Calgary – Chances were good that an Armstrong brother would end up with the Calgary Stampede’s 2016 Open Class Team Cattle Penning title on Saturday night. After all, either Graham, Russell or Justin Armstrong were on five of the 20 teams in Saturday’s final at the Scotiabank Saddledome — and all three brothers from B.C.’s interior have won Stampede championship buckles in the past.
But which combination could top the leader board? In the end, it was Graham and Justin Armstrong — along with Airdrie's Thomas Thorlakson — who took the top spot and the accompanying $13,950 and championship buckles for their time of 141.480 and 12 cattle penned. And Thorlakson is practically an Armstrong anyway.
“We’ve been best friends with Thom for at least 10 years,” Graham said shortly after their final fast-paced run of 33.89. “We’re three brothers. (Graham and Justin are twins). He’s like the fourth brother.”
And just like an Armstrong, Thorlakson has a Stampede belt buckle to his name. The 26-year-old won the 10 Class in 2013. The twins, from Armstrong, B.C., won the Open Class in 2008. Graham and Russell, who were first going into the final round with teammate Doug Ohlmann on Saturday night, were defending champs in the Open Class. That combo came third this time out, though, finishing behind reserve champions Will Hanson of Texas, Lesley Marsh of Saskatchewan and Chrissy Santangelo of Stavely, Alta., who took home $9,330 for their time of 145.590 and 12 cattle penned.
“We had some good draws on the cattle, for sure. We took advantage of them and made the most of what we had, for the most part,” Justin said.
Team Cattle Penning gives a team of three riders on horseback 60 seconds to separate three specifically identified cattle from a herd of 30 and direct them into a 16-foot-by-24-foot pen at the opposite end of the arena. It’s a fast-paced dance between the riders, their mounts and the animals they’re aiming to pen.
Teamwork is paramount, with the trio of riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle and drive them to the pen. The Calgary Stampede Team Cattle Penning Championships pay out in excess of $200,000 cash and awards over four classes. The times from each of four rounds are compiled and the team with the fastest time — and the most number of cattle penned — is named champion.
Heading into the final run, the brothers and Thorlakson looked at the numbers and saw how they stacked up against the competition. Their strategy?
“We were happy we were on the second herd because it was better of the two,” said Thorlakson, who rode on three teams in the top 20. “We had 10 seconds on the closest team to us, then we knew it was eight seconds, so it was, ‘Let’s go for the win.’ ”
For full results of the Calgary Stampede’s Open Class Team Penning Championship, please visit http://ag.calgarystampede.com/results