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Tuesday, August 11, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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53-year-old rodeo rookie took her time getting to Vegas

So, soon-to-be empty nesters, what’s your plan when the kids are out on their own? Remodel the house? Get a master’s? Just enjoy the peace? Travel?

Pamela Capper picked travel.

Here’s some of the itinerary: Helotes, Texas, and Guymon, Oklahoma. Spanish Fork, Utah – twice. From Sisters to North Platte to Reno to Prineville to Greeley in a month. Deadwood and Omak and Cody and Kennewick. And Pasadena – the Texas one.

That’s 45,000 miles this year in her 2013 Dodge pickup, towing her meal ticket – a 14-year-old brown mare named Jesse – in a trailer and consulting Google Maps for the next fork in the road.

Many might think “travel” and hit on a trip to, oh, Las Vegas – at least for starters. Why didn’t Capper just go to Vegas?

Well, she did. She just had to go to all these other places to get there.

On Thursday, the Cheney barrel racer will saddle up Jesse for their first run at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Across 10 days of cowboy nirvana at the Thomas & Mack Center, there’s a good story in every chute and stall – but a 53-year-old WNFR rookie is a rare find.

“I could not believe how I felt driving to Vegas,” admitted Capper. “It was just so emotional. You can’t believe you did it, after all that work and just having a horse that’s good enough to make it – that I raised and trained.”

Rodeo is nothing if not a home-grown enterprise, but after getting her start in amateur events in high school, Capper’s 40-year climb to overnight sensation requires some explanation. There’s a simple one.

“I had to raise my kids,” she said.

That would be Wade, Lindsey and Shaley, though in fact some of their growing up was done in the truck riding to regional rodeos with mom. Once they were through high school, Capper’s season began to get longer – and by 2012 she made her first appearance in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association top 25, while putting together a string of five straight Columbia River Circuit titles.

Which led to the next decision: quitting her job.

“I’d had it for 28 years and I kept asking for time off to go rodeo,” Capper said. “I had to take a leap of faith. It was hard to let go of that security – not that it was a super-great job.”

Oh?

“Driving a school bus,” she said.

Isn’t that something of a rodeo itself?

“It can be,” she sighed.

Then she got out her iPad to research “where the girls were winning money. I just decided to take a different route this year, because what I was doing in the past didn’t work.”

A February win at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo – worth nearly $13,000 – jump-started her season, and more would follow. She clinched her trip to Vegas – top 15 on the season money list – by winning the finals at the Pendleton Round-Up, then finished 1-3-4 in three big Texas stops to push her total winnings to $87,505, good for 11th.

Naturally, there were sacrifices. Time away from home and “my guy” Clyde Coker, a rodeo hand himself who grasps the demands. Lindsey delivered twins – early – in August with Capper on the road in Wyoming. She got to hold her granddaughters after they got out of ICU, but then had to bail on the baby shower to run in the finals in Reno.

“I just cried,” she said.

And Thanksgiving came and went with Capper in little Whitman, Arizona, preparing for the WNFR where the weather’s more forgiving. This included baby-sitting Jesse the mare through a leg injury and a week’s worth of trips to the vet, injections and MRIs, though everything is good now.

The racer’s relationship with her horse can be a curious one, and Capper’s long history with Jesse makes for a deeper dynamic.

“She’s a mare, so it’s a challenge,” Capper acknowledged. “On her good days, she’s like a balloon in a windstorm. If she’s not acting like that, I know something’s wrong. But she knows I’m going to take care of her.”

The duo will need both some fast runs and consistency to make some noise at the WNFR, considering there are seven racers already over the $100,000 mark in earnings this year – topped by the sport’s grande dame, 67-year-old Mary Burger, at more than $190,000.

Nonetheless, this is her biggest “business” opportunity yet, and she’s “hoping this finals will be a life-changer for me” – even if it just brings her back to her lifelong home in Cheney.

“I never got very far, I guess,” she laughed.

On the contrary. Her truck and her horse have taken her all the way.

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