the first go of the night.

“We are confident in our team and confident in what everyone’s job is. When Joel is going to bust into the herd, he knows we’ve got his back,” Collette said. “We always have it to one, two, three.”

It also helps that Jackson happens to be an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) champion in team penning, along with sister McKenzie. Look for all three kids and their parents to continue competing at the Stampede in the 14 and 10 classes in Team Cattle Penning.

In the sport, teams of three riders have a scant 60 seconds to separate three cattle wearing a designated number from a herd of 30 and direct them into a 16-foot-by-24-foot pen at the opposite end of the arena. Teamwork is critical, with the riders working in harmony to cut the correct cattle and drive them to the pen. Simple? The rest of the herd must remain behind a designated line. If an animal that is not one of the designated cattle crosses the line, that’s a trash out and the team is eliminated.

The four classes are based on relative skill and experience — in ascending order from 7 Class, to 10 Class, to 14 Class, to the trainers and travelling professionals of the Open Class. Due to increased interest this year, event organizers expanded qualifying from two days to three to accommodate 800 teams. The top 20 teams in each class progress to compete in the third round, with the top 10 teams moving on to the finals. More teams mean more money and the overall prize money for the event is approximately $393,000 this year. The Open Class, with 106 teams entered, saw a payout of $64,236.

The Reserve Champions — brothers Graham and Russell Armstrong of Armstrong, B.C. with Airdrie’s Tom Thorlakson — had the highest team rating in the class, with a combined total of 21. Their aggregate score of 136.92 seconds with 12 head penned earned them a cheque for $12,647.

For full results of the Open Class Team Cattle Penning Championships, please visit

About the Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west.  The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and promotes western heritage and values.  All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.


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Calgary Stampede

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