Mike Copeman photo Katie Garthwaite won for barrel racing in the Cloverdale Rodeo in 2016, and will be competing again this year.

Merritt barrel racer Katie Garthwaite keeps rodeo a family affair

Garthwaite will be bringing her daughter and husband to this year’s Cloverdale Rodeo.

Ask professional barrel racer and stunt woman Katie Gathwaite when she rode her first horse, and you’ll get an answer that’s pretty close to “as soon as she was born.”

“My mom used to put me in a backpack and ride with me out, chasing cows in a backpack,” she said. “I’ve kind of been on the back of a horse ever since I was tiny tiny.”

By the time she could walk, Garthwaite had her own horse, and it wasn’t long before she was following her mother — barrel racer Patti Kayser — to the rodeo.

“From the time I was little I can remember going to some of the rodeos with my mom and tagging along with her,” she said.

“She taught me all the ropes.”

From junior rodeos to high school rodeos, to eventually joining the professional rodeo circuit when she was 16, Garthwaite’s career shot ahead. When she was 20 she qualified for the National Finals Rodeo, popularly known as the Super Bowl of rodeos. After she married fellow rodeo star and steer wrestler Mike Garthwaite, she moved up to the Canadian circuit.

In Canada, Garthwaite’s horse hurt himself, and she was no longer able to ride him in rodeos.

“I was trying to train younger horses so I could have something to go rodeo on,” she said. “Rodeo’s expensive, and if you don’t have that one great horse, it’s not really that great to keep rodeoing.”

In the meantime, Garthwaite took on stunt riding and horse wrangling for films — working on films like Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant and the CBC’s Strange Empire. Her daughter, Gracie, was born and Garthwaite stayed closer to home.

Now, Gracie is 10-years-old and riding in her own rodeos. Garthwaite has a mare, Frenchie, who’s good enough to compete with some of the best barrel racing horses in the rodeo circuit.

It all made for a stellar 2016 season for Garthwaite, who ended the year as the fourth highest earner for Canadian women — bringing in more than $27,000.

A lot of that was thanks to her first place win at the Cloverdale Rodeo last year, when Garthwaite won $20,000 in the finals.

“It was absolutely awesome,” she said. “When you show up and you win $20,000 and it took me 15.9 seconds to do it — it’s one of those things in your life where I’ll remember it forever.”

This year, Garthwaite is hoping to repeat her career-setting win, although she won’t be riding Frenchie, who’s undergoing knee surgery. She’ll be borrowing Flurry, a friend’s horse who Garthwaite has ridden before.

“He’s pretty great. I feel pretty confident in him,” she said. “It’ll be a pretty great ride.”

Last year, Gracie and Garthwaite’s husband Mike were able to come to Cloverdale to watch Garthwaite in her 15.96 second winning ride. This year, Garthwaite’s hoping they can do the same.

Her daughter Gracie will be competing in a Little Britches rodeo in 100 Mile House that weekend. That happened last year as well, her husband and her daughter were gone for the first part of the Cloverdale Rodeo and arrived for the last day.

Having to miss Gracie’s own rodeo performance is difficult, Garthwaite said.

“I always hate missing things with my daughter,” she said. “It’s a huge sacrifice to choose to go to a rodeo instead of go watch my daughter’s rodeo. You can feel really torn.”

Her husband, she said, is very supportive and takes Gracie to her rodeos when Garthwaite is racing elsewhere.

“There’ll be times when they have the truck and trailer and I’ll just jump in with a friend and go to the rodeos,” Garthwaite said.

“We have a pretty great support system actually. A person can’t do it if you don’t have a great support system.”